Kevin “Bono” Manion is working hard to gain some experience for Michael Annett and his No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing team. A 16th-place finish at Talladega was a much-needed, solid run for the group, which is now ready to hit Kansas with some momentum. The organization may have few amenities compared to its bigger rivals, like Hendrick Motorsports but they’re able to still go toe-to-toe every week, these “Davids” of the NASCAR garage coming within tenths of a second per lap of knocking off the Goliaths they compete against.
This week in Tech Talk, Manion talks about what they had to do at Talladega to get the best result possible. Can this underdog still run strong this weekend at a track notorious for favoring the big guns? Between tires, the night atmosphere at Kansas and what the qualifying procedure will hold for this weekend, there’s plenty to discuss for a setup that will be unlike anything the Cup teams have had before at this 1.5-mile oval.
Mike Neff: Talladega was rather uneventful for you. Never saw you up front but didn’t see you in any of the wrecks either. What was your take on your weekend in Alabama?
Kevin “Bono” Manion: Talladega was uneventful, for sure. We were in plenty of [pack racing situations] but they all ended up being uneventful. We rode right behind the draft. We could pull up into the draft any time we wanted to, then we’d back off and run one or two seconds behind. We needed to make it to the end.
With a DNF at Daytona and a DNF at Darlington, we felt the best way to get a solid finish for the day was to ride and wait until the end to make a charge. We did that and crossed the line in 12th for the white-flag lap. Then, we got shuffled a little bit and eventually were scored 16th when the caution flag flew.
We did exactly what we needed to do in that race. Michael gained some experience, the car came home in one piece and we salvaged a pretty decent finish out of it.
Neff: Some of the Chevy teams were struggling with engine overheating. Was that a result of the temperature of the day or was that something Chevy engines were just dealing with on Sunday?
Manion: We have been able to run a little tape on the NASCAR-mandated grill the last few times. We had some on last fall when we won the race with Jamie. This spring, we had a little bit of tape on and were fine. Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend and we elected to take the tape off just before the race started. I think some teams were trying to run a little bit of tape. I did hear some cars pulling tape.
It was just a really hot day for that early in the year in Talladega. That grill opening is right there at a marginal point where you have to be careful. We don’t tandem draft anymore but we’re back to the pack where the cars stay one or two feet off each other’s bumpers for 10, 20, 30 laps at a time until eventually that temperature ever so slightly creeps up. You have to peek it out and get a little air or move lanes a couple of times to get the temperature down. You are right on the border if you have a real hot day and if you are sucked up in the pack, you’re going to run hot.
Neff: Some drivers had some tire issues at Kansas last year and called the track treacherous. Do you think the surface is that tough or is the fresh asphalt still pretty forgiving to you?
Manion: I was part of the test we had a couple of weeks ago; that will solve some problems. Since that test, Goodyear has changed the right side tire they are bringing there. It seemed like we had plenty of grip, so I wouldn’t call it treacherous from a lack of grip. The speeds are extremely fast and the track is still extremely smooth. The tire wear was excessive at the test, mainly on the right side inner shoulders. The wear on that shoulder was very heavy.
Talking with Goodyear, they are coming back with a different tire for the race that is going to have the same amount of grip or real close to it with a very similar compound, but the formula is going to be more durable to try and get the tires to quit cording. It wasn’t a camber thing. We took quite a bit of camber out and the inside edge was still wearing heavily. It is just a product of the car being down and the right front riding on the inside edge of the tire. The speeds are extremely fast and straining the tires. Goodyear and NASCAR are working very hard to limit tire failures, having a better product and better racing because safety is the number one priority.
Neff: Are they bringing a multi-zone or single-zone tire?
Manion: They are going back to a single-zone tire for this race at Kansas.
Neff: With the race being at night, will the cooler temperature help things or will the increased speeds negate that?
Manion: The temps will be cooler but the speeds probably will come up a bit, too. I would say, as the track takes rubber, time will help us the most. The Trucks are going to be on the track and putting some rubber down. It is a catch-22 at night because the speeds will be up but, with the conditions at night the track will have a little bit more grip, so hopefully the tires will last a full fuel stint.
Neff: With the new ride height rules for a race at night, does it affect how you attack the ride height or are you down on the earth all of the time?
Manion: Nope. Daytime, nighttime, anytime, when you are down you’re down. We put it down there and let it eat.
Neff: Do you have to take into account the air pressures in the tires that may stay a little bit lower in the cooler nighttime temperatures and thus have you a little closer to the ground because of the flex in the sidewalls?
Manion: We run really close to the minimums, especially in the right sides. The left isn’t mandated but we’re pretty low over there too. Really, from day to night there isn’t much of a difference in the tires.
Neff: Kansas tends to be a little bit drier climate than some of the other tracks we go to. Does the humidity in the air at night affect the handling of the car?
Manion: We don’t pay much attention to pressure and humidity. Ambient temperature a little bit. I do know that some teams, especially more aero-dependent cars like IndyCar and Formula 1, definitely pay a lot of attention to the pressure and humidity. There may be some Cup teams doing that. In my past, I have no history of that. We’ve talked about it some. I remember the late fall races at Atlanta, when the air got heavier and almost misty it would change the handling of the cars a little bit. I think things are pretty constant in Kansas.
Neff: With the new qualifying format and the high speeds at Kansas, will there be a potential for drafting to come into play and would working with your teammate help with getting a little more speed?
Manion: No, there will be no drafting. It will be single-car runs. We could potentially see scuffs be as fast as stickers. We’ll have to see how this new tire runs. It isn’t going to be a type of place where you are one and done on your speed lap. You might be able to go just as fast on the second lap; we’ll have to see with this new tire.
Neff: The end of qualifying at Talladega was weird with guys not being willing to go out. Kansas will obviously be different, but would you like to see the final session be a little bit longer for the last 12 cars to go out and try and lay down a good lap?
Manion: I think the final session at Talladega could have been a half an hour and people would have still waited until the very end because they just didn’t want to be the first one out. By the time the third session rolls around, most of the time your tires are shot, so you have one opportunity to lay down a fast lap and you aren’t going to go any faster. Five minutes is ample time for 12 cars.
Manion believes the No. 7 team is going to be strong at Kansas. The knowledge gained from the tire test, even though Goodyear is bringing back a slightly different compound, will help the whole team with its efforts. The challenges of running a small budget team still make it difficult for the group, but Manion, with years of experience under his belt will continue to get the best out of all of them.