The past weekend’s race at Loudon was less than spectacular for many of the teams in the garage. While the No. 7 of Michael Annett didn’t get caught up in any of the wrecks it managed to go a couple of laps down during the early green flag runs and they were unable to get back on the lead lap thanks to some unfortunate timing of caution flags. While it wasn’t the finish they wanted it was a day where they made progress and felt better by the end of the day.
Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion uses his seat on top of the box to develop unique perspectives on many things about the sport. This week he enlightens us on the many differences between Loudon and Dover, both one mile tracks. He also gives a interesting perspective on the thought process of where teams try and bend rules and just how far they will go. He also found an answer from the last time he was in the column based on inner liners and tire spring rates.
Mike Neff: You managed to stay out of trouble at Loudon, 15 cautions, 13 in the last half of the race. Did you consider it a successful day being able to roll it onto the trailer even though the finish was barely in the 20s?
Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion: Yes and no, Loudon has definitely, throughout the years been a tough place. If you look at the amount of backup cars you see throughout practice and then the amount of wrecks we get late in the race. It is a tricky little place. Not fully happy with our finish but, at the end of the day, we made our car better all day long. Potentially, if one if were a but and one but were an if and if and if, we were one if away from having a decent, solid day in the lower 20s. Tough place to pass but like you said, we stayed out of trouble and came out of there feeling good about the fact we made our car better all day.
Neff: You’ve been around this sport for a while. Have you seen that crazy of driving at the end of a race at Loudon before? People were four and five wide for the last 130 laps.
Manion: Yeah, y’know it was a little strange. We went caution free for the longest time with a lot of green. Then we couldn’t make a lap without wrecking. I think, with the new Chase format, people are on edge and New Hampshire is pretty slick to begin with, and people were fighting for the line so no, I haven’t seen it like that for quite some time. A lot of the people involved were Chase drivers and it definitely shook up the Chase grid. This new format is definitely exciting for the fans and nerve wracking for the crew members and crew chiefs of the teams. It makes you stay on your toes every lap.
Neff: Speaking of being on your toes, during the last 130 laps there were only two runs that were over eight laps long and most of them were less than that. How hard is it to stay on top of your strategy and adjust it when you are being bombarded by so many cautions?
Manion: Loudon is a place where tires aren’t super huge important. You saw that during this race. For us, trying to get back on the lead lap, it allowed some cautions for some Lucky Dogs but also the leaders wouldn’t pit so it didn’t give us an opportunity to take the wave around. It definitely changes it up. Some cautions the leaders may pit but not all of them, the next time the others would so it didn’t give any wave around possibilities. It did allow quite a few guys to get back on the lead lap though, toward the end of the race. The No. 78 car was better than us but not by much. He was fortunate enough to get back on the lead lap, he was able to take tires when the leaders didn’t, and then he ended up finishing 12th. It was neat that there were that many cautions to give people the chance to get on the lead lap. That is when I talked about that ‘if’ earlier. We were in that Lucky Dog position for some time but it didn’t happen. If it would have, we would be talking about a really strong finish this week.
Neff: We’re heading off to Dover, another mile track but a wee bit different from New Hampshire. They always talk about landing there because you drop down into the corners and force yourself into the banking. With the new ride height rule and already being down on the earth, is it more jarring or more difficult for the driver because there isn’t the cushion of the compression of the shocks that there used to be?
Manion: No, there is still compression with the tire sidewalls and the suspension, just not the same amount. It definitely makes the amount from high to low, the mean, is quite a bit different but the handling characteristics are similar and they handle better. They are faster, it has been proven throughout this whole year. They still jump I call it, into turn one, where they launch and the car gets light and then compresses into the banking. It is certainly a little bit different but still it is the same old Dover. You’re getting down into the corner with the same amount of load. That is one thing that is the same all of the time from old setup to new setup. The load is still the load.
Neff: Loudon is just about perfectly flat while Dover is high banked. On front end geometry with the A-arms and springs and shocks, is there a dramatic difference in how that works with the attitude of the car on a banked track versus being on a flat track?
Manion: For sure, the amount of camber from any banked track to a flat track is different. The length of the A-arms is different. We still have a splitter on this car so they are still traveling to the same point that they traveled in the past. Dynamically our cambers are the same from last year’s Dover to this year’s at Dover. The same at Loudon as well. The amount of camber that we run at Loudon’s one mile flat track is relative to last year’s at Loudon but the difference between the tracks is similar as well.
Neff: On the back end of the car, you are worried at Loudon about getting the drive off of the corner on that flat surface and getting the power down, especially to the left rear. Is that nearly as important at Dover considering you are leaning on that banking and launching yourself out of the corner?
Manion: Drive off is important everywhere. Reading our past notes from last year at Dover, we were working on a tight in the center condition, which is what we work on at most tracks. Very seldom is a car loose in the center. But we were also working on drive up out of the corner because you drive up the hill. There as well you can get extremely loose off. The same principals that you work on at most every track. You work on a good solid entry, good turn in the middle and good forward bite off. It is different characteristics at every track but we still fight the same problems every week.
Neff: In your years in this sport you’ve seen the stiffness of springs go from super soft to super stiff. Now that we’re well into our first year with this new rule package are people running stiffer springs or softer springs to achieve the attitude that they want out of their car?
Manion: I would say it is a mixed bag, a combination between teams, between drivers, even within organizations you might have two or three cars that are extremely soft on the chassis spring but stiff on the shaft spring or bump stop. Another team might not even run shaft springs or bump stops and use a larger chassis spring. The old saying is there are 100 ways to skin a cat and everyone does it a little differently. It is still a combination of both and what you end up with is the wheel rate. It doesn’t matter how you eat your dinner. You might eat one thing at a time or you might eat a bit of everything until it is gone, at the end of the day you have an empty plate. There are 100 ways to do it. The little bit you do see with the cars that are parked around us it is a mixed bag. That goes for all four corners as well.
Neff: Reading about tires being confiscated the last couple of weeks. Rumor is that NASCAR is looking for bleeder valves. You guys don’t have your hands on these tires very long when you’re at the track. They are mounted up and given to you and then, at the end of the race they unmount them and Champion Tire takes them from track to track. How do you think someone would have the time or ability to put bleeder valves onto rims if they were doing it?
Manion: You’re looking past the simple, layman’s way of bleeding a tire. There is a way through the wheel, through the tire, through the valve core, through the valve cap, the question is that you are thinking about the big picture. You need to think small and simple. There are ways to do it, are teams doing it? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. I did read that, I don’t know if they think teams are doing it or if they are just keeping teams on their toes. The way they are doing it, if they are, wouldn’t be a valve. It would be something a little more simple than that to be honest with you.
Neff: The next question on that would be, if you were doing that and NASCAR has now made it known that they are looking for it Is just the premise that they are confiscating tires enough to get people to stop doing it or do you think, if someone is trying it, they’re going to keep getting after it until they get caught?
Manion: It goes along with every rule. Rules and regulations are in place and they are very strict. A team that is doing it, I don’t know. That is something where you would talk between the crew chiefs, between the team manager, between the owner, to let everyone know. This is what we found. If we touch this part of the rule and make it gray, is it going to be ok if they decide it is against the rules? What do you think the fine will be? Will the owner pay the fine? How many points do you think they’d take? How much money do you think it will cost us? At the end of the day, if the risk is worth the reward, then they do it. Here at Tommy Baldwin Racing, anything like that in the gray area, the risk is not worth the reward for us. With a larger team where it could potentially be tested and the theory is out there…I just don’t see it happening. People bend the rules all of the time, we bend them here. There is bending and there is breaking. There is a big difference there. We aren’t rule breakers. We try to abide by everything. I’m sure there are people out there who read a rule and think ‘I can do that like this’. We read them and we think ‘I don’t think I’d do that.’ Different teams interpret rules in different ways and there are different ways you can look at them. The severity of the fines and rules nowadays we really haven’t seen a huge amount of fines and punishments this year since they came out with the guidelines. I know the No. 11 car was busted and I’ve been fined and in trouble before. Some of it is because of parts failures or misunderstandings or templates not fitting. You’re always bending the rules but are you breaking them? You hope you aren’t breaking them but sometimes people interpret them a different way, whether it is the competitors or NASCAR. It is hard to say that anyone would blatantly cheat and that is a slippery slope. It is what it is nowadays but I don’t want to be on the receiving end of any of those P whatever violations, they scare me to death.
Neff: With the new rule package, they are going to use tapered spacers to reduce horsepower. When you go to a track that uses restrictor plates, do they put the plate under the spacer or does the plate replace the spacer?
Manion: We’re talking about two different things. There are two different ways to restrict air intake. The old fashioned restrictor plate which its about an eighth of an inch thick with four holes in the center for the four barrels in the carburetor. The other is the tapered spacer. They are taller, they are generally about an inch tall. The taper goes from one size opening to the other, whatever the rule is. They are two different ways to reduce horsepower or air intake into the engine. One is separate from the other
Neff: So when a series that uses the tapered spacer goes to a plate track, like Talladega, do they take the spacer off and put a plate on or do they use a different tapered spacer?
Manion: I don’t know Nationwide but if they want to change the horsepower they would use a different tapered spacer. I can answer it from the Modified perspective at New Hampshire. If you run a spec engine you run a one inch tapered spacer. If you run a built engine you run an eighth inch by inch and an eighth restrictor plate. They don’t use both of them together, I don’t believe. I don’t know for sure but I don’t believe you’d do that.
Neff: They didn’t have the Modified race on television. Apparently there was a rather large wreck. It sounded like some of the drivers were pretty upset about it. Where did you see it from your perspective?
Manion: We were in a small altercation right before that so we weren’t on the track at the time. I did see pictures and replays, probably not enough to comment on why it happened or how it happened. It is racing is all I can say. You’re going to have accidents. I read that Ron Yuhas is going to be ok. The safety of the SAFER barriers and the safety of the cars worked. It was a heck of a ride but he got out under his own power. I don’t know what the complaint would be. I’ve seen a lot of crashes there. It was a spectacular one for sure. I’m sure NASCAR will recreate it and do a good job of looking at all of the safety stuff at the track and on the cars, as they do with every accident. I don’t know what the complaint would be other than it was a big wreck.
Neff: One other thing, did you get an answer yet on spring rate changes with and without an inner liner?
Manion: I did pull the engineers together and this question has come up before. The Goodyear engineer says that, in no way, shape or form does the spring rate change. Now, with that said, different engineers here and different engineers throughout the industry believe that there could be some potential for it to change. If you call Goodyear and ask them, adding an inner liner does not change the spring rate of the tire.
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