Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion has been around the sport for years and has a very educated insight into the ways of the sport and the garage. He continues to guide the No. 7 team for Tommy Baldwin Racing with rookie driver Michael Annett. This week, in Tech Talk, he looks back at Talladega and clears up some of the confusion about qualifying. He also explains how Ryan Newman might have had his car end up being too low in post race tech.
He then looks ahead to Martinsville and fills us in about belts, alternators, pit road decisions and challenges in the garage area. The shortest track on the circuit poses some unique challenges to the teams in the garage but Manion continues to conquer them on the limited budget of TBR with a sharp mind and a wealth of experience.
Mike Neff: Talladega, the race is what it is. Qualifying was rather bizarre. Do people just think too much about qualifying or is there really a justification to try and force yourself behind someone in order to get a good time?
Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion: Well I think it may be a little of both. There were three cars that were going to be sent home so I think the front half of the field, who thought they were safe, had a plan to be conservative because they were planning to drop to the back anyhow. The other half of the field thought it was a great opportunity because they didn’t have the single car speed to make the race but could jump in with a group, in this new format, and it will basically tow them around and they’d be fast enough to make the race. We saw that with quite a few cars. I don’t know if it was confusing. I saw some reports that people were confused about qualifying. There was no confusion. We knew what we had to do. I think everyone knew what they had to do. It is a work in progress and it is something that changed from the first go around because it was rather tricky and difficult and not fun for the competitors. Now with five minutes it just sped the process up. It was still not fun, tricky and difficult and not fun for the competitors again. The solution, I don’t know. I’m sure that it is something that NASCAR and the drivers and owners will talk about. We sent some full-time teams home, which is a hard pill to swallow. Sometimes they ask you the million dollar question, ‘what would you do to fix it?’, and I don’t know if I have the perfect answer. Everyone has an opinion. All we can do is try and help and be part of the solution and not the problem.
Neff: Ryan Newman was found to be too low in the rear in post race technical inspection. They took the car back to the R&D Center and determined that it was cause by damage incurred during the race. They give you the shocks and springs in the rear of the car and impound after tech. Is there anything a team could do to lower their car after tech, through race time adjustments, that would cause it to be too low?
Manion: Yes, although probably not as much as the rules allow you to be low. I don’t know how low they were. You can take rounds out of the back of the car. NASCAR does monitor that. Your pit official marks down what changes are made and pay close attention to that. One round is approximately an eighth of an inch so I’m sure they went back and looked at the pit report card from the official in that pit to see if that could have done it. If they took a handful of rounds out it is possible. However, if they went to the card and zero rounds were taken out then it had to be something else. One thing I commend NASCAR for is, they’ll take the car back to the R&D Center and not just make a shotgun decision. They’ll take it back and look at it, roam around because they take all of the chassis to the roam around to be certified before they can race them. The body has to be put on the chassis at a certain height. They go back and roam around it again and see if the rear clip is bent down a quarter of an inch or so. The spoiler is approximately four feet from the rear axle so the further back you go the lower it will be. They obviously took it back and did some measurements. I’ve been in the exact same situation before. As long as NASCAR can see there has been some damage and the rear firewall is buckled or something else shows that there was some kind of damage then it is obvious that the car is low just because of race damage.
Neff: We’re headed off to Martinsville, there are different ways to get around that track fast. Generally the higher RPMs you can turn the faster you can go. Are you able to work with a combination of transmission and rear gear to achieve more RPMs or are you stuck in a box with the rules that NASCAR has in place?
Manion: The rules on the transmission are pretty cut and dry there. High gear is 1:1 and the third gear rule is beyond what you could use for a final drive ratio. So, between the third gear rule and the rear end ratio the final drive would just not be possible. They do give you a small option on rear gear. There may be some teams that would qualify with the lesser of the two options. The disadvantage of that for the race would be, when your tires get older the lower RPM would be a problem and the car wouldn’t slow down as much off of the gas so the driver would have to use more brake. Pretty much NASCAR has their rule on that and most everyone is at the max gear ratio week in and week out.
Neff: A couple weeks ago, when the Late Models were at Martinsville we heard a lot of cars that banged on the chip when they’d get to the end of the straights. Do they have rev limiting chips on the Cup cars?
Manion: Absolutely, all of the chips are controlled by the computer in the ECU now. That can be driver preference or engine shop preference. Some drivers like to hit the chip. Some like it in qualifying because it helps them to not over drive the car. It gives them an idea of where they are. It is also a simple fact, the gear is so low there, if you come off of the corner well and your car is hooked up in qualifying trim you will hit it because the motor shop sets it. Here is our limit and you’re going fast. As I talked about, changing the rear gear to the lower ratio out of the back of the car Martinsville is one of the tracks where you might do it, just for qualifying.
Neff: Getting through the corner and muscling it around the corners can be a challenge with the steering on the car for 1,000 left turns at Martinsville. In the past, some people used to run two power steering belts just in case something happened to one of them. Is that something that people do anymore or have belts advanced so much that they don’t worry about them anymore?
Manion: The belts have certainly come a long way from the bead belt design to the serpentine belt. I have been on a team that used to run a belt on the inside of the existing belt tied to the pump. If you did break a belt you didn’t have to take the other belts off to get that one on. I don’t think that happens anymore but there may be some teams that still do that. There is a checklist a mile long and as things evolve the list changes. We used to routinely put a bungee cord in the car so that if the transmission started popping out of gear the driver would put the car in high gear and hook the bungee cord to it to keep it in gear. We used to drill a hole in the tail pipe so that, if the tail pipe strap broke we could bungee cord it up to the window net, when the exhaust was on the left side. There are a couple old things that perhaps some people do but I haven’t seen that in some time.
Neff: At Martinsville, with the heavy brake usage and the amount of cooling fans that you run there to help with the tire beads and the brakes you draw a lot of amps and volts out of your electrical system. Do you run a larger alternator there because of the demand or do you use a smaller one because of the weight advantage?
Manion: I’ve been on teams that have gone both ways. As brakes and fans and cool box systems evolve and come a long way, we still run a bigger alternator at Martinsville and we still check the draw before the race to make sure that we don’t have a bad fan or something drawing too many amps. I believe quite a few of the teams still run a bigger alternator at Martinsville and road courses due to the increased demand.
Neff: When you are at Martinsville, with the track only being half of a mile in length, from the time the pace car picks up the field under caution until you have to make a decision to pit is pretty short. Does that limited time force you to plan ahead and stick to a script unless something unexpected happens during the race or is it still up to the crew chief who makes the big bucks to make the call each time that the caution flag flies?
Manion: I definitely have a plan going in, whether it is Martinsville or Talladega, from the biggest track to the shortest track in distance, we always have a plan. There are times when you call an audible and pit or not pit depending on how many cars are on the lead lap, so on and so forth. If you are a lap down do you take the wave when people pit. Martinsville is the type of track where the field always seems to split 50/50. You’ll have a group of leaders who will stay out when the caution comes out and the back half of the field will pit. They’ll run another 30 or 40 laps then the front half will come in and the back half is now the leading group. It is one race where that happens year in and year out so we’ll be paying attention to that as well.
Neff: One thing that happens at Martinsville every race we’ll get one or two long green flag runs and we get a very heavy buildup of rubber on top of the concrete at the edge of the primary groove and drivers will have to run above or below that in order to avoid it. Is that something you can plan on and build into the setup for how that track changes or is it up to Michael to find his way around it when it starts to show up?
Manion: That is a problem for sure and I’ve never worked on a car or seen one that likes that rubber buildup (laughs). I wouldn’t say there isn’t a way around it but you have to kind of tolerate it. It generally doesn’t build up until late into a run during the race so it is hard to test for it or practice for it until it happens. It is something that happens every year so, I don’t think there is a good answer for it. It affects some cars more than others. When it happens we just have to tune on the car a little bit for it or, like you said, try to adjust the line to miss it.
Neff: They switched around the hauler parking this year so that they park by team as they arrive at the track, so that teams park all of their haulers next to each other. That can end up having your hauler a long way from your garage. Does that increase the challenges you face during a weekend or does it just get you some extra exercise over the weekend?
Manion: I personally like it. Being on a two car team this year and the past few years, we basically work out of one hauler. It is better for the truck drivers. You are sharing ice or cooking behind one hauler. You have two teams with sponsors and you always seem to be looking for your teammate or your boss so it makes it easier. It does create some challenges at some tracks where your garage is further from your truck. I personally like it. I’m sure everyone has an opinion and I’m sure you can find someone who can’t stand it. If you look at the Ganassi and Penske teams, the Indy side of things the trailers all connect with each other. You can park four haulers next to each other and they connect door-to-door-to-door-to-door. You can walk from one to another without going outside. That is pretty cool. The theory there is one is used for engineers and one is for food and one is for shocks and springs or whatever. If tailored around it I think it will be beneficial to teams eventually.
Neff: Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond, being short tracks, Bristol doesn’t have any garages and Martinsville and Richmond are the shed type where you are all in one big building with no walls in-between versus going to Daytona or Talladega or Charlotte where they have the fancy garages. Does it present challenges to you when they have confined spaces like Martinsville where the teams are on top of each other as opposed to having more room to move around like Daytona?
Manion: Martinsville has some of the nicest garages that we go to. They are big, they are wide, they are deep. No complaints at Martinsville. The old Martinsville, before the garages, we were on pit road, asphalt with jacks sinking in, parking on an angle, really loud, there were a handful of challenges. The garages at Martinsville are incredibly nice. The challenges when you are outside with the rain and the weather, it just goes on and on. When they built the garages at Martinsville we were wondering how they would build them and still let the fans see across. They did a great job engineering a beautiful garage and it has worked out very well.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.