NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Matt Puccia Sizes Up Homestead, NASCAR Finale, Biffle

The season is coming to an end for the Cup series traveling circus. Greg Biffle and Matt Puccia didn’t qualify for the final four at Homestead but they have figured out some things that are making their cars faster and head to Homestead looking to try and finish off the season with a win. The race at Phoenix showed the speed that the No. 16 team found at their test at Homestead and also showed their continued determination, rebounding from damage that cost them track position to score a top 10 finish.

Preparing for Homestead, Puccia looks to have his car ready for the slippery track conditions, Florida weather and in race modifications to increase downforce. After this weekend he’s prepared for a full on attack on the 2015 season and new rules package.

Mike Neff: You started pretty deep in the field at Phoenix. It took you a while to move forward but you were in the top 10 late in the event and then dropped back. How did you manage to wrangle a top 10 finish at the end?

Matt Puccia: We started the race and we were fairly decent. We were one of the few cars that was able to pick away a little bit. It was really hard to pass at Phoenix this go around for some reason. The race pace was so fast it made it difficult. We were able to pick away and got up to the top 10 but we got some damage that forced us to come down and lose all of our track position. We had the late race caution at the end and, after being caught behind with the poor track position we made a decision to stay out and gain some valuable track position. I knew, if we could hold onto it for five laps or so, the way the tires were, it didn’t seem like they were a big deal other than for the first five to ten laps. I felt like, if we could hang on for five laps or so and let it get spread out a little bit, we’d be able to maintain and that is what we did. We were able to hold on and salvaged a good finish out of it.

(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)
Crew chief Matt Puccia hopes to capitalize on some late-season momentum for his No. 16 team in Sunday’s Homestead finale. (Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Neff: The tires seemed to fall off pretty quickly over the first few laps but stabilized after that for the remainder of the run. Is that how they behaved for you Sunday as well?

Puccia: Pretty much, there were a lot of times during the race that I was telling Greg, while we were back there in the back running 20 something, like when we lost our track position, that we were running times as fast as the top 5 but we’d lost our track position. Everyone at the time was running the same lap time really. It seemed like after five to ten laps the tires would lose a little of their good and level off quite a bit. The new tires would slow down to where the old tires were. That has typically been what Phoenix has been over the last few races with the tire that Goodyear has been bringing to Phoenix.

Neff: Getting ready to head to Homestead. It sounds like almost everyone tested down there a couple of weeks ago. Most people say they learned quite a few things at that test that made their cars faster. Isn’t it a little surprising to have people learning so much this late in the season to make the cars faster?

Puccia: Yeah, it is a little unfortunate. In the bottom of the ninth we found a few things down there that made these things run a little better for us. It is frustrating to find it this late in the year but hopefully we can benefit from what we learned and go down there and be able to run with these guys. Hope to be in the top 5 all day long and put us in contention to be there at the end and be in a position to possibly win the race.

Neff: During a normal test it can be a little difficult to gauge your success since there aren’t a lot of people there and you don’t get a lot of rubber on the track. Was that different with so many teams down there testing? Did you get a little bit better rubber buildup on the track than normal?

Puccia: it was definitely really good. It took a little bit to get the track rubbered up the first day we were there. We were laying down some pretty fast lap times and I was like ‘wow, this is really beneficial to be out here running’ because we were running so fast. The track was so green. By the middle of the first day the track started taking some rubber and sunny Florida had some high track temps so the track took the rubber pretty quickly. By the end of the second day we were pretty close to what we’re actually going to see for race conditions. It was good to have that many cars down there, not only to gauge how fast we were running against the competition but also to get some rubber down faster and have some closer conditions to what we’ll be racing.

Neff: When you get down to south Florida, the weather is nice but the humidity is usually pretty high. Does the humidity or water grains per million in the air have any impact on how the cars handle and react to the track?

Puccia: Not too much. It seems like it is a little more apparent when we get down there that the track does get pretty slick. I don’t know if it is the humidity or what it is. When you get down there, like the old Daytona used to be, when it gets hot and slick the cars seem to slide around it does seem to be a little more apparent down there. I’m sure it will be a lot more of the same situation this go around.

Neff: With this whole side skirt issue that has come about late this season where teams are pulling out the side skirts to gain downforce. We talked to Jason Ratcliff about it last week and the said the increase in downforce is significant. When you go to a test do you look at other parts of the car like fender flares or wheel wells, even the front of the car to see if you could possibly modify it during the race to gain downforce points?

Puccia: I’ve seen it has gotten a little bit out there in some areas. All of the teams are trying to keep up with the Joneses and get ahead of them a little bit. It has been creeping up a little bit more every single week. There are some advantages out there that people are seeing. Everyone pays attention to where the sensitive areas of the car are. Everybody spends a lot of time in the wind tunnel and everyone knows what makes the cars run, ,what moves the needle and what doesn’t.

Neff: The 2015 rule package is out and we’ve heard that most of the teams have thrown the package onto a car during testing at some time since it came out. What have you delved into so far with the new rules package?

Puccia: We went to Nashville and tested when the rules package came out and were able to run it around there to get a baseline for it so we’d have a foundation for next year. We came back with a little bit of a test plan and when we went to Homestead I brought a separate car from the 2014 car and when we had longer changes going on with the 2014 car we’d go work on the 2015 car. It definitely going to take some adjusting to and it is going to take some different setup stuff and a different way to approach it than what we’re currently racing. That is all part of it and that is why they call it circle track racing. We’ll go back and evaluate what this car needs and go to work. We’ve got a few months here before we have to go to Atlanta in the Spring, so we’ll get after it.

16biffle-announcement-teaser Credit Greg Biffle Facebook
New sponsor Ortho and a new rules package have Biffle (pictured), crew chief Matt Puccia and all of Roush Fenway Racing hopeful 2015 will launch them back into title contention. (Credit: Greg Biffle Facebook)

Neff: They’re taking away downforce, that is the big buzz word of the new package. Do you view the primary chase on these cars next year to be regaining the aero grip or will you be working harder to gain mechanical grip to offset the loss of downforce?

Puccia: To put a percentage on it I don’t know how to quantify it. At the end of the day you’re going to be looking for both. You are always looking for as much downforce as you can get as efficiently as possible and you’re always trying to make as many mechanical gains as you can. We’re just trying to prioritize right now which is the biggest challenge that we’re going to have right now and go after it. We aren’t going to leave any rock unturned as far as what we have to work on. We’re going to put our efforts into the ones that mean the most but the rest of them we’ll work on as well. We’ve got a pretty broad spectrum of what we have in front of us here. It is definitely going to be one of the busiest off-seasons we’ve had in a little bit.

Neff: At Texas and Martinsville we had issues where the cosmetic grill insert blew out of a couple of cars. Are those glued in, screwed in or just how are they attached to the nose?

Puccia: They’re bolted in, screwed in, whatever you can do to attach them securely. I think I was the one who lost the grill at one of them (laughs). I don’t remember which one it was but I know one of the races it came out. It is something that happens. It is just screwed in, fastened in, it is just the front bezel.. It doesn’t hurt us that bad when it comes out but you don’t want to lose it (laughs). There’s no advantage to losing it.

Neff: It is just interesting that those flew off in back-to-back weeks. You’d think those would be bolted in solidly enough to prevent that. It would seem like they would have them be all one piece.

Puccia: I don’t know what it has happened in the last couple of weeks. For the most part they stay in pretty good. You have to pop somebody in the back bumper to make it pop out. If you hit something hard enough, something is going to break (laughs). If it isn’t the grill it will be the radiator inlet duct work or something. That just seems to be the weakest point of it.

Neff: What do you have planned for the little bit of an offseason that you have?

Puccia: it is going to be a pretty busy offseason. We have a lot of new cars that we’re going to build and a new chassis that we are building. Everyone says the off-season, the off-season, what are you doing to do in the off-season? There isn’t much of an off-season. There is a five to seven hour off-season (laughs) once the checkered flag drops at Homestead before we come back in Monday morning and get back after it and start building new cars. Some of our busier times of the year are from November to February. We’ve got a lot of work to do. The aero side of it, the mechanical side of it, a lot of simulation work that we have to improve upon. We’re going to get after it hard come Monday morning.

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