Joe Williams is in his second year as a crew chief in the Sprint Cup series. After spending the 2014 season on the box with Ryan Truex for most of the year, he finished up the season guiding JJ Yeley. He is now drawing on the extensive knowledge the grizzled veteran brings to the table for a lower-tier team. The team has been gradually improving from its 40th-place run in Daytona and came home with a 31st-place run at Phoenix
Williams took some time out from packing for his trip to California to talk about preparing his car for the weathered racing surface and new tire that awaits him in Fontana. He shares his opinions about reduced speed and staying in the throttle for the whole lap at the 2-mile track. He also spoke on reducing center of gravity through different oil tanks while making mechanical gains in the front of the car.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch: How do you feel like your day at Phoenix went?
Joe Williams: Phoenix went well. When we started off it was a little tricky there with that brand new tire. We ended up getting a handle on it. We set the car up for long runs. That is kind of how the races have been going, cautions not falling as quickly as they used to. 20 laps into runs we were pretty satisfied with our car, thought we could have gotten a couple of cars at the end. The late caution at the end there left us with 10-lap run and kind of caught us off guard at the end of the race but, we were pretty happy. We got a little bit of a late start with the Toyota nose change and stuff so we’ve been a little bit behind but we’re catching up.
Neff: JJ has had a lot of success at Phoenix. What is it like working with someone who knows how to get around a track so well?
Williams: It is great, I love working with JJ no matter where we go. He has a lot of experience. He helps me learn some of the stuff at these tracks where I haven’t had as much experience. Last year, with Ryan Truex, we were both rookies at it trying to work through the learning curve. When JJ stepped in he brought that experience even though he has a different feel that he likes in the car. We’re clicking for sure, I worked with him as a car chief in the past so we have a little bit of history. We get along great so it really hasn’t been a big deal as far as our communication is going.
Neff: We are headed to Fontana. For the last two or three years tires have been the story there which has led to some great racing. We have a new left-side tire that offers a little more grip than we’ve had in the past. What do you think that will do for the racing?
Williams: The left-side tire is supposed to have a little harder side wall, so we shouldn’t see the left-side issues we’ve had in the last couple of years. It is also a softer compound so that is going to make the setup a little bit tighter. In the past at California you usually fight the seams more than anything else. If you hit the seam with the right front it will make it feel tight and if you hit it with the right rear it will make it feel loose. Inconsistency from lap to lap is what you’re going to fight there. Goodyear brings a good tire every week. They do a good job of correcting where we want to go with air pressures and stuff. Other than being a little tighter with a little more grip, the falloff is probably going to be a little bit more like we’ve seen at the first couple of mile-and-a-half races. I think it will be a great tire and as long as we can get through the seams out there, the track is getting a little more worn out and we need a grippier tire to be able to fire off well.
Neff: With the new rules package we have less downforce than we’ve had in the past. Has that changed what you’re doing with your shocks from a rebound perspective compared to the last couple of years?
Williams: We’ve gone backward a little bit with the shocks. We’ve got a little bit more rebound. With the less downforce, when you are in traffic you need to try and hold the car down a little bit more in traffic to keep the splitter sealed off as best you can. The shocks are a little different than they were in the past with the downforce. It hasn’t been as big of a deal as I thought it would be. I thought it would be a handful but it hasn’t really been. It has just been little adjustments. The shock package has changed a little bit for us, just to try and keep as much downforce on the front of the car and keep it as low as you can when you are in traffic.
Neff: Last week we spoke with Bono Manion a little bit about rear gear. He mentioned that he’d seen a few teams had actually been choosing the option rear gear with the higher rpms than the higher speed option with this new package. Have you seen that in any of your experiences or have you tried out the option gear instead of picking the bigger rear gear every week?
Williams: There is something to that. We get into the chip (rev limiter) at some of these places. They want the rpms to be around 9,000. With the new engine package the valve train seems to move around a lot when you get toward 9,200 rpm. Qualifying at places like that, when you’re using that high gear, you’ll get up to 9,200–9,300 range and you’re get into the chip pretty hard. Also I think the momentum part with this new package, being down 100 horsepower, when you used to get a run off of the top with momentum doesn’t happen anymore. You’re already at your momentum when you get to the corner. You don’t see that big run off of the top like you used to. If you’re going to run the bottom then you are going to need the option gear to get through the corner, otherwise you’re going to have to run the middle or the top but you aren’t going to see the gains. A lot of these guys are going to try and run the bottom so they’re going to opt for the lower gear so they can get up off of the corners.
Neff: Fontana is a 2-mile track. We have lower speeds on the straightaways thanks to the reduced horsepower. Are we getting to the point where the drivers can flat foot it all of the way around Fontana and Michigan?
Williams: I do believe, when the tires are new, there is a good possibility that you’ll just breathe the throttle. You won’t roll all of the way out of it but you’ll just breathe it back by 50% maybe. Some guys are a little bit better. They’ll roll out and get right back into it. It is a momentum racetrack, so you don’t want to use the brakes much at all there. It will get the car really tight in the center. If you do touch them you want to be off of them really quick so you can roll those long, sweeping corners. I do believe in qualifying on Friday afternoon you’ll see a lot of guys that won’t be off of the throttle for long if they are at all.
Neff: With drivers not lifting much at all, is there some concern about the wear on the engines due to the fact that they are not getting a chance to breathe at all during the laps?
Williams: With the sustained rpms, absolutely it is a concern. Like we’ve seen in the past at races like Charlotte and other long races, we try and keep the mileage down as much as we can Valve springs are the heavy hitter right now. They are a little bit lighter valve spring than we’ve used in the past. That is the biggest thing, most everyone will be changing the valve springs before the race to put in a brand new fresh set. Just because of the rpms. You just sustain such a constant rpm that the weakest link is your valve springs.
Neff: In the past, at superspeedway tracks, a ton of effort and technology went into the design of the cowl and the cowl opening to get the air into the engine as quickly as you possibly can. Do you see any of that technology coming over to the other tracks now that we’re using the tapered spacer?
Williams: We’ve seen a little bit, but not as much as you do at the superspeedways. At the speedways you’re at about 450 horsepower. With these engines, you’re still at 800 horsepower since they’ve only knocked off 100 horses with the tapered space. There is a little bit with what goes on for keeping the air flow getting in. More of it is involved with the headers and exhaust. Anything you get in you have to get out. The faster we can get it out of the motor the more we can get in and make more horsepower. Most of the effort has been on the heads, the headers, the exhaust pipes. Trying to make sure you keep that exhaust flow and speed up. It is basically an air pump. The faster you can get it out the more you can get in. You have to start there. We haven’t seen a lot of radical cowls for the first four races here.
Neff: You put a decent amount of oil in the reservoirs of these cars but oil is rather heavy. Is there anyone playing around with cutting back on the amount of oil that they put into these cars to reduce the weight that is that high up in the car?
Williams: We are definitely looking at center of gravity heights with these cars since we can now lower heights and stuff. We’ve looked at different, smaller oil tanks, just putting in as much oil as the manufacturer wants us to run. Not giving the oil a lot of room to breathe in there. Before we had these big tanks and you’d have 17-18 inches from the top of the tank to where the oil level was. That was 17-18 inches of aluminum that you were carrying around that you didn’t need to. There are some designs coming out that are smaller and more radical. The oil level is what the manufacturer recommends but we’re going to push it to the minimum.
Neff: We are three races into the new rules package. With this new package do you feel like you’ve made more gains with the aerodynamic side of things or the mechanical grip side of things?
Williams: I believe we’ve made a lot of gains in the mechanical side and the compliance. We did a lot of work at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) in Salisbury (N.C.) over the winter on compliance and steering in the front ends and trying to get that tightened up so we didn’t have a lot of movement in the front end that we have to overcompensate for. We have made a lot of gains over the winter mechanically. Our aero package isn’t bad. We’ve been to the tunnel a couple of times with the new car and the new nose. We’re still working on it. We have another date next month so we are going to try a couple of other things we’ve learned. I would say mechanical is certainly where we made the biggest gains over the winter.
Neff: BK is the only team that uses Racing Engines Plus. Do you get any help from TRD in the engine department? If so, how does that work?
Williams: It works pretty good. We get some mapping, fuel mapping and stuff from them. We’ll take one of our motors out to California and dyno the motor and get some help with the fuel mapping on the motor to make sure we’re peaking where we need to peak and whether the computer part is working properly. In the beginning a lot of people had issues with that stuff. Just trying to get the motor to run at 3,000 rpm and still make power at 9,000 rpm. It is a fuel mapping deal that they’ve helped us out a lot with. It has come a long way for sure.