The 1-mile racetrack in Loudon, New Hampshire, provides some unique challenges to race teams. For a team that isn’t in the Chase, the test is to compete and try and win the event while not interfering with the teams racing for the championship. As a team that hasn’t won this season, getting the car to a point to contend can be a battle in and of itself. Kevin “Bono’ Manion and Sam Hornish Jr.‘s No. 9 team gambled on a new setup at Chicagoland Speedway and, until a part failure, felt like it was working and giving the team speed.
Preparing for New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Manion has several challenges. The biggest battle at NHMS is consistently getting the car to turn in the center of the corner, which allows the driver to get back on the gas quickly and pass the cars who can’t turn the center as well. He also needs to make the horsepower and get it to the ground in order for the car to drive off of the corner. Springs, shocks and truck arms all play a part in handling the lateral loads and drive off that make the car move forward our of the corners.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch – Chicago is in the rear view mirror and it was a challenge for you. After contact with the wall you ended up a handful of laps down in the back half of the field. Every race is an opportunity to learn something. How do you assess your weekend in the Windy City?
Kevin “Bono” Manion – Actually, our finish doesn’t reflect the way our car handled and the performance we had. Felt good with our car unloading and felt comfortable with the setup. Sam liked a lot of the characteristics and thought it raced really well. Had some pretty good speed in the second practice. In the race we were moving forward and passing cars fairly early on. Sam felt a pop in the back end and went straight and hit the wall fairly early. We were way off the pace. It took us a long time to get a caution so we could come down to work on it. We had to pit under green to clearance the fenders and he said it was bottoming out really bad. We had a part failure in the back of the car which took a while to get rectified. By the time we got it rectified we were three or four laps down. With the body damage we were a little off on pace.
All in all it was a bad finish but we were happy with the way the car drove before we had damage. We’ve got something to hang our hat on. We took a positive out of there. It was a different setup and it worked well. Our teammate had a similar setup and had a good result. We felt good about it but you can’t erase that 30th-place finish. Someday we’ll get all of the eggs in one basket and get a good finish out of the deal.
Neff – The tire at Chicago seemed to fall off a little bit, making tires a part of strategy. How did you feel about the rubber that Goodyear brought?
Manion – It was the same tire as last year. Obviously it didn’t fall off enough. The leaders had 15-20 laps on their tires and decided to stay out. The guy who restarted third won the race. As far as fall-off, it had a little but once it got to a certain point it held on for a long time. I think, with the new rules package next year, you’ll see a new step with the tire that might have swapped this race up at the end. The tire was good. It was comfortable and safe and had good grip too. All in all it was a decent tire but, the week before at Richmond, we stayed out with eight laps on our tires and took a spanking. It is a happy medium. It was a good, comfortable tire.
Neff – We’re heading to New Hampshire this week. Unless something has changed dramatically in the last couple of months, rolling the center there is the key there. Is that what you view as your biggest challenge at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?
Manion – Absolutely. It is a short race, a fairly predictable race and usually a good race as far as action on the track. Rolling the center has always been the key there, although there are a couple different lines. You can shoot the bottom and get a run on the inside of a guy. As long as you’re rolling good and can pick up the gas you can make a pass. You have to be really good and free rolling to make a pass. That is what most everyone will work on is rolling the center.
Neff – Is it possible for the driver and how he attacks the corner, either arced in or shallow, to make a difference on how you rotate through the center?
Manion – Yes, he certainly can, but you have to remember there is always somebody on your outside there. You can definitely run through the corner two-wide. Lifting early and getting back to the gas a little sooner is also an option.
Neff – Speaking of guys being on the outside going through the center, with the limited amount of banking there you experience a lot of lateral load in the corner. Is there anything you can do from a setup standpoint, whether it is springs or shocks or truck arms, that will allow the car to deal with the lateral force better?
Manion – Every track takes a little different setup. You might find something that works at one short track and not another. The amount of roll you deal with at Loudon can be affected several ways. You have your front bar and in the rear your have your track bar and your truck arms for adjustments. Every track is a little unique, and you might find one little thing that works at these tracks that you put into your back pocket and take it there, and every time you go there it works. To answer your question there are setups and you have to work on the setup to get your best handling car.
Neff – Fans may not know how minute the adjustments can be on the truck arms to make a major difference in the car. When you talk about setting up the truck arms, how small can the changes be that make a large difference in the behavior of the car?
Manion – Most teams are set up with a one inch adjustment on their truck arm height off of the ground. Some teams might go a half an inch. The truck arms are 51 inches long, but if you take the percentage of moving it an inch it seems fairly small but at some tracks where they are more sensitive than others. When we talk about truck arm changes there are two or three locations on the left side that we can do and four or five inches of adjustments on the right side. Along with that you can shorten up the left side length as much as six inches if you want to.
Putting it in perspective of what the change does to the car is hard to say. However, every team out there will move their truck arm one inch, if it is in their practice plan, to see what kind of a change it will produce.
Neff – In concert with the truck arms is the pinion angle, where the driveshaft goes into the pumpkin in the rear end. Changing that angle can alter the horsepower that hits the ground at the rear wheels. How important is it, when you make adjustments to your car in practice, that you maintain the same pinion angle while you make those changes?
Manion – Absolutely, for a couple of different reasons. One, like you talked about, is horsepower. Two, if you change your truck arm angle you want to maintain your pinion angle by putting a shim in between the rear end housing and the truck arm, so you don’t put your rear end in bind. That is your rear suspension and you want it free flowing with nothing bound up. To reset your pinion angle back to your initial setting is key and very important for your rear functionality.
Neff – Different teams have tried out the digital dash in a few races so far. Have you had a chance to play with it yet?
Manion – Just during testing we’ve had it. I know a few teams have raced it but we’ve only run it at test. We’ve have virtually no issues and the driver likes it. Once they get all of the bugs worked out of it and the packaging working better and the dashes aesthetically looking better with the display, it will be really nice.
Neff – For the assembly of the cars, is it going to make it a little bit easier because you can unplug it from one car to another?
Manion – That is what they tell us (laughs). Potentially it will be that easy. I’ve seen the wiring guys at the shop working on it. I’ve had my hands in it a little bit. Potentially you won’t need your whole fleet of cars to have dashes in them. Your primary car, your backup car and maybe next week’s cars will have dashes in them along with a spare in the truck. It should cut down on some costs long term.
Neff – Kyle Busch‘s team changed their front tire changer this week. How big of a deal is that from the choreography of the pit stops, when you’re talking about nine races left to the title?
Manion – That happens quite a bit. I think, what is unique in this situation is, I heard that whole team has been together for several years. There is probably some camaraderie between that team where they had things going. Making a change after the first race of the Chase. We don’t know the facts of what happened there. Maybe he was hurt. With these teams and the amount of practice and the coaching and the workouts, it should be plug and play. Stick in someone else and go. Just like a professional football team. If the starter gets hurt they bring in the substitute and it should be seamless for them. I’m sure the boy they replaced him with has either been changing on another Cup team or Gibbs’s Xfinity cars, so it should be fairly bulletproof and a seamless change.
Neff – You aren’t in the Chase so these 10 races give you a chance to experiment and try some new things. How much is that NOT an advantage, knowing that we are going to have a completely different package next year?
Manion – It is what it is. We have to go out and do the best we can to get our best finish. It might allow us to change our strategy up, which I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks, doing what the leaders don’t do. Being aggressive on pit calls or being conservative sometimes. There are some opportunities but we need some good, strong finishes to give us some momentum through the winter. It is what it is about the Chase. We try and stay out of those guys’ way. It is their Chase and we’re mindful of that. They have a right to be there, we deserve to be in the race. You kind of walk on pins and needles around those guys because, as we saw with Kevin Harvick, one race and your Chase hopes could be ruined. Even though that team is well deserving of a run for the championship, they have to win now. It is a little nerve-wracking racing around those guys, for sure.