Coming out of Charlotte after a top-five run, Tony Gibson is feeling good about the No. 41 team driven by Kurt Busch and where they are heading into Kansas. While on the way to Kansas, the team took a detour through Phoenix for three days of testing. Monday and Tuesday teams tested for Goodyear in anticipation of the low downforce package for 2016 before a one-day test with the 2015 rules for the race in a few weeks. Testing time is always helpful for a race team, but it was taxing on a crew having to leave straight from the race track in Charlotte to get to Phoenix in time for the test.
Looking at Kansas, Gibson had a lot of insight, not to mention some hindsight from Charlotte and Phoenix. Gibson speaks this week in Tech Talk about the decision at Charlotte that almost cost them, dealing with the impound of the car that was set up for a night race and how much the cars are slowing down at Phoenix with the low downforce package. He looks ahead to Kansas and dealing with the extra hard tire, adjust springs and shocks for the stiff sidewalls, selecting sway bars and overall strategy for the race.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch – Charlotte was the first round of the second round of the Chase. You came home with a top five on Sunday. Passing was difficult to say the least. How would you assess the weekend?
Tony Gibson – It went really well. We qualified well and all of our practices went well and, y’know our race went good. We had a strong car all day long. We stayed right there. One time we pitted with the No. 20 car there. We were in second and probably should have stayed out there. We thought about staying out but the leader pitted and we decided it was too early in the race to try and get that far out of sync on fuel and everything else. We decided to pit and there was about eight of them that decided to stay out. So we lost a little bit of our track position so it took us a fuel run to get that back. We ended up with a good night. It was a solid night for us with a lot of laps and a lot of miles. We came out of there with a top five. That is what we were hoping to do, that was our goal when we went over there. We accomplished that and we feel pretty good about it.
Neff – Speaking with Todd Gordon during the press conference after the race, he said that they had everyone go through tech on Saturday night and impounded the cars before they called the race. How much of a monkey wrench did that throw your way to adjust the car to compete during the daytime rather than at night on Saturday?
Gibson – It is a different deal. Cars drive differently and the racetrack goes through a different transition. Everybody was on the same page so, it added a little bit of drama to balance out the car to get through that first run. I felt like we unloaded in race trim, on Thursday when we got there, and we were pretty good – he was pretty happy with it. Then we could always go back to the first practice on Friday when it was warmer outside. We used the balance from those two practices so we knew we’d be pretty decent when he fired off. We didn’t change much besides air pressure, knowing we had a competition yellow coming. We fired off pretty good and the car was pretty stout right there at the start. No big dramas for us.
Neff – You finished up with the race, jumped on a plane and went to Phoenix for three days of testing. What all did you learn in three days in the desert Southwest?
Gibson – Well the first two days we were there we ran the 2016 aero package for next year. That went really well. We felt like the balance was really close to what we had. We started with the same setup chassis-wise, we just had different aero. We felt like we hit it pretty close. The car drove pretty good. We made some longer runs. Obviously over a 40-lap run, the pace falls off a lot more because the tires are a little softer. They give up more and the lack of downforce causes the corner speeds to be slower. The pace ends up dropping off like half of a second more than race pace did there in the spring. I think everyone there was happy with the results. Then Wednesday we switched back over to the 2015 package and that went really well too. I felt like we had a decent test. We learned some things to do and not to do. There were a lot of cars there Wednesday so the track was more conditioned to what we’ll see when we come back in a few weeks. All-in-all, everyone did a good job with the lack of sleep and flat being tired. Everybody did a really good job.
Neff – Has Goodyear decided on a tire it wants to use for Phoenix when you go there next spring?
Gibson – I don’t know that they concretely decided what they want to start with. Brad Keselowski was there in the No. 2, the No. 20 was there and we were there and AJ Allmendinger was there. I felt like there were really good teams and drivers there to evaluate the tires and give good feedback. I feel like, based on what we saw for wear and speeds and everything, I think they should be able to come up with a pretty quick decision on that. They never tell you 100% what they are going to come back with. They go home, look at all of the tires, dismount them, do all of the wears on everything, listen to the driver comments from all of the runs and then they’ll come up with a tire.
Neff – Next up is Kansas. As we always say, the mile-and-a-halfs look the same but they are always different. What is the biggest difference between Kansas and Charlotte?
Gibson – The loads are different. The bump-stop loads and the wheel loads are down at Kansas from what they are at Charlotte just because of the lack of vertical load there. We carry a lot of lateral load there. There is a lot of on throttle time there. The biggest struggle you have there is it is a really hard tire and really fast speeds. There is a grip level deal there that is kind of mismatched, in my opinion. You’ll see it as loose off and most of it is just slinging lateral because they are carrying so much mid-corner speed that the tire just can’t handle that lateral load to hold the back of the car. Everybody will fight that, some worse than others. Last time there we fought that quite a bit. We qualified eighth and finished eighth. It isn’t one of Kurt’s best racetracks, so we felt like we came out of there with a good finish the first race. We led some laps and managed it pretty well. That is our plan this time, go in there and run our race, like we do every week, and get the maximum points we can this weekend. We’ll take it one practice at a time and one day at a time and see what comes out on Sunday.
Neff – When Goodyear gives you a harder compound does it also make for less sidewall spring rates from tires with a softer compound or are the sidewalls consistent no matter the surface compound?
Gibson – No, the construction of the tire changes with the vertical and lateral grip of a racetrack along with the pavement and speeds that we’re running. They are never the same, at every track it changes quite a bit just from the load side of things. It is difficult to go to Charlotte and then go to Kansas and say the tire is going to feel the same because it is not. The construction and the compound difference at Kansas is different than it is at Charlotte. At Kansas it is so hard and the sidewall is really stiff because it has to be since we are carrying so much lateral load. The tire would just fold under if we didn’t. We have a really stiff construction sidewall and a hard compound because, like I said you are carrying so much speed. Since we carry that much speed, sometimes you have tire issues. When a tire is really hard and doesn’t wear out it holds heat. When it holds heat we will have failures and you see that a lot at Kansas. Hopefully we’re not the ones who have an issue and we come out of here with a clean race.
Neff – Speaking of holding heat, do you have to put a bead blower on the tire just because you have a tire that is going to hold more heat?
Gibson – Yeah, we run blowers on there to help it, but it is kind of like going outside and blowing in the wind. It really doesn’t accomplish a whole lot. We just do it because it is the right thing to do. It really isn’t doing a whole lot at a place like this. The heat is so high and the fans that we can run just don’t do a very good job.
Neff – Since you have the harder sidewalls and you don’t have as much spring rate in the tire do you have to accommodate for that in your springs and shocks to do more absorption that the tires aren’t handling?
Gibson – Yeah, you build that kind of compliance into your shock and spring packages to try and put some compliance in it to try and take some of the load out of the tires. That is one of the things we work on at Kansas quite a bit.
Neff – Since you have such a stiff tire and you are sliding so much, does that require a bigger or smaller sway bar?
Gibson – It depends, a sway bar is a roll-stiffness device. That goes by where the heights are and where the rear track bar is. You want to get your front roll stiffness as close as you can to the rear roll stiffness. It just depends on what we want for balance. Anything we do in the back we’ll go to the front and match it. Bars just kind of go up and down based on what our roll stiffness is from track to track.
Neff – When we watched Loudon and Dover they talked about cars running on the flat to try and make sure that they were getting fuel to the pickup. Matt Puccia said last week that they only run a single pickup. When they came out with EFI they sold it that you would have a pickup on both sides of the fuel cell. Is that an option that people just aren’t taking advantage of or does it depend by team?
Gibson – It is an option. Teams have the option of running the dual pickup, with two boxes or one pump. It all depends. At places like that we run two just to make sure, if we’re up on the banking we can pick up the fuel that runs to the left side. It is just optional. Places with high banks, Dover and Bristol for sure. Places like Charlotte, where fuel mileage can come into play so it is whatever you feel most comfortable with.
Neff – Talladega is looming, and you said that Kansas isn’t the best track for Kurt. Do you go into Kansas with the mindset that you want to try your best to just get a top five and get out, or are you going in thinking you are going to throw everything at it to try and get the win so you don’t have any heartache at Talladega?
Gibson – Unless you win this weekend, everyone is going to go into Talladega holding their breath. You can have two top fives in a row here at Kansas and at Charlotte then go to Talladega and get knocked out. We saw that last year with the No. 18. Nobody is going to be safe except for the two guys that win these two races.