The No. 41 team of Kurt Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing was poised to lay a solid foundation for getting out of the penultimate round of the Chase at Martinsville last weekend before Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth got together on a late-race restart. The resulting contact heavily damaged the car and has them behind the eight ball as they try and make the final cut.
Preparing for a must-win situation for the coming two weekends is a challenge. But crew chief Tony Gibson believes the next two tracks are strong points for the organization.
In this week’s edition of Tech Talk, Gibson talks about making pit calls and not really relying on video feed as the field comes to the pit entrance. He also touches base on setting up for all three grooves at Texas and gear ratios for restarts. He wraps up with a breakdown of how the team brings their driver in and out of the pits for a quick stop.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch – You were right in the mix until the next to last caution flew. How did you feel like your day went up to that point?
Tony Gibson – Yeah, we stayed in the top five for most of the day there and led for a while. With 70 to go we were P3 and definitely had a shot at it. We had a strong car and it was really cool to have Monster on the car for the first time. To lead laps and run that good was awesome for them. Our goal was to come out of there with a top five and head on to Texas. Unfortunately, we got caught up in somebody else’s mess and that took us out. Now we have to race to win. Unless some of those other guys have problems over the next two, we have to win a race to advance. Nothing that we can control. The stuff we were controlling was going really good. It is what it is.
Neff – The track at Martinsville didn’t seem to take rubber all weekend. Does that make it better or worse for you because the track doesn’t change as much?
Gibson – I think it is worse. Ever since they changed this tire it doesn’t have the agent in it to stick to the track. The problem is the right sides are way too hard and the left sides are way too soft. All we do is wear the left side tires out of it in about 30 laps. They are going to have to get a tire that will lay some rubber down. It used to be, back in the day, we could run two lanes there later in the race. Guys could run up there. Now it is pretty much a single-groove racetrack. The fans don’t want to see that and neither do I.
I hope they work on the tire for next year and bring back something that has some grip in the rights so that all four tires wear at the same time. I don’t think it is the racetrack’s fault. I think it is the tire just not having the right stuff in it to stick.
Neff – There were a couple of drivers talking about a patch that had been put down in the second groove in turns 3 and 4. They sounded like there was a lot less grip there than in the rest of the corner. Did you hear anything from Kurt about having a problem there?
Gibson – Kurt never really said anything about it. I know some of the other guys did. I think it was just because of the way they finished the concrete. It was really slick in that part. You go in there and get a little bit of grip on the rougher textured concrete and then hit the slick patch. I think that was more of what that was. Kurt is one of those guys who feels like what it is is what it is. He doesn’t really complain much about things like that.
Neff – Midway through the race there was a caution and guys were doing their shenanigans at the end of pit lane. Kurt went three wide and almost got by Keselowski and Harvick. Would you like to see them throw a choose cone into this thing so that you don’t have that kind of melee going on at the end of pit lane tearing up cars trying to get back on the track?
Gibson – Hopefully, with the digital dash and all of that, NASCAR will look into having limiters like IndyCar and Formula 1 so that, when you come down pit road, that is what the speed is in and out. That will make pit road a lot safer and you won’t have guys playing games at the end of pit road trying to stop and count cars and make sure you come out on the inside and not the outside. That’s basically what they were doing.
The [Nos.] 2 and the 4 were counting cars to make sure they lined up on the inside and Kurt saw the advantage there. He figured while there were messing around he’d go by all of them and come out third. It worked out well for us. Usually, whenever we try and count cars, someone stays out or someone has a penalty and we still have to restart on the outside. We just take it for what it is and go race.
Neff – How do you guys feel like you are going to line up trying to win Texas?
Gibson – I feel like we run really well there. We sat on the pole there in the spring. Last year it was one of our three races with Kurt for the first time. There was 15 to go and we were leading that thing, had a shot to win it, had a couple of restarts and kind of got snookered just a little bit on them. I feel like he runs good there, he can win there, he has won there. I think the next two tracks are really good for our race team so hopefully we can capitalize.
Neff – Heard some teams talking at Martinsville about restarts, because we don’t talk about those enough. They said they are playing with the gearing that they need to use with this engine package. Is that something you are still struggling with this late in the season?
Gibson – No, not really, it is is what it is. Everybody has a ratio they work with and a gear ratio they work with. NASCAR doesn’t give us many options there. We mess around with it a little bit based off of the grip of the tire.
I think you see guys play games. The zone is bigger now. Even when it was shorter you had guys brake checking guys or doing slow starts or fast starts. I don’t think it has anything to do with ratios, I think it is just guys playing games. It throws everyone else off. If the leader stacks ’em up right in that zone and gets on the brakes to back everyone up then everyone is going to be slow taking off. Everybody is going to feel like they need more second gear or whatever. The ratios are going to be dictated by the guys playing games up front.
Neff – Last weekend, a few of the crews had some trouble with their video feeds during the race. Do you even look at video when you are making pit calls or do you make the calls based on driver and spotter?
Gibson – We have the feed. Sometimes it is in and out. We just try to make the call and stick with it. It is one of those deals. We have a game plan going into the race if certain situations come up. I let Kurt make the call down at that end of the pit road. We talk about when we are up front in the top six or seven, if guys pit are we going to pit or stay out? Will we line up first or second, is it worth doing it? Obviously our balance at that point in time. We have a plan before it starts and sometimes I let him make that call. The video stuff it is in and out like anything else. It is kind of like Internet or phone service.
Neff – At Texas you can run all over the track thanks to the age of the asphalt down there. Do you go into the weekend anticipating focusing on a low line or high line or do you let it evolve as the weekend progresses?
Gibson – It evolves, for sure. Each time we go back it has gotten a little bit older and weathered. Everybody knows what the tire does but it will be a multi-groove racetrack. There will be guys moving around, which is what I like. It is like Atlanta and Homestead and places like that. I like being able to move around in different grooves. We don’t really set up for a specific lane. Your car has to be capable of running in all three lanes.
Neff – When Kurt comes down pit lane, where do you pick him up from the spotter and when do you give him back to him?
Gibson – Basically, [Rick] Carelli will get him 10 away. As soon as he gets 10 away or at a timing line where he can accelerate, that is where Carelli gets him and then hands him off to me. I get him in the box and then I get him out of the box and clear him to three pits away. At that point Carelli takes back over.