The No. 41 team of Kurt Busch, led by crew chief Tony Gibson, has been knocking on the door of a win this season. While they haven’t made it to Victory Lane yet, Busch and co. have shown speed and a handle for the new aero package.
Kansas Speedway was another instance where he was in position, but the chips didn’t fall his way, resulting in a respectable third-place finish and his ninth top 10 of 2016.
Before looking forward to Dover International Speedway, Gibson spoke with Frontstretch to discuss aerodynamics and tires from Kansas, along with misfortune on the late race restart. Then, he dives into Dover with a look at chassis fatigue, geometry and spring rates, driver comfort and similarities between the track and intermediates.
Mike Neff – Looking back at Kansas, you were certainly in the mix, but it appeared as though passing was back to the 2015 days. What did you feel about your weekend at Kansas?
Tony Gibson – Yeah, it is pretty much the same when you running that fast and have so much on throttle time, track position is everything. We lined up third on that final restart and kind of got trapped behind [Matt] Kenseth there. He really didn’t accelerate there for some odd reason. We ended up behind him; I wish we could have been in the outside lane but it didn’t happen. We had a great night and ran top 5 all night long. We were definitely in a position to win again for like the fifth or sixth week in a row; we just weren’t able to get it done. We ran strong all night, and I’m proud of our effort.
Neff – It did seem to be follow the leader for most of the night. Have the teams gained back most of what you lost with the new aero package, and if so, do they need to tweak it again?
Gibson – No, we aren’t there yet. I don’t know that we’ll ever get there. NASCAR is working on rules as we go along. We’re trying something different at the All-Star Race. At Kentucky and Michigan I believe there will be another step in downforce. I think they are working on things quicker than we can respond. I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to where we were.
Neff – Kansas was repaved about four years ago. Does it need to age a little more before you think Goodyear can really give you a tire that will give up enough out there?
Gibson – They could build a tire right now that would give up more. I don’t think this was a great shot at what we needed tire-wise. They can definitely build a tire that can fall off more quickly than the track would give up. I think they are probably going to go back to the drawing board and draw up some things that will make that tire fall off a little bit quicker.
Neff – You head to Dover this week, a 1-mile concrete track they call the Monster Mile, basically Bristol Motor Speedway on steroids. Are there things you learned at Bristol, with this new package, that will convert over to Dover?
Gibson – Oh, yeah, we pretty much treat Dover like an intermediate from an aerodynamic perspective, [but] the abrupt landing and the surface of it we treat like Bristol. We usually take what we run at Charlotte or Vegas or a track like that, we’ll slide it over to Dover and plug it in and [it] will usually work pretty good.
Neff – When you go into the corners there, the car gets light and drops down and lands pretty hard. Is that something that you try and account for, from a driver comfort perspective with the way the cars are down on the earth these days, or does the driver just have to suck it up and realize it is going to be a heavy impact 800 times on Sunday?
Gibson – Yeah, you can’t change it. You can try and make the ride better, but when you do that you give up grip and aero and everything else. So it is what it is, and the driver just has get up on the wheel and drive it. It is just a part of that race track. There isn’t anything we can do to change that.
Neff – On that landing you pull a lot of vertical G-forces on the chassis at the point of impact. Does that repeated stress from Dover cause fatigue on the chassis to where you have to worry about replacing it faster than with other types of race tracks?
Gibson – We do. We’re taking our Bristol car to Dover. After this race we’ll put a new clip on the front and back and look everything over. That is generally the time to do that stuff.
Neff – Dover made some changes to pit lane and eliminated three pit stalls to give teams a little more on pit lane. The track used to have some of the shortest pit boxes that you faced on the circuit. Is that change going to alter how you make your pit selection for Sunday?
Gibson – It will change everything. Once we get there everyone will go and measure the boxes. They’re going to be longer because they are dispersing the length of the three stalls to all of the other boxes. They re-marked pit road, which is giving us a lot more room as far as the length of the stalls, which will help getting in and out and around guys. You hopefully won’t be wrecking quite as much on pit road. You’ll still have the narrow side of it, which you’ll have to be careful of, but we’ll definitely have more room between the cars. Once we get there and measure all of the stalls and kind of get a feel for what the layout is, then we’ll see how much different our picks are for Sunday. All we really have so far is an overhead shot, but we really don’t see the lines they’ve drawn. We don’t have that information yet, so we’ll see how the stalls end up to the timing lines after we get there. That will dictate where we go.
Neff – Is the tire that Goodyear is bringing the same utilized last year?
Gibson – No, it is a different tire. The left side is a different construction. The right side is a little more durable. Both sides are different with little tweaks here and there based on what we learned last year and going into this year. Goodyear has made these tires a little more durable, so it will be a little more of a guessing game on air pressures and working around that on balance of the car.
Neff – The Martinsville tire didn’t seem to put rubber in the track all day. When you go to more durable tires, they tend to dust off more than rubber in. Is that a concern going into this weekend?
Gibson – I think so. We’re supposed to get a lot of rain up there, and it is going to be cooler. Like Bristol, it took until like the last 15 minutes of Happy Hour to start laying rubber down. I think Dover will be the same way due to the lack of practice that we’ll get and the lack of vehicles on the track before we race. With it being really cool on Sunday, like 60 degrees and windy, the track is not going to be very warm. You may see by the last quarter of the race, it will start rubbering in. I think it will take a while before it rubbers in like what we’re used to seeing.
Neff – With the kind of vertical loads that you see at Dover due to the banking, if you choose to give it up, what kind of spring rates are you running at Dover?
Gibson – It just depends; it isn’t really a spring rate — we really go by wheel rate more than actual spring. You have to combine the bind of the geometry, as far as your jacking. Your jacking forces of just the geometry with no spring, and then you put the spring in, and you have a bump stop, too. It varies; there isn’t one answer to what is right and what is wrong. Things have changed and a guy may say he has a 500-pound spring over there, but he may have a 2,000-pound bump stop. His geometry also can come into play because he may be jacking up or jacking down. So many other things come into play that knowing a guys spring doesn’t really tell you anything.
Neff – We saw our first penalty for lug nuts after Kansas. The report from NASCAR was a little bit vague as to the cause of the penalty. There was debate as to what “installed” was going to mean. Are you hearing the five lug nuts were there and weren’t torqued at a high enough rate or what was the basis for the penalty?
Gibson – I don’t think it had anything to do with how tight they were. I think you’ll see something later on exactly what it was. I’ve heard a couple of things from a couple of crew guys. What we hear through our garage deal is a different situation. I think you’ll hear soon probably more direction on what the problem was. I don’t think it had anything to do with how tight the lugs were, though.
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