NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Tony Gibson Talks Communication, Downforce and Yaw

Tony Gibson’s No. 41 team celebrated yet another victory last Monday at Pocono when Kurt Busch stretched his fuel to the finish. However, it was a bittersweet moment for Gibson, because he was not able to celebrate with his team thanks to a suspension from a lug nut that was a quarter turn from being tight at the end of the Coca-Cola 600. Gibson still worked with the team through the weekend, thanks to modern technology, but he didn’t get to taste the champagne in Victory Lane.

In Tech Talk this week Gibson talks about keeping in touch with his team and how the groundwork for that victory had been laid for a couple of years leading up to Monday’s race. Like the quarterback that he is, Gibson notes that there are several plans in place every weekend and circumstances dictate which one he ultimately calls. He also tackles the difficulties that lay in wait for this weekend at Michigan, especially high straightaway speeds and an inability to make the cars stick in the corner. Lastly, he gives a glimpse inside the wind tunnel and shares what teams attempt to maximize with the modern aerodynamic Cup car.

Mike Neff – While you didn’t get to go to Victory Lane last week, your team did. How did that whole fuel strategy and ultimate victory work out?

Tony Gibson – It worked out really well. We work on fuel mileage stuff throughout the year. We’ve worked on it at Pocono the last couple of times we’ve been there, and some other places. With EFI it is so much easier to fine tune your fuel mileage and know when you’re going to run out. It is better than what it used to be. We always work on different scenarios. There are always three different scenarios on how aggressive we need to be in different situations to make it to the end. We kind of talked about it on Saturday night, and then again on Sunday night. We talked about, if we were in a given position what we would do. Kurt did exactly what he had to do to save and how much he had to save. Everybody does it, everyone works on a plan. We had one laid out so that Johnny and all of the guys executed perferctly. Kurt did his part and it worked out this time. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.. This time we had a plan and it worked out.

Neff – You mentioned you communicated about it Saturday and Sunday night. For those fans who didn’t realize it, you were suspended this week for not having all of your lug nuts tight at the end of the Coca-Cola 600. A couple of you crew chiefs met that fate this past week. How did you manage to communicate with your team? Were you at the track but you just couldn’t go in the garage area?

Gibson – The rule is you can’t be anywhere that you’re required to have a hard card to gain access. I can be in the campground, in the grandstands, most anywhere but in the garage or on pit road and those kind of locations. I respected all of the stipulations that NASCAR made and obeyed my boundaries. There are so many ways to communicate these days with technology that it is pretty much like you’re standing there anyway. We would meet every night and me and Johnny Klausmeier and our engineer Cook and Kurt. Sunday night we went out to eat and we talked about our balance and where we needed to be for the race and the conditions. We’ve worked on fuel mileage at Pocono and other race tracks before. We went over the plan of what Kurt needed to do in different scenarios, how much fuel he needed to save and what he needed to do inside the car to save that much fuel. The plan was laid out already, we just had to wait and see what plan we needed to put into play; A, B or C. That is dictated by where you are running and how hard you have to run. If you’re the leader or not the leader. There are so many different scenarios and you just try and play them all out and have a plan and hope it works out. We communicated about that every night. There are so many ways: Facetime, texting, your cell phone and so many other options. We were in communication that way a lot throughout the weekend. We honored NASCAR’s deal on what we could and could not do and did the best we could to get through it. In the end it worked out.

Neff – At what point during the race did that strategy begin to unfold? Was it at the last caution or were you already working on it by the midway point of the race?

Gibson – We didn’t put it into play until that last caution. We knew where we were at based on the last time we hit pit road. Once we started getting cautions things changed. We had not intention of trying to make it to the end, which nobody else did either at that point, but we got some quick cautions after that and kept stacking up caution laps and we knew we were within a couple of laps of making this deal work. Let’s go ahead and put plan A in effect and get ourselves positioned right after the last restart and once we see where we land we’ll get aggressive from there. That is how it all played out. I don’t think anybody had any plans of trying to make it. It was too far to make it to the end until we got those quick cautions there after that. Then everybody was like “we’re within two or three laps here, it is possible to make this happen”. Everybody else had the same strategy at that point.

Neff – We’re now headed to the Irish Hills of Michigan and NASCAR has decided to throw another curve ball at you by taking some downforce off of the car. The big one seems to be a significant reduction in rear spoiler. Do you feel that is the biggest challenge for you this weekend?

Gibson – Yeah, there is a lot of total downforce taken off of the car front and rear. It is mostly off of the rear because that is the easiest. Any time they make a change the rear of the car always takes the biggest hit. The rear of the car took a huge hit, balance wise, with this latest change. It will be quite interesting to see what these cars drive like. You can do all of the simulation work you want and everything. You can come up here and do a test and run for half of a day, single car, by yourself. Then you come back and business picks up a little bit. You have to run faster and harder and be around other cars. That is when it gets interesting. We don’t have a lot of practice with this package up here either. It will be quite interesting to see how catastrophic this is going to be. Hopefully the tire will match up really good and kind of tones that down a little bit. I think the biggest thing that is going to happen is our straightaway speeds are going to be so fast, because of the amount of drag they’ve taken off of these things. I think out straightaway speeds are going to be extremely fast and then trying to get whoaed down in the corner because the cars aren’t going to stick. It will be interesting to see what happens. It should make for some cool racing.

Neff – These cars not sticking in the corners is something that maybe half of the field isn’t really used to? They haven’t had to really use the brakes to slow a car down significantly, on a track as big as Michigan.

Gibson – Yeah, we used the brakes here anyway in the last couple of packages, quite a bit, but we’ll obviously be using them more this time. It will be quite interesting. I don’t know that anyone knows what we are going to have until we get going on Friday. One thing is we’ll make a couple quick race runs but then we have to go into qualifying trim. We’re not going to have a lot of time to get a feel for this thing before we tape them off and have the guys go out and try and run over 200 MPH. Man, it is going to be exciting. I just think the racing part of it, as the tires wear, the pace fall off is going to be huge and it is going to turn into a multi-groove race track. We’re used to seeing two grooves here since they repaved it. I think, with this package, it will open up to three lanes.

Neff – You mentioned more downforce was taken off of the rear of the car than the front. What can you do from an aerodynamic standpoint, that is not dictated by the rules, to try and get that front end to give up a little bit more to maintain your balance?

Gibson – You don’t want to take more off. It isn’t like you want to take more off of the front. What you want to try and do is add to the back so you have total CL on the car. You never want to take downforce off whether it is front or rear. You want to try and add. We want to see what we can do to add rear sideforce to it, and not have to nail up the front to misbalance it. There isn’t a whole lot we can do (laughs). With the rules they give us and what we can work with is pretty limited. It is going to be interesting to see what happens. I think mechanically the cars will have to be extremely tight to try and make up for the aero. When we don’t have the downforce the only thing you have left is mechanical. It will be interesting to see how that goes and how everyone manages it.

Neff – For us novices who don’t know, what does CL stand for?

Gibson – That is just total downforce. It is a term we use in the wind tunnel. It is crossover versus lift. The car turns into yaw and once it gets so far into yaw it then creates lift. You want to keep the CL number extremely high because that is total downforce. Then it is broken down into front, rear, front side, rear side and things like that. It is just the total downforce of the car front and rear.

Neff – You talked about an amount of yaw where you start to get lift. Is that why you try and keep your side skirts sealed off to the track as much as you possibly can?

Gibson – That is the whole thing, keeping the side skirts planted down right as close to the track as close as you can. That forces the air to go over the car and not under the car. It takes the center jet of the car, the air that tries to get under the car, going as quick as possible. You want the air speed under the car to be extremely great. When that happens it creates suction and pulls the car down. Keeping those side skirts sealed up makes that center jet run straight down the center of the car and pick up the speed of it, which ultimately creates suction.

Neff – You have a win but, at this point it is still a mathematical possibility that we could have more than 16 winners before the Chase. Do you get more aggressive now to try and get that second one to make sure you’re locked in or were you already trying to get wins and it is a matter of racking up any that you possibly can?

Gibson – Yeah, of course you try and win all of the races. You try and win as many as you can for bonus points and building momentum going into the Chase. The more races you win keeps someone else from making it into the Chase by a win. Right now our best scenario would be one of the teams to win multiple races which keeps someone else out and gives us bonus points.

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