Trent Owens and his No. 43 team took a shot in Kentucky and came up a few ounces short of grabbing a win. While they didn’t take home the trophy, they are feeling like they had one of their best intermediate runs of the season and are looking to make another strong run on Sunday in Loudon. The flagship team for Richard Petty Motorsports has to take gambles for wins in their current point position, but they just might be poised to make it happen this weekend.
Heading into Loudon, Owens has reason to be optimistic. His squad participated in the tire test last month at New Hampshire, and he feels like they have a leg up on the competition who didn’t. In this week’s Tech Talk Owens also talks about the new softer right side tires, keeping the left front planted and cars sitting on the ground before they even take to the race track. He also touches on right front tires on pit stops with the no ride height rule, brake balance and brake cooling on a track that demands heavy brake usage.
Mike Neff: Taking a look back at Kentucky, how do you feel like your race played out? It was a struggle at the beginning but you made a run at the win in the end.
Trent Owens: We were actually happy about the Kentucky race. I messed up at the start of the race, starting the air pressures too low and we just couldn’t take off. We were able to tune on it after that and really got competitive. We moved forward the whole race and found ourselves in a position where we thought that four tires, at least for us, was a lot better than two. We took four tires and made track position up on restarts with that. At the end, with the fuel mileage, we took a gamble and tried to steal a win because that opportunity was there. That is why you saw us run out of gas. I didn’t want to slow down to the point to just get a nice top 5 or something like that. At our spot in the points we had to go all out and hope the guys in front of us ran out. We stayed in front of enough guys that we had the opportunity to win, which is what we did but, unfortunately we ran out of fuel and finished 20th. All-in-all it was a good, competitive race for our car. It was probably our best mile and a half since Atlanta. From a team morale standpoint, we are holding our heads a little higher going into Loudon because we had a competitive race car and a competitive race. That is something we’ve lacked recently so hopefully it is a sign of good things to come.
Neff: The tires were an obvious topic of conversation on Saturday night. Did you have any struggles with heat levels on the front tires with the amount of brake you ended up using getting the car slowed down on those hard tires?
Owens – The brake components got really hot. We noticed that in practice and actually added some brake ducts and cooling to the brakes after practice. I think my group did a good job of catching it before the race, seeing it was going to be a problem and worse in traffic, which it always is. So we ran brake openings, which is strange for a place like Kentucky but that is a part of the package. I don’t think we’ve seen a right side tire that hard that I can ever remember based on the durometer measurement. Goodyear had to be safe, we had some tire problems during the open test when we were up there. I think they did a good job of preventing anything from happening. I think they’ll be able to soften the tire when we go back. It was a lot of off throttle time and a lot of brakes being used. I know that the chat during the race and what I could see revealed there were a lot of guys getting long pedals. I bet there were a lot of close failures. I heard some guys may have broken rotors, I don’t know that for sure it was just what I heard. At least I was happy with my mechanics, they caught things in practice and we made provisions going into the race so we didn’t have any issues.
Neff – You mentioned you added brake cooling which changes the downforce on the nose. Do you have to adjust the rear of the car as well since it changes the amount of downforce up front?
Owens – At Kentucky we are pretty much worried about the right front. We were able to shift right side balance and tighten our entry up there so we were mostly worried about the right front caliper getting too hot. When we go to Loudon it is a completely different package. It is all short track based and everything is a lot bigger. You’ll run a lot more rear brake in the car than you would at Kentucky. At Kentucky you try and run a lot more front percentage to make the car tighter on entry. At Loudon you have to run more rear percentage to get the car to actually turn with those tight corners. It is completely different braking bias or percentage, however you want to look at it. We’ll fight a little bit of temperature in Loudon but that is something we always have to deal with there, Kentucky was kind of a surprise.
Neff – You mentioned we are heading to Loudon. The thing at the front of everyone’s mind is making it turn in the center of the corner. What is your main focus when you unload to make sure your car turns in the middle of the corner?
Owens – At Loudon mid-corner turn is what everyone fights. It is a tough balance to get the car to turn and not get free on entry or exit. It is really hard to put the entire corner together. We participated in the tire test in Loudon a month ago. I felt like we were in a really good spot so I hope everything lines up. I think the biggest challenge for all of the teams over races in the past is how soft the right side tire is going to be. We saw dramatic time fall-off during the test that we’ve never seen at Loudon. It is going to be interesting to see what the guys who haven’t been on that tire think going into the race. It is going to be a little different mindset on the way you call strategy and all of that. Hopefully we’ll get a good starting spot through qualifying. It looks like the temperatures are going to be pretty high. We’ll see how it plays out but I feel good going in based on how the tire test went.
Neff: You mentioned the right side tires are going to be extra soft. With the lower downforce aero package, is the tire an attempt to offset the loss of force and, if so, what do you have to battle to try and get a similar feel to what we had last year?
Owens: The softer compound is definitely a result of the lower downforce package. It is an effort to make the lap times fall off and generate some passing while putting the car more in the drivers’ hands. With the time fall off we feel like the racing is better because you will get some more side-by-side racing when the guys are off of the throttle for longer. When we tested at Loudon I was shocked at how much the lower downforce package affected our travels. When you get down to such a low corner speed there, not having the downforce on the car really affected the car wanting to stay down on its own naturally. We really fought that at the test and we were able to make some changes based on last year’s setup. We’ll see how it plays out but I think some of the teams that didn’t get to test are going to find how the lack of downforce affects the travels and getting the car to stay down center off.
Neff: We’ve discussed all season the no ride height rule. With the increased travel result in you cranking down the front of the car even more when you’re sitting static on pit road or is it something you have to build in because you need the clearance on the other parts of the track away from the corners?
Owens: You’re exactly right, we ended up with a lot lower static frame height sitting on pit road than we’ve ever run up there in the past. Pretty much we are getting to the point where we’re getting the car so low that we have to worry about pit stops during the race. We don’t want to slow up the pit stops by having the car too low. I think you’ll see cars sitting on the starting line before the race with their splitter already on the ground pretty much. You are definitely right in your thinking. The lack of downforce is causing us to go a lot lower on the frame rails when the car is static.
Neff: We’ve seen a few instances this year where the right front tire changer has had trouble getting the tire out of the wheel well. Is there a rule for the size of what the wheel opening can be and is that something you have to worry about when you crank them that low to the ground?
Owens: Yes, there is a set rule on both the size of the wheel opening and the XYZ of it. Our bodies have pretty tight tolerances so we don’t have any flexibility in the wheel opening itself. You have to be careful with your offsets and how far outside you get your tires. The camber can play an effect. When they jack that right side up, that right front just doesn’t droop out real fast. We have to run a chain on one side of the sway bar to help that our, which most everyone in the garage does. It is always the right front that is really tight at the top of the fender for guys to pull out. A lot of times the changer can get in a rush and cause himself more harm. Sometimes the tire falls more slowly and he just needs to slow down to make the stop faster. It is certainly something that is present that we didn’t have when we had frame height rules in the past.
Neff: You talked about using more rear brake than front brake at Loudon and you’re using a more short track centric brake package. They changed the rules for cooling intakes and you now have to use NACA ducts in the right side windows. Are you using cooling fans on the rear brakes and does running it through that small right side window make it handle differently than it did in the past when you brought the air in from different locations?
Owens: Yeah, for starters we run a more balanced brake package at Loudon. The brakes are bigger in the rear and the bias is more even from front to rear compared to Kentucky. As far as the cooling, the cooling hoses going through the package tray from those quarter windows probably do a better job than when we pulled cooling off of the truck arm scoops and just kept everything under the car. The problem is, when you open up those NACA ducts in those windows you start to lose a lot of downforce and add drag to the car. We try to stay away from getting too many NACAs in those windows. That is probably where you have to make the decision. How much cooling are you going to run versus trying to keep downforce on the car. We always tried to run the scoops under the car because they didn’t lose downforce and would sometimes help with it in certain situations. I’m sure that is why you saw the cooling coming from those areas. The air coming through the quarter windows is probably a lot faster and more efficient than what we were trying to pull under the car but it is all downforce related. Us crew chiefs we hate to give anything away (laughs). Other than giving the driver his air conditioning we’d rather not have any of them.
Neff: You shared that you don’t want to get too loose off of the corner because that is where you get your speed to make passes at Loudon. In searching for that drive off with this package, will we see the rear of the cars lower than we normally do or is it somewhere else that you’re going to go to find that drive off of the corner?
Owens: It is a tough balance. We have a sideskirt rule that is so many inches off of the ground. We try and get the car down as low as we can and seal that sideskirt off but keep a little bit of spoiler height in the car. What you’re going to see is guys trying to squat the right rear as you exit to get the drive off but maintain that attitude down the straightaway as well so you don’t get loose on entry. At Loudon if you don’t get off of the corner well then you push up high and you lose all of your speed down the straight. Those long straightaways is where you make your lap time, getting off of those exits quickly. I don’t think you’ll see any cars riding around with real high attitudes or ride heights in the back. It is a balance of getting the right rear down to a point that you don’t lift the left front off of the ground. You’ll get the right rear as low as you can while maintaining that left front down attitude.
Neff: As a low country South Carolina guy, how do you like lobster?
Owens: (laughs) I love lobster actually. I like all seafood. I’m not too picky when it comes to shellfish, I tend to eat all of it and I’d love to eat some after Sunday’s race.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.