The second road course race of the season provides a far different set of challenges for teams and crew chiefs than Sonoma Raceway did earlier in the year. Watkins Glen International is run at a higher speed and is less technical than Sonoma.
The additional challenge has been thrown at the teams because the track has been repaved this year. A hard tire and the new aero package are going to lead to a completely different race at the Glen this weekend.
Matt McCall, crew chief for Jamie McMurray in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has a driver who has shown flashes on road courses, with three career top 5s, but the Glen is one of his four worst tracks in terms of average finish. McCall is looking at the upcoming event through typical road course eyes.
In this week’s Tech Talk he discusses the lack of importance of tires this weekend. He said he believes fuel mileage will be the key, both from the engine and the ability of the driver to conserve. He has not made changes for the only track where the cars enter the pit from the left and head to the right. His team participated in the test that took place at the Glen, so he feels that they have the knowledge needed to run for the win this weekend.
Mike Neff – We had the fun and frivolity that was a rain-delayed race at Pocono Raceway last weekend. Was there anything left to eat in the hauler or pit box by Monday?
Matt McCall – No. It was definitely a long weekend. You pretty much stood around all day on Sunday and did nothing. Then we went back on Monday, hung out again for a while, raced a little bit, then hung out a little while longer. It was definitely an extended stay for sure.
Neff – Before you had to deal with the weather at the end of the race, the competition seemed pretty intense. What was your take on how the No. 1 fared throughout the event?
McCall – I honestly thought we were going to be a little better in the race. We got a little bit of track position in the race, but we just didn’t go on the restarts [and] we ended up being on the outside, The first Pocono, we made up a bunch of positions on the restarts. We didn’t have the right balance for restarts this time.
That pretty much put a damper on the day. [When] you lose five or six positions on the restarts and only gain one back over the run, it doesn’t really equate to anything but a ton of positions lost. That was pretty much how our day went for the most part.
I was disappointed because I thought we made some decent gains in practice and felt like we were going to be pretty competitive. That is the nature of the beast of this sport; it will give you a reality check every once in a while or every week (laughs).
Neff – We all know how the race played out at the end. Was it on the radar, no pun intended, when the pit stop before the final pit stop happened that the weather looked like it would get there before the end of the race, or was it something that fell into their lap while no one else caught it?
McCall – It was going to be close but we didn’t think it was going to be 20-some laps close, which forced you to pit. We had pitted on lap 107, so that still would have put us short before the last pit stop. Based on radar and all of the other stuff we use for weather, it was a pretty easy answer. Now, once it was over with, you are like, “hmmmm, we could have stayed out and done pretty well there.” It is easy to be a Tuesday-morning quarterback instead of a Monday-morning quarterback.
Neff – Now you head off to New York for your second road race of the year with an animal that is completely different from Sonoma. It is a high-speed road course that is going to be even higher speed thanks to the fresh pavement. Did you participate in the test NASCAR had up there last week?
McCall – Yeah, we tested last week, so we’re good.
Neff – What is your anticipation of the major challenge that will affect you when you head to the Glen?
McCall – I think it will be the typical road course stuff. It doesn’t appear as though tires will be of much importance so it is going to be fuel mileage and how you can manage that from the driver’s compartment. It is going to be interesting. Whoever pits first for the last window and makes it to the end will most likely be your race winner.
Neff – You’ve got a new tire going into this race, another Flintstone tire that they like to bring to the track whenever they have a freshly paved surface. Does having a tire that is that hard on new pavement hurt your fuel mileage or help it?
McCall – This whole new package is better mileage because it is less drag and way more off throttle time. Based off of last year the mileage will be better compared to what you got last year. Tire wise won’t matter much, it is the more throttle the worse the mileage.
Neff – There is always a balance between body roll and how much travel you use shifting your car from left to right. When you go to a road course that is repaved it is obviously going to be smoother than it was in the past. Does that afford you the ability to tighten the chassis up and make it stiffer, or do you want it to still have a lot of roll because of the fact it is a road course and you have to swing that center of gravity from left to right?
McCall – It is a little of both. I think it does allow you to be a little bit stiffer. Obviously that comes into play because the curbs are still there. If you’re going to use the curbs, the stiffer helps you do it.
Neff – Did they give you an opportunity to run the boot while you were there?
McCall – No, did not.
Neff – It would be nice to see them run that as part of the race because it would afford a couple more passing opportunities.
McCall – I would say it would. I don’t know how much faster it would be through there, but it would definitely increase the number of passing zones through there.
Neff – We saw the trouble Brad Keselowski had during the test. Brakes are always a concern at a road course, although we’re talking about a higher speed course, so they aren’t as important as they were at Sonoma. However, when you need them you definitely need them. Is the braking package there similar to New Hampshire Motor Speedway or more in line with Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
McCall – It is definitely more towards Loudon. It is pretty much all of the brake you can try to get. You don’t want to wheel hop. It is weird now; even though the speeds are down this year you still seem to be using more brake. It is the same thing at Watkins Glen right now. The braking is pretty intense for sure.
Neff – Do you have a specific road course transmission that is beefier than you run at the ovals, or are all of them, at this point, about as bulletproof as they get?
McCall – No, there are definitely different components to handle all of that shifting. All of our transmissions are supplied by Hendrick Motorsports. They take care of all of that and help us out when we get there if you have any issues. It is a pretty nice little feature of the deal we are on.
Neff – This is the only course where the cars pit heading in the opposite direction. Have you altered any pit crew assignments at all or is everyone staying on the front or back where they normally work?
McCall – Yeah, still the same. That is one of those things where the risk is probably not worth the reward so we are standing pat on that.
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.