Jamie McMurray‘s crew chief, Matt McCall was on the hot seat at the end of the race in New Hampshire. After a solid run all day, a late pit call backfired and threw his No. 1 team from comfortably inside the next round of the Chase to having to fight their way in.
The final round of that fight comes Sunday at the Monster Mile in Dover. McCall knows that his car has the speed to advance; McMurray, his driver, has been in this position before only to fall short to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last season. The key will be outdueling those cars around them in the point standings.
In this week’s Tech Talk, McCall talks about the keys to taking that next step and making it through Dover with their championship hopes intact. What are the keys to getting in and out of the corners at Dover while applying the rubber to the road? He also touches on picking pit stalls, laser inspection and other major NASCAR rule changes announced this week that “encumber” a race win.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: Let’s take a look back at New Hampshire. You were in the mix all day until the cavalcade of cautions at the end that bit you. How did you view your day in the Northeast?
Matt McCall: We were fine until lap 250 and then there were mistakes at the end on my part, as far as pitting or not pitting. It has been awhile since every car pitted again from ninth on back after only running 20 laps but that is what happened. We got caught with no tires again. That didn’t work out very well for us.
Neff: You seemed to be right in the mix, running at the back end of the top 10 all day. Was that how you saw it play out?
McCall: We ran pretty much eighth to tenth all day. We put tires on there one time and ran up to fifth or sixth. After that it was lap 250 where we ended up being the last car with no tires. It just didn’t work out there at the end. It was my mistake. We ended up eating up a bunch of points by not pitting at the right time. If we could race on Mondays, everyone would win.
Neff: We are now headed to the first state to race at the Monster Mile. Dover is a big, mean concrete racetrack although it has been more timid the last few years compared to its past. When you first think of setting up for Dover, what is the first thing you want to focus on as you roll off of the truck?
McCall: Just trying to get the balance close. The track changes so much from the time you unload to the start of the race, to the halfway point of the race, after each caution. The biggest thing is starting with the balance close and giving yourself enough adjustability throughout the race.
Neff: With the amount of banking at Dover, do you have the ability to rely on the spring rate of the tires for your travel while sitting harder on the bump stops or do you have to use bump stops more thanks to that much vertical load?
McCall: It is all pretty similar. Aero is still pretty important. You need to hold a good platform so it is all of the above.
Neff: The drop in and the jump out of the corners at Dover is very interesting. The car basically falls into the corner and the jumps up out of it. Do you have to apply more rebound in your shocks than you normally do thanks to those abrupt transitions in and out of the corners?
McCall: You control it more with wheel rates than you do with shocks. You can do some with shocks but more of it comes from your wheel rates on all four corners there.
Neff: Restarts are still the most important thing these days. As you prepare for Dover do you set it up based on your driver’s preference or do you have simulations that decide optimal gearing for restarts?
McCall: It is a little of all of the above. It honestly depends on where you are starting that dictates what ratios you need. Until you are in the first two rows, you really can’t control the restarts. It is more the driver controlling it. When you get to the first two rows, then I’d say your ratios are probably a little more important.
Neff: We’ve talked about this in the past and it has been the topic of discussion of late: speeding penalties on pit road. The pit road at Dover is tricky enough with the difficulty to get on and off. Has the addition of the extra timing lines made a difference as to where you pick your pit stall there or is it pretty much the same as before?
McCall: Honestly, it has taken some of the ability to pick stalls away. If you can’t have an opening, there aren’t too many stalls that are super beneficial thanks to the timing lines. It is more about the cars around you and having an opening in or out.
Neff: The digital dash is into the Chase and we’ve got almost 30 races on it for everybody. Kurt Busch had an issue with his last week. Have you fine-tuned the dash or is it basically the same as you started with at Daytona?
McCall: I would say it is pretty similar, for the most part. There have been updates here and there as far as some different adjustability. Basically McLaren has to get that approved and NASCAR then allows whatever update comes out and when you can run that specification number. For the most part, it has been pretty small changes.
Neff: As part of the Chase, we’ve dealt with penalty issues the last couple of races. Now everyone in the Chase has to go through the Laser Inspection System at the end of the day. They have given you some bigger tolerances. Is that a temptation to push the bounds a little harder because you have more leeway or do you have to rein yourself in, knowing if you exceed that it will be an enormous penalty?
McCall: Really, the way they have the tolerances built for all of your pieces, as long as you don’t have something yield for the most part you are probably going to be fine. There isn’t really a way to push it more unless you go way outside the box. All of your stuff has to be submitted and approved and that type of stuff. It isn’t like you can just rebuild something this week and throw it in your car. Especially track bar wise, you’d have to have all that stuff submitted and approved by NASCAR. You can basically just max out all of the tolerances they give you. For the most part, that is the easiest thing to do, besides redesigning parts that take forever to go through the submission process.
Neff: On Sunday, the No. 5 car had to go to the back for an unapproved adjustment on their track bar adjuster. They didn’t mention the particulars of it on the broadcast other than it had to be replaced. Do you know what that was about?
McCall: I believe they were pushing out to the grid. You have to go through tech with the track bar flat. So when you roll out to the track to move your bar up or down for the race you just use your switch to do it. Apparently, they tried to do it and their adjuster didn’t work so they had to replace it. Since it happened after tech, they called it an unapproved adjustment so that is why they made them go to the back. I thought that was strange.
Neff: We mentioned earlier that the Monster doesn’t bite people quite as much as it used to but it can still tear up a car. For the pit crash cart that you will have on pit lane for the race, what can you fix without having to go to the garage?
McCall: The biggest thing is that there can’t be a significant amount of damage to the suspension. You can adjust track bar length and the toe and put on body pieces. Even if you’re doing that, you’re going to be so far off of the pace. That is what happened to us in the first Dover race. We ended up killing the whole front end but it was just bent. It was still able to go straight. We were able to go out there and ride around. If you hit something up there, you are probably going to be way off pace and just trying to survive to get as many points as you can.
Neff: You are at the cutoff line for advancing to the next round. Assuming you are competitive enough for a top 5, do you roll the dice to get on a different pit strategy so that you can try and grab the win or do you have to wait to analyze what your competition is doing at that time?
McCall: It all depends on where everybody is running. Who all you are racing against will dictate what you do with your strategy.
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