Tony Gibson and the No. 41 team did what they had to do at Dover to advance to the next round of the Chase. Like it or hate it, the need to points race still arises even with the new format to determine the champion. Now that they are into the Round of 12, they are preparing for Charlotte and the next set of three races to cut the field down to eight.
In this week’s Tech Talk, Gibson discusses Charlotte bumps, video officiating and pushing the limit with tolerances. He also delves into rolling off of the truck in Charlotte, tire wear and running the high line. In addition, he discusses digital dash blackout and concern when teammates have trouble.
Mike Neff – First off, congratulations on advancing to the second round of the Chase. It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but you did what you had to do. Was it one of those deals where you went in with the mindset that, if you weren’t able to win, you’d get yourself in position to ride comfortably and advance?
Tony Gibson – Pretty much, our mindset was to go there and finish [in the] top 10. We figured if we finished in the top 10, it didn’t matter what anyone else did. We just did not want to put ourselves in a bad position or a risky situation. We did exactly what we needed to do. We were not a winning car by any means. Our goal was to not take a tenth-place car, try and run second or third with it and get ourselves in trouble. Our goal was to race our race, score the maximum points we could. It doesn’t do us any good to run top two or three all day, then wreck at the end of the day and end up in a bad position. We didn’t have a car to win, so we took what it would give us and made sure we transferred.
Neff – There have been a couple of big wrecks in the last few years but the Monster has seemed much tamer of late. Is that a combination of tires and cars, are the cars just easier to drive, why do you think we have not seen it chewing up competitors like it used to?
Gibson – The spring race we saw quite a few wrecks. We saw the big one on the frontstretch when Jimmie [Johnson] missed a shift and tore a bunch of cars up. We’ve seen some pile-ups although we haven’t seen the rash of 10-12 cautions like we used to see. We usually see one multi-car wreck there. If you look at this Chase deal right now, there is nobody stepping outside of their comfort zone to push the issue, at least for the top 16 guys. They are all trying to survive the next guy. They are trying to let the next guy make the mistake and knock himself out. I think that is what you have to do the first two rounds. You don’t want to do anything to knock yourself out of it. Let those guys filter themselves and make the bad mistakes. Let things happen out of your control. You control the things that you can. I think the fall race at Dover has calmed down because of that. There are 16 guys and that is a huge portion of the field. They are minding their P’s and Q’s and taking it easy. The spring race is always a little crazier than the fall.
Neff – Headed to Charlotte for the only night race in the Chase. We all know you have the transition from day to night for the 600. With this race taking place 100% at night, what is your primary focus as you unload at Charlotte?
Gibson – The one bad thing about this race is that our practice sessions are not in the right part of the day and the track temp is not what it is going to be when we race. I do think, with the situation with the weather this time, I think the track conditions will be a little closer to what we’re going to race, other than a lot more rubber being on the track. At least the track temp will be closer to what we’re going to see at the start of the race, not quite there but closer than what we’ve seen in the past.
Neff – The tires that we’ve had the last two or three races seem to give up a good bit. Is it to a point where you have to set up the car to manage ties a little more rather than being as aggressive as you were when the tires were harder?
Gibson – I think so. It is still a track where you have to be aggressive on restarts. You’ll get a little more aggressive with camber and air pressure knowing that the restarts are so important to get you going. It is one of those tracks that, every time we go back, is weathering a little bit more and aging. The surface is starting to wear a little bit more. That is what you see with the wear with the tires. As the asphalt opens up and the aggregate starts to come out and wear the tires a little bit more. You see that every race when we go back. Guys get more aggressive on cambers and things like that so that, on the shorter runs, you can get done what you want to get done.
Neff – You mentioned that the track is starting to wear more, with that we’re starting to see more bumps return. Does that cause you to have to build more forgiveness into the suspension side of the car or does Kurt have to grit his teeth and absorb the abuse himself?
Gibson – I think you have to make adjustments for sure. There is one big bump going into turn 1 that has been there forever and it always will be. You have to work around that one bump unfortunately. There are some smaller bumps getting into three but they are nothing like the one going into one. You’re trying to absorb everything into one because that is your one big compression bump. That is the one that everybody focuses on. How harsh can we make the ride to survive that bump into one and keep our car lower and more rigid for the other two corners? It is a little bit of a challenge. We’ll be adjusting because every time you go back the speed changes or something else changes that makes you more aware of the bumps. You try to work on them because the drivers complain a little bit more.
Neff – We’ve seen Kyle Larson make the high line in turns 1 and 2 work which hasn’t happened for a long time. Other drivers have since followed him up there. It is now to the point that, as the runs evolve some drivers can run the top all of the way around. Is that something that you can specifically set your car for or is it something that the driver will just make work through his driving style?
Gibson – I think, typically when the races end it is later in the evening, cooler and the track has more grip. The bottom will be the place to be. When the track is warmer, especially in the 600, when we start that race the top lane comes in as the bottom gives up a little bit. As it gets later into the night the bottom is the place to be. It is the shortest distance around the race track. There is enough grip down there to be able to rail around the bottom. A guy up top is really not going to be able to make a whole lot of hay up there at that point in the race. Larson is one of those guys who is a top feeder. That is where he makes his money. He always seems to find a way to make speed there and make it work. I’m sure he’ll be up there for sure, rim riding. I’m sure he’ll make it work but it is a matter of whether it will be working at the right time of the race to win it.
Neff – A general question that arises out of Kevin Harvick having his track bar issue at Dover. It is a little different from an engine or transmission issue but it was still a problem. Is that something that concerned you, knowing he had that problem, or did you just chalk it up to a fluke issue?
Gibson – Any time a teammate has a problem, you worry about it. Any time another Hendrick engine has a problem, you worry about it. Their deal was an isolated deal. It fatigued and cracked. Dover is one of those places where there is an extreme amount of load on it. With the number of cycles that were on that thing and it had just the right amount of load at just the right moment in time to break it. Anything can break at any time. We try to put mileages on these things to try and keep that from happening. Sometimes you can do whatever you want to and when that part is ready to break it is going to break.
Neff – At New Hampshire, Kurt had an issue where his dash went completely blank briefly. Have you diagnosed what caused that? Was it a loose connection or a bigger concern?
Gibson – We looked at it. It only went off for not even a second and a half. The dash reset itself and came back on. We haven’t been able to get it to do that again. With Mclaren and everybody, we’ve been trying to figure why. Nobody can quite give us an answer why yet, 100%. There are some thoughts and theories behind it. We have never been able to get it to do it again. Not really sure, to this day, why it did it. It was for a short amount of time. After that it worked perfectly and we didn’t have another issue. We’re still digging into that (laughs) still trying to figure out exactly what happened there.
Neff – You were one of the pioneers with the digital dash. Now that we are 30 races into it, have you worked out everything with it? Has it changed much since Daytona?
Gibson – No, it hasn’t changed much. We change some of the settings from track-to-track. Some pit road stuff and some other things like that. For us on the No. 41 [team], we have been pretty steady with what we’ve done with it. We were one of the first ones to run it, race it and get used to it. Other than a little tweak here and there it has been pretty solid and been the same.
Neff – We’ve all heard about the new tolerances and encumbered finishes along with the additional rules that apply. Is that something that you have analyzed to see where you can push things, or is it too big of a penalty to pay if you exceed the tolerances?
Gibson – I think it is too big of a penalty. It is one of those deals where you know where you are at. There is no guarantee, after the race, that the housing tube is not going to gain toe or move. Some of these tracks have more loads than others. There is no perfect way say that it is exactly going to do this and that and I’m going to pass when it is over with. Before we had that number where we could fail. It was a P2 or a P3. It wasn’t quite as catastrophic if you missed it. Which we’ve already seen that a few times with the 78. Now, there is a limit there that you don’t want to cross. If you get too close to that number and you have one thing that bends a little more than you’re used to seeing, for some odd reason, and it puts you over there is no going back, you are stuck. At Stewart-Haas Racing, we never went down that road. We’re not going to go down that road. If we get beat by it, we get beat by it. For our company, Zippy and them have told us that we’re not going down that road.
Neff – Last week, we saw Jimmie Johnson get penalized for a crew member over the wall too soon. It cost him the race because there was never another caution for him to get his lap back. Do you feel like the officiating, with the new video system, is too tight and taking away from the spirit of the competition?
Gibson – No, to me, NASCAR gives us defined lines with the rules. With this one, the rule is one pit away. It has been that rule forever. To me I think NASCAR went this direction because it is like football or baseball. There is an out of bounds line. With football there are lines that distinguish if you are in bounds or out of bounds. I think it clarifies it for the fans and the crews. It can happen to any one of us. The rule has always been one pit away. NASCAR is focusing on the safety side of things too. If a guy goes over with the car two pits away he doesn’t know if he can slow down or not. If the driver comes bailing through there he takes him out. When a guy is one pit away he knows if he is going to make it or not. I think it is just another means of being safe to be honest with you.