Heading into Talladega Superspeedway, the crew chiefs in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have many sleepless nights. In the end, it is probably the track where they make least impact of any race during the season.
Chris Heroy and his No. 44 team, driven by Brian Scott, roll in knowing their teammate won on a plate track recently and they should have equipment that can run with the leaders. They enter this weekend with a new piece that may or may not separate them from the pack.
In Tech Talk this week Heroy covers a lot of topics – from springs, shocks and qualifying trim to taping up the grill opening. He weighs in on fuel mileage, fuel cell capacity, ride heights and jack screws. He even brings up wooden gas pedals. In the end, he will be sitting on the box Sunday chewing his nails and popping antacids like all of the other crew chiefs knowing, in an instant, it all could be for naught.
Mike Neff: As we look back at Kansas Speedway first this week, it was a pretty rough weekend for you all of the way around. How did you see it?
Chris Heroy: Yeah, in the first practice we were OK. We got too tight in qualifying so we didn’t qualify too well. Our first run we had a little too much air in the right sides. We drove up into the low 20s but we built way too loose. After that we adjusted to correct the long run loose. We lost a little initial speed, but we got it handling pretty well.
At the end we were driving pretty well but being two laps down you’re waving and trying to get them back. We just didn’t get enough cautions to get back onto the lead lap to get a good finish. It is a typically tough race for us. We made a couple mistakes on pit road with speeding penalties and our gearing was off. If we could just clean up some little mistakes we’ll be better.
Neff: Is that a catch-22 in the modern world of NASCAR? You make up so many spots on restarts, and it is so hard after that. Are you painted into a corner where you have to be good on the short run at the expense of the long run?
Heroy: It depends on where you are starting. If you are in the front you can build for the long run because the restarts are easier. If you’re in the back you have to build for the short so you can get that initial track position because it is so hard to pass. We sort of overdid it. We drove up to 22nd or so. When the caution came out we were grenading pretty quickly. That was only 30 laps in. It is a balance but when you’re in the back you definitely need to fire off and get some spots pretty quickly so you have a little cushion when the leader starts coming.
Neff: We head off to northern Alabama for our last restrictor plate race of the season. When you unload off the truck down there, are you in race trim right off the bat?
Heroy: Yeah, with it being an impound race, we’ll have our race setup in and go draft. We may check travels in qualifying trim after we get it driving well in the draft. This is a new car with a little different body and some different stuff in it so we need to go get a balance. We’ll do that as quickly as possible. We might do a few single car runs to see where our speed is at and see if we can find anything quickly. The biggest thing is to get to the race with the most complete you can that hasn’t been bent or run too much.
Neff: We’ve had this package since 2013. Is there really any speed that is left to be found at this point when you roll off at the track?
Heroy: Well, the No. 24 is outqualifying everybody by two or three tenths every race. Since about 2013. So yeah, there is speed out there, if nothing more than to bridge the gap. The biggest thing at Talladega is to make sure nothing weird is happening with the car. Making sure you can get good runs and you’re good in the draft. We’ll definitely focus on that.
Neff: What is it that you are allowed to or you do adjust, for your qualifying runs, that you take back out for the race?
Heroy: We can adjust the jack screws. A round in the front, a round and a half in the back. We can adjust packers, adjust shock clicks and things like that. We’ll do as much as we can there to free the car and put as much speed in the car as we can, then click it back. We’ll put a little tape on the nose as well.
Neff: They assign you rear shocks and springs, but do they assign front shocks and springs as well?
Heroy: No, just rears.
Neff: With the ride height rules we now have and the smooth surface that Talladega still has, is there much that you do at all with the front shots and springs or are you just down on the earth at the drop of the rag?
Heroy: You’re down on the earth at the drop of the rag. You want to get the most consistent,lowest splitter you can so that is the direction we work.
Neff: On the EFI side of things, as you prepare to go to one of these restrictor plate tracks there isn’t a lot you can tweak with the engine. Are there tweaks you can make that have impacts on your fuel mileage when they put on the plates?
Heroy: We leave that up to Roush Yates. They do a fantastic job with the fuel mileage of that thing. I wouldn’t want to pretend I know more about it than them. They do what they can and do a great job with their mapping to give us the best possible.
Neff: Speaking of fuel mileage, do you do a run when you’re down there to run it all of the way out of fuel or can you gauge it based on what you put in between practice runs?
Heroy: We’ve got a good idea of what we’ve got and how much we can fill it. We’ve run these cells out many times so we have a good idea of what we’ll get.
Neff: You are pretty limited on the opening of the front of the car. When you are running the race do you do any taping at all or does that small opening limit you from taping anything?
Heroy: We can always sneak an inch or so on each side. We’ll do that to cut down a little drag. Daytona we race a little bit closed. It will stay pretty cool with the opening we have.
Neff: Do you have any NACA duct openings on the right side of the car at a plate track?
Heroy: No, not for us we don’t.
Neff: At one point we were having issues with driver comfort and they mandated ducts going to the drivers. Is that not something they worry about with the plate package?
Heroy: We put some NACAs to the driver. It gets pretty hot, especially in the floorboard area. We’ll work a lot of fans down in that area. Some people do wooden gas pedals to help limit the heat transfer. They’ll wear big moon boots and things like that to try and keep that area comfortable.
Neff: Wait a minute! Wooden gas pedals?
Heroy: Yeah, they came up a while ago. Yeah, you put a piece of wood on the pad on the throttle. It is a good insulator.
Neff: Have you already started dealing with that foot box area in anticipation of the required modifications for next year?
Heroy: We’ve already got some plans and some mats and stuff all ready to go. It is all good. We want those guys to be as safe as possible when they have wrecks and things are flying around. We’ve got all of those intrusion plates ready to go in.
Neff: Strategy-wise, everyone always has a strategy going into these things but they immediately change as soon as the green flag waves. Do you roll in focusing on working with the No. 43 and other Ford cars, if it lines up, or is it a matter of racing the first 50-60 laps to determine who you push and pull well with and then try and develop a strategy?
Heroy: Yeah, obviously our teammate is our first choice and Aric [Almirola] is very good in the draft. We will definitely try and start there but eventually you’ve got to build relationships with the other drivers and they have to know they can trust you in the draft. We’ll go in the draft and try and make some friends. Pushing people, staying in line and not being a squirrel. See if, in the end, we can’t be in the right line.