After a little time away from the pit box, Trent Owens is back on top of one for 2017. Owens will be directing the operation for Chris Buescher in the No. 37. After a run at Daytona that ended in a torn up race car, Owens is ready to take his team to Atlanta for the final run on the aged asphalt of the mile and a half race track.
In Tech Talk this week, Owens talks about what it took to get his car back into the transporter after the accident at Daytona. He also discusses the process of determining whether that car will ever be raced again. On heading to Atlanta, Owens emphasizes that tire management is crucial for segment strategy, along with how the configuration of the track contributes to tire wear. He also touches base on dealing with the character of the surface that forces teams to rely on springs and shocks to handle the considerable bumps around the speedway. He wraps up looking at strategy that can make or break a run for the win at Atlanta.
Mike Neff – The Great American Race was not too great for about half of the field. You were one of the cars who was caught up in a Big One. How did you feel like the race unfolded up until you were taken out?
Trent Owens – For us I thought the race went really, really well. For where this team was at the first part of February, and where the car was, everything was new for us. To go down there, in the race, and I’m pretty sure we ran around the top ten for the better part of the second stage. I thought our car was really competitive, and Chris did too. We were just trying to set ourselves up to go race for the final stage, to go race with those guys. We just got caught up in the wreck there with the No. 48. It was a bad finish. We definitely wanted to start the season off better from a finish standpoint. From a performance perspective, the guys on the pit crew did a good job. The crew did a good job preparing the car and everything was going well.
Neff – Your car was crabbing down pit road because it was pretty torqued. When you get that thing into the garage, now much work do you have to do just to get it back onto the hauler to get it back to North Carolina?
Owens – Our track bar, which holds the position from left to right on the rear end housing was broken. That is why you saw the car rolling the way it did. It was a challenge just to get it back on the race hauler. They have the little dollies that you can put on the tires and push it in any direction, we used those. We had to hose clamp the track bar back together. There was a solid 30 minutes worth of work for us to be able to roll it onto the pit gate and push it into the hauler.
Neff – That is one of the things I don’t think fans realize. They see you roll the car into the garage. They think you are done but you have to do a ton of work to get the car to go back into the hauler after you didn’t get a solid finish.
Owens – It is definitely not the most fun work when you’re supposed to be out there racing. You’re having to work just as hard as you did race morning to get the car ready to go run just to get it to roll into the transporter with a poor finish. One of the more depressing workloads.
Neff – When you get that car back and tear it apart, is it something where you will try and put clips back on it and run it again or is that car completely junk?
Owens – We’ll strip it down. Sometimes visibly you can tell if it is worth putting it on the chassis jig to see how bad it is. Some of the crashes, where they hit more front and rear, you have a better chance of saving the chassis than if it gets hit in the center section, where the damage doesn’t look as bad. I think this car will be reparable. We’ll strip it down, take the body off of it and put it on the chassis jig and find out for sure. As long as everything in the center of the car is safe, which I think it is, we should be able to put a front and rear clip on it no problem.
Neff – With all of that said, we are heading down to Atlanta for race two of the season. As you get ready to load up and attack this race weekend, what is the main challenge you know you’re going to have to deal with this weekend?
Owens – Tire management is all you are going to hear this weekend. Really working on our car to be as easy on the tires as possible. Obviously race strategy is going to come into play. The number of tires you have at the end of the race is important. It is one of the few tracks we have left, and this will be the last one for this track, where the tires wear out quickly. We’re going to do all that we can do to look at the data and tire wear and all of that stuff. We’re going to make sure our car is as easy as possible on tires. We’ll focus to make our car good on the long run. It is not going to pay off to be good for five or six laps if, at lap 30, you are three seconds slower. So that will be the main focus.
Neff – We all know that Intermediate tracks are all a mile and a half but everyone is unique for sure. Having ridden around Atlanta it seems like the corners are longer than other mile and a half tracks. The corners seem to be long and sweeping with the straights being shorter. Is that how you feel the track lays out as well?
Owens – You are exactly right. I believe it measures 1.54 miles, which is similar to Texas and Charlotte, and other tracks of that size. The corners are a lot more sweeping and the straightaways are a bit shorter than the other tracks. What you feel there is exactly right. The abrasive asphalt that it has, being in the corner on the high banking, unless you travel at a high rate of speed, it will wear on the tires very quickly.
Neff – With that in mind, does that mean you have to spend more time with the car during setup and testing in a situation of lateral load rather than a vertical load since the car is in yaw going through the corners?
Owens – It factors in. The biggest challenge with Atlanta is the roughness. Trying to find the setup that is mechanically soft enough yet stiff enough to handle some of those bumps. You get such a spike load going through some of those bumps it is really hard to protect the side skirts and the splitter and so forth. That is more of the challenge we are faced with. As far as the corner stuff, we race all kinds of variety of tracks with similar setups. Obviously you get the flatter places and the lateral and vertical loading changes a lot so those setups are completely different. A lot of our banked mile and a half setups have similar trends, but a place like Atlanta, that has bumps is the complete opposite of a place like Kansas that is relatively smooth. For that reason, more of your setup differences fall into that category.
Neff – Speaking of dealing with bumps, the lack of a height rule puts the car down on the earth. Do you use shocks and springs to absorb and rebound off of the bumps very much at all or is most of the shock absorption relegated to the sidewalls of the tires?
Owens – When you talk about a smooth race track, we can get really aggressive with lowering the car down. A place like Atlanta or the old Texas, we have to start tweaking the car back up and relying more and more on the springs and shocks than the tire. For a place like Atlanta, it is probably one of the tracks that leans more to the old school mechanical side than some of our newer tracks. Still, when it factors in, it is a combination of all of it. A lot of times, especially on the right rear, just to protect our side skirt, we’ll use the sidewall on the right rear tire as our spring.
Neff – You had your first taste of segments. Now we are going to a track where strategy is going to be at a premium. Some of the smoother, newer tracks, tire management is not that big of a deal. At Atlanta, tire strategy and management is going to be a bigger factor in your strategy when dealing with these segments. Do you feel that, especially when guys are near the back of the pack, there is going to be even more aggressive pitting to try and gain track position. Or, is even giving up two laps on a fresh set of tires, too much to do when they wear out so fast?
Owens – I think that Atlanta is going to be exactly that. If you are running toward the back and you think you have enough time left toward the end of a stage, to get fresh tires and get inside of the top ten. I think you take the gamble, try to get those points then, and hope the race plays out to where you don’t lose more than you gained. You could easily run out of tires by the end of the race and that would be bad. If those gambles get you 10 points or so, you might not lose 10 points at the end of the race. It would end up being a good gamble. Atlanta is a track where you’re going to have that. When you get toward the end of the first stage, and you get a caution around 10 laps to go in the stage, you’re going to have some cars toward the back of the field pit. Then, when the stage ends, they’ll have to decide if they are going to take on another set or not. You might then end up with some different tire strategies going on for the rest of the race due to that. That opportunity is definitely going to be there in Atlanta. It probably won’t be there when you get to a place like Kansas.
Neff – Speaking of tires, do you know what your tire allotment is for this weekend?
Owens – I will have to go through the exact numbers. I know they gave us an extra set for practice. This year, with the new rule of starting on your actual qualifiers that is something new for us. I can’t tell you the exact number right now, just talking to you. There are a lot of changes with tire allotments thanks to the off-season.
Neff – Heading to Atlanta, it is an old, worn out and tired racing surface. Is it going to be five laps, seven laps, how few laps is it that, if there is a caution flag before the finish of the race that you’ll come in and throw on fresh bolognas?
Owens – It depends on where you are running. If it is seven laps, and I have a fresh set I’m definitely coming in. The leaders have to make a choice as they see it. Even if I was leading I’d probably pit. I’m not saying everyone would make that call. Seven laps is a lot of laps for me at Atlanta. Especially since you can run the top, bottom or middle or wherever. It is definitely a place you can pass. I’d hate to know I was out on the track on seven lap older tires than somebody.
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