Spending an extra day at Bristol Motor Speedway was a forgone conclusion based on the weather forecast before last weekend. Unfortunately for Trent Owens and his No. 37 team driven by Chris Buescher, the race on Monday ended prematurely thanks to a racing deal near lap 50.
Owens still had the opportunity to experience VHT and track reaction due to rubber building up on the surface. He had to make the decision to go to a backup at the end of practice on Saturday. As part of Tech Talk this week he speaks to the decision to switch versus those teams who stuck with primary cars.
Looking ahead to Richmond, Owens also talks truck arms, rear end housing toe and information gleaned from Phoenix International Raceway and Martinsville Speedway that can be used on the ¾-mile oval. That and more in this week’s Tech Talk.
Mike Neff – We managed to get Bristol in, albeit on Monday. How did your weekend play out in eastern Tennessee?
Trent Owens – The rain was bad enough but our weekend was compounded by a ton of bad luck. Qualifying was rained out so starting position was set by points. Practice went well, our car was really fast, but unfortunately we caught the wall a little bit in the last practice on Saturday and had to go to a backup car with no laps. We put it over there during the XFINITY race and NASCAR let us take the parts off of the primary and put them on the backup. We made the backup as close as we could get to where we ended up with the primary.
We fired off for the race, started dead last and I think we were running 26th with a really fast car that was making passes. They had a crash on lap 50 or so with Kurt Busch. Buescher didn’t get much information that there was an accident. We ended up running into the back of Reed Sorenson to end our day early. Our teammate had a good race and we had a good car as well.
As long as we keep taking good cars to the racetrack like that, at some point our luck will turn. I felt good about the racecar we put on track, I just have to figure out a way to not get in trouble during these races.
Neff – We see it all of the time where sometimes a team will stick with its primary car and sometime it’ll switch to the backup. What is it that, when you look at a car that has made contact with the wall, makes you decide to roll the backup out or not?
Owens – Some would argue that our damage was similar to the other cars’ damage. I believe the [No.] 17 and the [No.] 42 wanted to save their starting spots. They were up high enough in points, obviously the [No.] 42 being on pole, they did not want to go to the rear to start the race. In our situation, we aren’t doing that great in points, we’re 27th.
I just felt like, from a preparation, we didn’t have the staff of fabricators at the track, the parts and pieces to replace the deck lid and the tail. There was pretty extensive work to be done, and I just didn’t feel like we were staffed accordingly. I think, with our expertise of staff that we had at the racetrack, we were better off on the mechanical side to just prepare our backup car. I still think the starting position was what drove their decisions more than anything.
Neff – We got to see the VHT they applied to the bottom of the track. Was the VHT something that you had to decide to adjust your car for, or was it just a matter of how the tires worked on it determined if you’d get down there and try to utilize it or not?
Owens – We experience it a lot at Bristol that, as the track rubbers up, it gets tighter. The VHT, I think, is a great thing. Obviously, by the midpoint of the race, I don’t know where you could see better racing in our sport. It is the right thing to do.
It does take some time to come in. I think they did a good job applying it. The first coat that was applied, before we got there on Friday, was almost too wide. There was really too much VHT and you pretty much had to commit to the bottom. When they did the second coat to where it was just enough to grab the left side tires, that really makes for some good racing. The VHT did supply a lot of grip on the bottom, but once you get the top rubbered in a little bit you start to pick up the speed there too and you can race in both grooves. Some of it is just a matter of getting the top to come in rather than the VHT wearing off.
Neff – For this coming weekend, did what you learned at Phoenix give you a better feel for what you can expect at Richmond versus what you learned at Bristol?
Owens – The stuff we did at Phoenix will translate to Richmond, probably better than Martinsville. If you’re looking at qualifying times, and maybe some of our race packages ’cause there is always heavy tire wear at Richmond, so you may eventually start to lean towards Martinsville. At least on Friday, qualifying day, there is enough speed to experience the loose-in. There will be a little more speed at the end of the straightaways than what we experienced last year, so there will be some minor differences. We’ll probably use a little more brake than last year. The loose-into one is probably going to be the biggest difference from last year.
Neff – Richmond lends itself to a lot of side-by-side racing, especially coming off of the corner when guys are trying to make passes. As you’re getting your car ready, what do you focus on to try to help your driver to complete that pass coming off of the corner before he gets to the next turn?
Owens – In past races at Richmond, when we’ve run the best, we have been rotating the center the best. I feel like a lot of your traction issues on the exit of the corner, because you have to be in the gas to make the pass, start in the center of the corner. Having good traction on that exit starts in the center of the corner. We’ll really concentrate on having the best package we can to get the car to roll and get the car pointed in the center of the corner so that it is pointed straighter coming off. I think if you sit there and concentrate on the exit only and forget about being tight in the center, I don’t think you’ll ever find the traction you need to race and make passes, so that is where we’ll focus.
Neff – Playing with truck arms is always a way to get drive off of the corner and even help with turning in the center. There were people pulling shenanigans last year with bushings and other things with the truck arms that were allowing them to move during the race. This year there have still been some cars weaving after the race like they did last year to get the rear housing to move. Is that something that is still going on, where teams are figuring out ways to get the truck arms to move while the cars are in race trim?
Owens – NASCAR cracked down on some of the components of the truck arms and the housings this year. We fight for every bit of tolerance that is given to us. There is no secret that we do that. I’d say yes, there are probably still some shenanigans going on, just because we all as crew chiefs try to get everything that is allowed to us. I don’t think it is to the extent of last year. I would say any post race movement now is just assuring officials that they pass that Laser Inspection Machine and get some of the rear housing back into place, just based on taking all of the tolerances available.
Neff – In the local short-track world, the sanctioning body became very particular about the construction and composition of truck arms because some people were playing around getting them to flex and perform in different ways. Are you mandated to do welds in specific locations and specific lengths on your truck arms?
Owens – Yes, our rule book states the amount of welds, the thickness, the widths, the heighths. We pretty much have everything spec’d out. You can construct them to the minimum. We have tight tolerances on U-bolt holes. NASCAR has pretty much spec’d out the entire truck arm in a lot of ways. Now I imagine in the local short track arena, where there aren’t specifications, you’ll see people narrow them, lighten them, look for exotic metals. Ours is pretty much detailed in what we get to have for truck arms, at least in respect to the welds and materials.
Neff – Last year you were able to do some rear steer with the rear housings on the cars. This year that has been taken away, correct?
Owens – Yes, that is correct. To make it simple, if you use toe plates you were allowed to have three-sixteenths of an inch of rear steer last year where this year the right rear is allowed straight up zero. We are allowed to toe in the left side tire. If you use a 26-inch toe plate, you can toe the left rear in an eighth or you can toe it out an eighth. The right rear can only be out zero.
Neff – Is there any variance in stagger of tires anymore or are the tolerances tight enough now that you don’t get enough variance in circumference of tires?
Owens – The stagger is a component we still measure and it is a component that if we have the ability to adjust, we will. However, if we see one sixteenth of difference in roll out, that is a big difference for us these days. That said, as tight as competition level is and everyone is getting the same tires, and if you get a left rear that is one sixteenth smaller, it will definitely free your car up. It isn’t something we can count on as an adjustment. You get your tires and try and put them in sets as best you can. It is luck if you get one you can use as a stagger tire.
Neff – You’ll have two different tire compounds at the disposal of the teams. With Buescher being a winner last season, it is something you’ll get to play with, for sure. Is that something you look forward to? Do you like the idea, do you not like the idea and do you hope they’ll offer it in more races next season or not?
Owens – Speaking as a crew chief, it is definitely going to make my life a little more difficult on top of the box. That said, I am open. I’m a big fan of stage racing. I think that, having some softer compound tires at certain points of the race, if you get behind you can use them and make some passes. I am a fan of the rule, even though it is going to make my job that much more difficult.