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Tech Talk: Early Season Domination, Common Splitters, Pit Guns & Big Fish with Tony Gibson

This year is going to be a little different with Tony Gibson in Tech Talk. He is not on top of a pit box for 2018, and will instead be an integral part of the preparation of all of the Stewart-Haas Racing entries in NASCAR. If the first four races of the season are any indication, this change in the business structure at SHR was a great choice as the team is one of the strongest organizations this year.

Looking at the start of the year, Gibson breaks down his new role at SHR and the myriad of responsibilities that fall under his supervision. He brags on his teams successes from Daytona International Speedway to Atlanta Motor Speedway, takes a look at the impact of the new splitter on car balance and the struggles other teams are facing. He wraps up with in-house manufacturing, pit guns from last year versus this year and gives us a reason to check out big fish, all in this week’s edition of Tech Talk.

Mike Neff – Now that you aren’t on the box as SHR anymore, what is your official title and what are your duties?

Tony Gibson – I am the production manager. I handle everything back at the shop. I split the duties with (Greg) Zipadelli. He’s at the track all the time. I kind of oversee all four cars at the shop. All of the individual departments. The body shop, the chassis shop, the finish fab, quality control, I just have my hands in everything. Just trying to make sure that all four teams are competitive and are all the same. Everyone has the same opportunity to win each and every weekend. Try and put out fires and figure out most of the problems before the cars ever leave for the racetrack. It is a full-time job for sure. I have been wide-open. My wife says I work more now than I did before. At least I can go fishing on Saturday or Sunday most of the time, but it is just nice being home every night.

Neff – Speaking of making sure everyone is equal in competition, you definitely did that last Sunday with all four of the cars finishing in the top 10. If you look back at this weekend, is this the crown jewel race so far in 2018?

Gibson – I think so, but if you look back at Atlanta, all four cars qualified in the final round and all four were running in the top 10 all day. The No. 10 had a problem with their jack on the final pit stop and came home P11. Really, we’ve been strong all year long. If you think back to it, Aric [Almirola] was half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500, so we are half of a lap away from winning the first four races of the season. It has been a really good year. We’re winning races and our cars are running up front. That is our goal. When we started this new thing with me being here, like I told you before, my job is to make sure all four cars have an opportunity to win and they are all prepared the same and when they leave the shop they have a great opportunity. So far it has been awesome. I’ve loved sitting at home watching them and listening to the drivers and watching everything unfold. Nothing makes me more proud than when they are all sitting there running in the top 10, leading laps, and all they are talking about is the Stewart -Haas Racing camp. It gives me a lot of pride.

Neff – Speaking of this year in general. We saw (Kevin) Harvick put a whipping on them in Texas at the end of last season. This actually started up last year but this year we went to the common splitter. Has that change been a help to you? It seems like you got a handle on the balance of the car with it before anyone else has.

Gibson – I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone really knew what they had to be honest with you. I don’t know that it made any difference. It obviously makes things easier on our side, the production side, because the splitters are what they are. Everybody has the same splitters, so no one can play shenanigans with them anymore like they did in the past, molding them and shaping them and doing all of that. I think it helped put everyone on the same playing field as far as that goes. So we aren’t having to focus and worry about that anymore, we can focus on other things on the race car that makes them run fast. I think it is one more thing that NASCAR implemented where the teams can say “Ok, this is what we’ve got”, bolt it on and go. We don’t have to fool with it anymore.

One thing last year, we had the switch over and there was a lot going on with the change to Ford and going through those growing pains. We have a lot of those things worked out already as we start this year. That part of it was a little easier coming into this season, so we could focus on little bitty detail things that make our cars run fast versus the great big things we needed to do just to get to the racetrack. I think that has been our biggest gains this season.

Neff – Talking about rules and changes this year, did the overall package that they put in place for 2018 result in the cars being a little bit tighter by default?

Gibson – They are just a little bit tighter. Some of the aero balance is actually switched to the rear of the car so it honestly balances it out a little bit. I think, for us, maybe some of the changes may have helped us balance our cars a little bit better this year than we were able to last year. I think we knew what we had last year and we worked on it hard. This year, I think we’ve just gotten a little further down with getting our balance right. I think some of the other teams may be struggling a little with that. I think Chevrolet is going through kind of what we last year. New bodies so balances are different. How do you work around that? I think you’ll see those guys come around like we did last year. They’ll get stronger and stronger as they go.

Neff – Looking at your position and working to get cars ready for four distinct teams. You used to be focused on the driving style of one driver, now you have four unique drivers that you’re preparing cars for. Are there things on the production side of the cars that cater to different driving styles or are the cars basically the same when you finish them and the teams then customize them for their specific wheel men?

Gibson – The only thing that changes on my side of things may be the way the seat is mounted in the car. Based on a drivers seat and a few comfort things they need inside of the car. There is also some braking stuff like pedal ratios and some things that one driver may want while the others don’t. Those are little things. I would say that 95 percent of our cars this year are exactly the same. Everything that we do is the same. The other five percent is just comfort things that the driver wants and what he wants to feel inside the cockpit.

Neff – Does SHR build their own chassis from the ground up?

Gibson – Yes, we build everything here. We’ve done that for a few years now. We’re learning there too obviously, and getting a little better at those kind of things. We think we’re building better cars now than we did when we were just building our clips while we ran Hendrick stuff. We feel like we’re learning too just like everybody. Gibbs went through this same thing when they did their deal and started building their own chassis. They get better and smarter and learn. We build everything here, we build our rear end housings, we build our spindles, we build our center links, we build our truck arms, we build everything here. We have very few things, like our brake pads and calipers and rotors that we buy outside of our shop.

Neff – With all of the pit gun discussions that have been going on there were a few people who posted that SHR had used the Paoli pit guns in the past. Is that true that you used them instead of the typical Thunder Guns?

Gibson – Well, some of the guns that some of the guys had were pretty close to those guns, which we’d used before. Some of our changers didn’t like the other guns, particularly the guys on the No. 41 team with me over the last couple of years. We didn’t really change over to those new guns until last year just because our guys didn’t really like those guns. We’ve had the older guns for a long time. It is just a preference for the tire changer. By the end of last year we’d all adapted over to the SHR gun and now we have had to switch back. About the time we got switched over we had to switch back.

Neff – They talked during the TV broadcast at Vegas that there was discussion about the teams using their own sockets on the pit guns. Have you heard anything about that and has there been any movement on that?

Gibson – I did hear that but it is strictly speculation. You hear things all of the time on TV with all sorts of people talking about things. To be honest with you, I stay out of that side of things now. I don’t know where we’re at on those kind of things or where NASCAR is. I did get wind of it, just like you did, but I really don’t know where anyone stands on that right now.

Neff – Roger Penske said that Ford will be going to a new body in 2019. With the strength of SHR over the first four races of the season with the current body, have you been lobbying to put that off for another year?

Gibson – No, I think that is a Ford Performance thing. Just like in any other series, whatever sells on Monday is what they want to race on Sunday. I think that is strictly up to Ford and what kind of car they develop for that. Ford does a great job of making sure they are up on that and what they want to build as a car. I am comfortable that, whenever it does happen whatever car it does end up being, we’ll be fine.

Neff – We saw pictures during last weekend’s race of some big bass that you caught on Badin Lake with your No. 4 car chief who was on suspension. Have you let it known to the other car chiefs that getting suspended is not the way to get to go fishing with you?

Gibson – That is up to them. My boat is always open so it depends on how they want to get off of the road, that is totally up to them. Whoever wants to go fishing with me, however they want to make that happen, I always enjoy having a partner with me.

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