The Monster Energy Open was the first laps in anger with the restrictor plate aero package at Charlotte Motor Speedway. AJ Allmendinger won the final stage, while his JTG Daugherty Racing teammate Chris Buescher came home in fifth.
Trent Owens, crew chief for Buescher, wasn’t able to take much away from the experience for the Coca-Cola 600, but nonetheless he appreciated the package for the racing it afforded.
As his team gets ready for the longest race of the NASCAR season, Owens takes a look at pit stops and how they have evolved this season. He touches base on the jackman’s job and removing the left-side tires during pit stops. He also covers the dreaded transition that every team will face as the race progresses from day to night in this week’s edition of Tech Talk.
Mike Neff – The All-Star Race put on a whale of a show for the fans. What was it like from on top of the pit box?
Trent Owens – When we announced that package, I wasn’t sure. You could definitely come up with a lot of reasons [why] we shouldn’t do it. We went through practice, and it was an attractive practice in terms of watching the cars race each other. You didn’t know how much of that was just because it was a new package and the lack of track time.
But I have to say, I was impressed by the quality of racing it produced. While working on the car was certainly different than our standard, we had to worry about the drag component more so than we do at mile-and-a halves today. I think there is some merit to running that package at some more mile-and-a-halves. I don’t necessarily think it is the package for everywhere we race or every weekend, but I would like to see them test the waters a little bit with that same package.
Neff – Was the strategy that came into play different?
Owens – You wanted track position; obviously that pays off. Every track is a little different on that. There was some tire falloff at Charlotte. We even saw in the short practice that we did get that tires were meaningful. I think you had about a 15-lap window where you could stay out or do two tires, something like that. The way the All-Star Race plays out, some of the segments are short enough to do that. You saw some cars do that.
The Open race that we were a part of, it didn’t pay off to stay out or take two tires. Those cars got beat, probably more so because there were more cars on four tires.
The way we saw the race play out in the All-Star Race was a little bit different. There were more cars on the same strategy there vs. with just one guy staying out and the rest of them pitting. It didn’t really change it.
I think if you had the whole field of cars out there, it would probably change. You could probably do more two tire stops than what we saw over there in the All-Star Race. It would change that aspect of calling the race. …
I didn’t really feel like you couldn’t make moves with the package. As long as you could see the car in front of you and you had someone helping you, you could get some runs on cars and catch up. You could run the high side, you could run the low side. That was one of the nice things about that package. You didn’t see everyone just committed to the bottom. You saw AJ really make good time around the top. It was nice in that regard.
Neff – Will there be enough falloff with the tire that 15 laps in you’ll definitely want to come get new tires?
Owens – I feel like four tires is going to be the way to go in the 600, for sure. We are going to run a lot more laps in a row than we ran this past weekend over there. I don’t think there are going to be any issues. I think four tires will prevail.
I don’t think you’re going to see any two-tire stops or no-tire stops throughout the race, until maybe towards the end. If something strange happens or you have a car that is 15th and they just gamble because they can’t be any worse than 15th, last-car-on-the-lead-lap kind of stuff, that might play in.
Neff – As you get ready for this weekend, do you focus on just hanging on through the early portion of the race, or do you attempt to make hay early on and adjust to stay on top of the track for the whole event?
Owens – I think it is dictated by how qualifying goes a little bit. This is one race where we put a little more adjustment in the car than we normally do to try and prepare for the night. You can’t completely give up the speed in the daytime or you’ll go a lap down pretty quickly, especially the way the No. 4 car is running.
We’ll put more adjustment in the car. We’ll try to make it where Chris doesn’t have to hang on, so to speak, too much. However, there is a certain level of that in the daytime that you have to deal with some troubles in order to be good at night.
Neff – Is it feasible to think you will be able to put shims in during the race to lift the car a littlem or is it too much of a time loss so you have to start off with the car a little higher off of the ground so that it is right when you get to the night?
Owens – We are prepared to put shims in for the nighttime. However, when it gets late at night, if you are running top five I don’t feel like you’re going to be able to take time to put shims in the front. You might look at lowering the back to give you a little more splitter clearance, more so than putting shims in. Once the car travels a little more you can usually deal with the back dropping down a little more if you need some splitter clearance. That is probably the route most people will choose.
If you don’t have track position and you are the last car on the lead lap, then yes, it is a freebie to go ahead and take a little time to do it, if you need it. Sometimes, though, just through doing green flag pit stops and race wear in general, we wear enough of the splitter off in certain places that we don’t get into big trouble that way. Green flag pit stops are really hard on splitters. They are braking hard and coming across the apron. It really hits the sides pretty good, so a lot of the time we end up getting the clearance we need whether we want it or not.
It is always difficult when it does that transition. You don’t want to be one of those teams where you hear that they are one adjustment behind all night. You really definitely have to be in front of that adjustment, especially setting up for that last run. I know in years past that I have been doing Cup, I have seen a lot of cars gain a lot of spots and lose a lot of spots over those last 100 laps.
Neff – It seems a lot of teams are having a lot of trouble, especially with the left side of the car, getting the tires off. The cars are set up to be so low to begin with that you aren’t getting enough droop out of the suspension to get the tire out easily. Is that somewhere that you are allowed to shave to wheel wells openings to ease the tire coming out, or are you too tied into the box that you cannot make additional clearance? Or would that clearance cost you too much speed?
Owens – I think it is a product of the low downforce package. With a lack of downforce on the body, you keep lowering your frame heights and lowering your car to get down on the racetrack. When you have a lot of downforce, it pushes the car down on the track, and you don’t have to start as low.
I think it is a product of the car being statically so low when it comes in the pits. We are not allowed to really cut the wheel openings out but a certain amount. It is really tough on the carriers to get the tire in there after they pull the tire off. It is tough for the jackman to get the car all of the way up sometimes.
It is a tough balance. We have a certain number that we have to stay above on our left-front frame height especially that we can’t go below, or we will be unable to pit the car. I think a lot of that is frame height-driven. We’d love to be able to cut the wheel opening out a little more, but the Hawkeye system won’t allow us to go but so far.
Neff – You used to need a one-pump jack. Now it seems like most everyone is having to do two or three pumps to get the cars up high enough to make the stops. Is that something that teams have changed for a speed advantage?
Owens – The amount of height that you need to lift the left side of the car, as we mentioned earlier with the left sides being so low, you can’t start the jack handle almost straight up in the air. You just wouldn’t be able to get the leverage to do the full pump. It is quicker to do two short pumps rather than the one full pump for the amount of distance you need to raise the jack.
I think, one ,it is easier and probably a little quicker for the jackmen to do two quick pumps than to try for one. The old one pump that we used to use most likely couldn’t get the car up high enough off of the ground, so it is most likely more efficient to do two short ones.
Neff – Has your team embraced this year’s pit rules and gotten better at the roles so that they can get your car out of the pits quickly?
Owens – With the new pit rules, our team has definitely adjusted, and we are a lot better than the last time I talked to you. We have struggled on pit road this year as a whole. I think it’s individual-based. As this thing progresses and you figure out new ways to do the pit stop, one team’s jackman might be more universal than another team’s jackman.
I think you have to fit your stop to the guys you are working with. I certainly don’t believe there is one right way. I see teams doing the same time with different ways. I think it is all about knowing what individuals you have to work with and how you are going to train them and then sticking to that process.
I think the worst thing you can do is keep changing things every week. We still have some room to work at JTG with our pitstops, but they have gotten a lot better over the last few weeks. If we can pick up another half second, we’ll be where we need to be.