Years of chasing the racing dream can take a toll on a body. Tony Gibson is down but not out this week after having some surgery done on his knee to clean up some nagging issues. He was away from the shop this week when we caught up with him for Tech Talk.
He gave us some insight into choices made with the suspension on the cars for Michigan International Speedway, thanks to the smooth surface. He also touched on the variety of factors that can go into how much of the tire you choose to have on the track and what some compounds want vs. others.
Gibson, production manager for Stewart-Haas Racing, also talked about the surface at Michigan and how the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ aero package could impact the racing come Sunday for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars. He even gave us a glimpse into what the challenges are that can be dealt to teams when they have to pass through the Hawkeye system multiple times on a weekend.
Mike Neff – Last weekend at Pocono Raceway, Kyle Busch made the call to come in and get tires with 15 laps on his tires because he was bit last year by not coming in. Is it a situation where we have a year with this package and tires are no longer able to overcome how good these cars are?
Tony Gibson – Pocono is just one of those places where track position is so huge. Even if you don’t have tires, if you can be in the first couple of slots, and get a good restart, you’re going to be tough to pass — even if a guy has tires, just because of how the corners are so broken up. You can use the aero on a fairly narrow racetrack when you think about the groove. There are only a couple of passing spots.
[Kevin] Harvick and his team thought more teams would stay out. [Martin] Truex [Jr.] was on the same strategy, and he ended up winning the race. I feel like if Harvick had started first instead of second and had control of the restart, he would have been in the same boat. I think he would have checked out there, and it would have been over with.
When you’re in the wrong line, and that line can’t beat the leader, it is still a bit of a struggle. It still took the No. 18 several laps to pass Harvick. I think they made the right decision to win the race. I think they just need to either be the leader or have more guys between them and the guys who got tires.
Neff – Since the Michigan repave, the groove has still not widened out very much. With the XFINITY cars going to the restrictor plate/high downforce package, do you think that will lead to them running three- and four-wide and ultimately widening the groove out a little bit more?
Gibson – I think it will help. Those guys will definitely be three-wide and four-wide. We saw it with that package with us at the All-Star Race. It definitely will make the groove a little bit wider. I don’t know that it will make it wide enough to make a difference for our cars or not, just because our cars are so aero-dependent vs. that package. I still think, for our guys, it will see some two-wide racing in the Cup deal, but I don’t think you’ll see [it] like you’re going to see in the XFINITY race with this package.
Neff – Goodyear announced this week that it’s going to switch to a tire that wears more and runs cooler. The assumption is that the tire is going to shed more rubber. Is that going to result in a situation where off-line is going to get so trashed with marbles that it will prevent anyone from being able to venture outside of the bottom two lanes?
Gibson – I think it will definitely hurt the Cup side for sure, as far as the groove getting wider. That rubber runs cooler because it sheds itself, dissipating the heat. The marbles and junk and trash will be treacherous, I’m sure. I think you’ll still see a second lane. The middle lane really helps keep the momentum up. As tires wear out, the place to run will probably be through the center. I feel like the bottom and the middle lane will still be good. Anything over that will probably be a little sketchy.
Neff – Since they repaved Michigan, the track is extremely smooth. Does it afford you the opportunity to be a lot more aggressive with your suspension compared to Charlotte Motor Speedway a couple of weeks ago?
Gibson – That place is really smooth, and the cars stay locked down pretty solid. There isn’t as much vertical load at Michigan as there is at, say, Charlotte or Kansas [Speedway] or [Las] Vegas [Motor Speedway]. So it is a little easier on those components at a place like Michigan. It is a lot like California [Auto Club Speedway], where it is a little flatter. We pull more lateral loads than vertical loads there. It is usually the vertical loads that beat suspension parts up very badly.
Neff – With the lack of a ride height rule pinning these cars to the track so much, do you have to worry about Ackermann and the tire contact patch on the track, or are you set that you have the maximum contact patch on the track all of the way around? (Note: Ackermann steering geometry is a geometric arrangement of linkages in the steering of a car or other vehicle designed to solve the problem of wheels on the inside and outside of a turn needing to trace out circles of different radii.)
Gibson – We change that. It changes per tire and per racetrack. Again, a lot of that is based on the wheel loads we see at the different racetracks, the slip of the tire. There are certain tires that, based on the construction of it and the compound, like to be toed-in or toed-out. Some like to be slipped a little bit. Some of them like to have a lot of Ackermann in them to help slip them a little bit for grip.
There are some you don’t want to slip at all. Michigan is one of those places that the tire doesn’t normally like to slip, although I am not sure about what this new tire is going to want. I would say this tire will be more like the All-Star tire, and that means it won’t want a lot of slip in it at all.
Neff – Are there certain things that, as you’re going through tech, if it fails you simply don’t have the time or tools to correct what is causing the car to fail before you run out of time on qualifying day?
Gibson – Yeah, there are times you go through that thing, and it is all projectors and lasers, and heat can affect the car. When the car is hot, out in the sun, they go through and it affects how the cameras pick stuff up. You may go through in the morning time and everything be fine, then it is raining outside or extremely hot outside and it fails. These cars are wrapped and have bondo on them so all of that contracts and expands.
We’re learning here that some of that is haunting us a little bit as we go through the Hawkeye deal. You may get to where you sand on it and sand on it and it says you aren’t doing anything when obviously you are. You just have to stop and reboot to the next day. You go through that next day and everything is fine again. A lot of people are fighting that, too. It is all part of the process, part of learning it.
I think everybody has, at some point in time, not qualified or not made it because of that. That will continue on, I think, and be part of the process. Hopefully you keep it to the limit. Everyone wants to qualify, so hopefully it doesn’t bite us again.
Neff – The last time Cheddar (Smith, SHR car chief) got sent home, y’all went fishing and caught some pretty big fish. Did you hit Badin (North Carolina) again after he got kicked out this time?
Gibson – No we didn’t. He did, I had to work. He actually went fishing and was sending me pictures while I was at work. I wasn’t too happy about that. For a guy like Cheddar, he is intense and he wanted to be there so bad, especially with it being the Coca-Cola 600, our home race. It was good to get out on the water and fish, kind of get his mind off of it. That kind of helped. I wish I could have gone with him, but we were thrashing back at the shop. I didn’t have an opportunity to go. It is a passion we both share and we do go together quite often.