Racing leaves one team happy and the rest wondering, “What if?” Last Sunday (July 1) at Chicagoland Speedway, that couldn’t have been more true for the Stewart-Haas Racing teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, as they all led the race and were among the best cars on track all day but weren’t anywhere in sight once the checkered flag flew. It is losses like that that keep the teams that didn’t win striving for more and chasing those elusive wins.
This week in Tech Talk, Tony Gibson, SHR’s production manager, revisits last week’s race at Chicagoland and discusses potential team orders. He then looks ahead to Daytona International Speedway and touches base on engine cooling, downforce and air flow over the car. Gibson also answers the question many have about spoiler angle that is checked when cars some off of the track.
Mike Neff – You have been around this sport for a long time. Was Chicagoland one of the best races you’ve ever seen?
Tony Gibson – That was a really, really, really good race; I enjoyed it. I was disappointed one of our four teams didn’t win it. I was telling my wife and our four crew chiefs yesterday, “How in the hell did we have four of the fastest cars on the planet, lead all of those laps between all of our cars and one of them didn’t win?” They all shook their head and had no idea. They were dumbfounded too.
Our cars were really fast. We had a lot of speed. It was nice seeing Aric [Almirola] lead laps and win a stage. At the end of the race, that was the kind of racing amongst two guys, fighting it out and duking it out, that built our sport. It reminded me a lot of Cale [Yarborough], Bobby [Allison] and Donnie [Allison] there at Daytona with the big fight, beating, banging, slamming into each other. That is what we need in our sport, two guys who will go and do that and then at the end of it shake hands and say, “That was a hell of a race,” and go on. I thought that was a class act by both of them.
I thought it was a hell of a race and we need more of those in our sport.
Neff – Could you be much happier about where Stewart-Haas Racing is as a company right now?
Gibson – You always want to be better, and what makes me nervous is we’ve let races like Sunday get away from us. We’ve had a few of them get away from us that we, hands down, should have won. We had four bullets that were the class of the field, and we ended up letting the [No.] 18 win it. We’re fighting with him, with the [No.] 4 car to try and get locked into the Homestead[-Miami Speedway] deal the best we can. Now those guys are tied with wins. We’ve got a couple stage wins and all, but we’re in a battle with the [Nos.] 78 and the 18, more so the 18, but every point, every stage point and race win, we can get we need.
It was disappointing we didn’t get that. I was pulling for the [No.] 42, to be honest with you. That wouldn’t have hurt us so much in the points if he’d have won vs. the [No.] 18 getting another win. It is what it is.
We always want to be better. You can’t just rest, because someone is always going to catch up. Right now we are neck-and-neck with these two Toyotas. [Clint] Bowyer is sitting there with two wins, and he had a car that was very capable of winning Sunday. I expect Bowyer to win another race or two, so it is going to be a battle to the end.
We’re happy with our performance, don’t get me wrong. But we know that isn’t going to be good enough come Chase (playoffs) time. We’re trying to figure out stuff right now that is going to give us a little edge in the Chase because we know those guys are going to bring more.
Neff – Are there any kind of team orders when two guys from SHR are battling it out for a stage win or a race win?
Gibson – No, unless it made the difference on one of our cars getting in the Chase. Or a championship, that is a different story. Both of those guys are fighting for stage points, and [Kevin] Harvick is running neck-and-neck with that [No.] 18, so it’s important that he gets every stage win. But it is important for Kurt [Busch], too. I thought it was just good, hard racing. I thought Harvick did a good job of going where the [No.] 41 wasn’t. I didn’t know that either one of them did anything wrong.
I understood the frustration for Kurt. He wants to win a stage and do all of that, but at the end of the day you can’t blame your teammate for trying to pick another lane and trying to win also. It would have been different if they were beating on each other. At the end of the day, Harvick picked a different lane to go in and tried to make it work, picked up some speed there and got the stage win. It could have gone either way there and I would have been happy either way.
Neff – How long ago did you wrap up your Daytona cars?
Gibson – We’ve been fairly prepared on that. We have a group that only works on those cars. … We’ve been really kind of fluffing and buffing on those things for about two or three weeks now. I feel like our group does a great job of getting our speedway cars put together. We’ve been really strong at the restrictor plate races. In the last couple of years, that program has gotten better. Hopefully we can go down and run like we did at the 500 and what we have the last couple of years. If we do, we’ll have a shot to win it.
Neff – Is there anything obvious that you do with the cars differently in July than you do in February in anticipation of the track being slipperier?
Gibson – Yeah, we do a lot of things. Downforce is a little more important at this race than it is at Talladega [Superspeedway] or the February race. We work on the bodies a little more and work on a lot of things that will put downforce into them just for drivablility purposes. That started right after the Daytona race in February. We started getting those cars turned around and ready for this July race.
Neff – Is there anything you are allowed to do to the surface of the car like grooves or dimples that would allow the air to flow more efficiently over the outside of the car?
Gibson – No. That is a pretty tight box with the Hawkeye scanning and all, but it has always been something NASCAR really focuses on with the speedway stuff. They switch gears also, and they know what to look for. There are a lot of things you could do, but we obviously can’t do because of the rules, and the Hawkeye system would definitely pick up on those things.
Neff – Are there rules about what you can cover or flatten out under the car to make the air flow more freely beneath it?
Gibson – There are a lot of rules. We can’t have any kind of tape or anything. NASCAR has a rulebook specifically for the speedway stuff that tells us what we can and can’t do vs. an intermediate track. Those rules are a little different because of the situation; NASCAR hands out those rules. We read them and take advantage of the ones we can, but obviously they are pretty good at checking that stuff. There are a lot of things you could do again, but they do a really good job of being really thorough on those areas, and they really don’t let us do a whole lot.
Neff – What is your maximum and minimum spoiler angle allowed on the speedway tracks?
Gibson – We can be as high as 71 degrees. The minimum is 69.8 degrees. They give us a little bit of a window there because it is hard to fine tune those things.
Neff – Do you have any idea how much force there is at the high point of the rear window when these cars are at speed on a superspeedway?
Gibson – I know exactly what that number is, but all I am going to tell you is that it is a lot. There is a lot of force, a lot of vibration, a lot of Gs laterally and vertically. We go to Michigan [International Speedway] and we’re running 217 to 219 mph getting into the corners. That is faster than we are running at the superspeedways. It is a battle we fight, and we work hard at trying to make sure that is better. Obviously, NASCAR has clamped down on that and forced the teams to do a better job of that.
To be honest, it’s plastic. It is a Lexan window, and it is bolted to steel and aluminum and everything else. When you are running that fast, it is really hard to keep that stuff up, or down, either way. Stick your hand out the window at 80 mph and it will give you an idea of what kind of force is being generated. When you put a spoiler on there and a shark fin on the left side that is channeling air and packing it onto there, it doesn’t take much to get a lot of air and a lot of pressure onto that thing.
I think the teams have done a good job. They’ve had to back up and look at how they’re doing it. NASCAR gives us guidelines on materials and thicknesses on things that we have to use anyway. We’ve had to go above and beyond that rule just to make sure we are safe.
Neff – Are there concerns about keeping the engine in the perfect operating temperature range in the middle of the summer? Does the Ford engine do well with the heat no matter what the situation?
Gibson – Ford and Roush Yates Engines does an awesome job at figuring all of that out — water pumps and water pump speeds and our cooling system. … The thing no one can really control is the situations that you’re in on the track. Drafting, three-wide, four-wide, tucked up under someone for a long time, that stuff is what it is.
NASCAR gives us a grille opening to work with. Some teams choose to tape it up and leave an option to take tape off, while other teams choose to leave it wide open so the driver doesn’t have to worry about it. We do have some options on the cooling side of things that NASCAR gives us. The July race is obviously a lot hotter. The humidity is up, [and] the cars are going to run hotter. Thankfully it’s a night race, which will help, but they do seem to run hotter in this race than they do in February.