The No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing team makes the most of every dime they have. Scoring strong finishes goes a long way both mentally and monetarily for the whole organization. Even when the finish doesn’t match the ability of the effort, small victories can be claimed. Sunday was one of those days. Michael Annett was running in the mid-teens and poised for the best finish of the season before a shock mount broke. The team rallied and got the car back on the track in 20 laps to ultimately claim a 35th-place finish.
Can they carry that momentum forward? Crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion is this week’s guest on Tech Talk. He looks back at Dover and ahead to Pocono, getting fans prepped for the technical side of the “Tricky Triangle.” Also on the agenda: red flag repairs, tire wear, fuel mileage with shifting gears, ride heights and exhausts.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: You had a bit of a long day in Dover. What put you behind the wall for 20 laps up there?
Kevin Manion: Y’know Mike, it was one of the best weekends we have had all year with the Pilot Chevy, to be honest with you. From the first laps off the truck, the driver thought it had a good feel. It drove good, it looked good, and everything was just on par. We put a setup in for race trim on the first day and he felt it would really race good, he just didn’t know about qualifying. It took a little time to swap back so we decided we’d try it in qualifying but it just didn’t qualify well.
As a result, we didn’t get to start where we wanted to. We had two good race practices after qualifying. They started the race and we were passing a car every lap there for a little bit. We had a lot of green-flag racing and we got the Lucky Dog three times which kept us on the lead lap. It looked like we were destined for our best finish of the year.
It looked like we were ready to finish 14th – 18th with a very good race car. We raced with some really good cars which gave Michael a lot of confidence and gave the race team a lot of confidence in Michael and in themselves. We know we are capable of doing that week-in and week-out. It was just a big boost for the whole team but, unfortunately, with just a few laps to go, we broke a right rear shock mount. The guys did an incredible job of running all of the way back to the garage, replacing the mount and getting back out to salvage the day. We keep spare shocks on pit road. There is only so much you can keep on pit road and we had everything but the shock mount, which most teams probably don’t keep on pit road.
Sometimes, you can say that your finish was where you were running but by far, our car and our day was far better than where we finished. Our teammate Reed Sorenson had a really good car as well. It was a really good effort for TBR this weekend.
Neff: Did you have to weld the shock mount on or was it a bolt for the shock that broke?
Manion: It is a bolt on mount. It is real similar to the industry standard. It looks very similar to what the teams had I used to work for. Y’know it is one of the $5 parts, one of those freak things. I’m not ruling out the chance that it was related to the track. We were also a victim of that. We had holes in the nose. It came out the bottom of the car and went through the wheel tub. I’m not saying it might not have damaged the shock or the mount at some point. It is hard to tell what happened first. It is one of those chicken or egg things.
Neff: Speaking of the track issue, there has been a lot of discussion about being able to repair your car under red when it is something that wasn’t brought on by the actions of the teams? They were allowed to repair the cars in Charlotte after the cable issue but they weren’t allowed to do it in Martinsville or Dover when the track came up. Where do you stand on the issue of repairing the cars under red for damage not caused by the team?
Manion: That is a tough question. I don’t know. We can’t get into fixing the cars every time. The track is something that had natural wear and tear. In Charlotte, with the cable, that wasn’t natural and normal wear and tear. That is something that doesn’t need to be there; the race track and the surface needs to be there. The cars beat on the track and hit the ground. NASCAR had a tough decision with the cable. We can’t get into “let’s throw the red flag and let everybody fix their cars.” I don’t think that is something they can do for normal wear and tear.
Neff: We talked to Matt Puccia last week about the challenges with the new ride height rule going into Dover. With the way the car drops into the corners and jumps up out of them, there had to be some travel involved. Was it a challenge for you to make the car work with the new rule?
Manion: For us, it really wasn’t. The thing that the fans need to remember is the bottom number hasn’t changed. We are still going down and getting as close to the ground as possible without touching the splitter. Right now, we can statically just lower the car. It made the handling off of the corner much better. Before, the car used to pop up off the corner, where now they are statically down there so they stay down better off of the corner. Setup wasn’t much of a challenge at all.
Neff: Was tire wear at Dover typical? I had heard that Goodyear brought a new tire to the track this past weekend. Was there a challenge with tire wear at all?
Manion: It was the same tire as last year at Dover. The tire wear was good. I don’t believe we saw any tire failures that were due to excessive wear or heat or anything. The tires wore good and the track took just enough rubber but not too much to where it built up and caused any problems.
Neff: Heading to Pocono where the track was recently repaved. There is plenty of debate about tracks when they are repaved. Is it as big of a deal there considering the configuration of the track as it is at mile-and-a-half tracks?
Manion: I don’t know that it has anything to do with the configuration of the track. Temperature and the type of asphalt is what impacts the track. Phoenix was repaved and it is extremely hot out there, very dusty and sandy. When the wind blew, it put this fine sand all over the track and when we went out there, it was a nightmare to get grip. It took a while to get it better and felt like you were driving on ice until it finally got cleaned off. It felt like you were driving on ice. When we went to Michigan, the tire Goodyear brought and the cooler temperatures in Michigan and the harsher Winters really seasoned the track quickly. We didn’t have any problems up there. The first time at Pocono, it was a little slick on stickers. Some people qualified on scuffs. With the hard Winters they have in the Northeast, the track should be seasoned well and we should not see any grip issues with the newer surface.
Neff: Are teams back to shifting at Pocono again?
Manion: Everybody has the opportunity to shift. With that said, this car has been faster at about 99% of the tracks this year. I know in qualifying, when we added tape last year, the speeds were great enough that you really only had to shift in turn one to get slowed down there. The speeds may be great enough this year that the hot ticket might not be to shift in every corner. As the race moves on and the speed falls off, you might shift but perhaps on new tires and in qualifying you won’t have to shift. The good thing is, when you are in high gear you’re in high gear with the 1:1 ratio. If you don’t want to shift, just leave it in high. If you feel like you slow down in a corner too much, you can downshift.
Neff: Pocono can tend to lead itself to fuel mileage sometimes. Does not shifting allow you to keep your RPMs in a range where you can get better fuel mileage?
Manion: Absolutely. Every time you touch the gas pedal to press it up or down, you are using gas. When you shift, you have to burp the gas so that does use more gas. Keeping it in high gear and just chugging along there may give up two to three tenths a lap but might be worth some gas. That’s a good question. Some people will leave it in high gear, lift early and roll into the corner and not use a whole lot of brake. Surprisingly, that will make some of them faster…
Neff: Is the spoiler on the back of the car mandated at one specific size or do you have some leeway with those? Some items on the car have minimums and maximums. Is the spoiler mandated to a certain size?
Manion: The spoiler has to be one size. It has to be within one degree of 70. Everything else is mandated.
Neff: Is there thought to having the exhaust on the cars come out the left side like some teams used to or even having it come out the back?
Manion: At one time, there was some discussion about having it come out the back. The rule is out the right side. There is no more left side exhaust. It has to come out the right and only the right per the rule book. I believe that fell into the Car of Tomorrow safety concerns. With the gas man on the left side of the car, backfires could shoot flames out the exhaust so it was unsafe for the gas men. It also keeps the driver cool.
Neff: With the smooth surface at Pocono, will teams have the ability to be more aggressive about keeping the nose of the car on the earth with the new ride height rule? In the past, we saw the cars come onto the front straight and slowly drop as the downforce increased coming down the straightaway. Now that you can be there all of the time with the smooth surface, can you be on the earth the whole time?
Manion: Absolutely. I think you are going to see some really cool-looking cars coming down the straightaway this weekend. We can be very aggressive with our frame heights. Statically, we can start out very low and maintain with very little deviation to how far the car comes up. Pocono, Indy, and Michigan, I think you’re going to see cars getting out of the air with the lowest drag possible for the long straightaways.
The first 2.5-mile track of the year with the new ride height rules will give the crew chiefs a new opportunity to be tested and come up with creative solutions. Manion will be pulling out all of the stops to help Michael Annett continue to improve and gain points on the drivers in front of him. The success of the team is continuing to increase and it is a direct reflection of the man on top of the pit box.