Darian Grubb is the defending champion crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series, having led Tony Stewart to the title in 2011. This season, he is paired up with Denny Hamlin and trying to rise to the top again, becoming the first head wrench to earn the trophy in back-to-back years paired with two different drivers and teams.
After running Pocono, with its new surface and unique layout, Grubb takes his team to Michigan for another first race on a new surface. Michigan is going to be a completely different test due to very high speeds and wide grooves.
The challenges for the weekend are going to all come down to balancing. The increased grip of a new surface is going to afford the teams a chance to run very fast, but that leads to excessive periods of high rpms, which can be the death of engines.
Also, the faster you make a car go, the more rigid the setup usually becomes and that makes the driving experience less and less comfortable for the driver – leading to dangerous mental mistakes. Racing is always a challenge, but this race at Michigan may be the toughest of the season, as Grubb explains in this week’s edition of Tech Talk.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch: We’re headed to Michigan. They just repaved the track. What kind of curveball does that throw at you right off the bat just thinking about the weekend?
Darian Grubb: That is still to be determined. We are really looking forward to getting up there. They did a tire test there and they were really, really fast. They picked up speed every time they went out on the racetrack. Luckily, we’ve got those test days to go up there and kind of get acclimated and adjust to it and kind of get the drivers up to speed because it looks like it’s going to pick up speed the entire weekend while we’re up there.
Neff: I heard an ARCA car did around 215 mph going into turn 1, I don’t know what the Cup cars did. Is there a concern that they’ll throw the plates on these things or is there something else they can do to slow them down?
Grubb: I don’t think so. It is definitely one of those places that you have to lift regardless. They’re going to go in there around 219 to 220 from what I’m hearing. But, knowing they have to lift to make the corner still, your minimum speed is going to be down around 180 or something like that.
It is going to be interesting to see how the drivers are going to adapt to it. You’re going to have a lot of speed and probably a lot of hair-raising moments. Not sure how the cars are going to react and what they’re going to do next to each other. That is the part I’m going to have to learn.
Neff: It is going to be exciting, there’s no question about that. When you’re on a repave on a big, open track like Michigan, where you’re in the gas for so long motors can certainly become an issue. Having seen the failures already this year, is engine durability going to be a bigger concern than it has been in the past?
Grubb: I definitely think so. Everyone is going to be really worried about it because of the life and the temperatures there. Obviously, it is going to be really hot when we go up there. The speed and the sustained rpms are always tough. California is what everybody used to use as a worst-case scenario because of the long straightaways there, but I can tell you Michigan is going to be much worse than that when we go up there.
Neff: Pocono was just repaved. Is that going to be of any help going to Michigan this week?
Grubb: I really don’t think so. Other than the speed factors. It is different asphalts and different track configurations, but the setups are going to be way different. Understanding how the tires react to the new asphalt and things is going to something you’ll try and take with you.
Fortunately, we had a tire test at both tracks with the Nos. 18 and the 20 that we can take a little data from to try and hopefully be ahead of the game when we start out up there – but it is still going to be tough.
Neff: When you’re at Michigan, in the backyard of most of the manufacturers, do you feel additional pressure because you’re that close to them and they have their executives there … or does it really matter one week to the next?
Grubb: It doesn’t really matter. Every track we go to, there are executives for all of the big corporations there and we’re trying to put on the best show for the fans and the sponsors and everything we have. Every week, we try and put on the best show regardless. Of course, when it is your hometown you take a little more pride in it, but you don’t do anything different. We’re trying to win every week.
Neff: Going to a repave, you know the track is going to be really smooth. Does that allow you to be more aggressive with your shock package and keep the car pressed down on the track?
Grubb: Yes and no. It is one of those things too that, from what we’re hearing, it is going to be all about driver comfort. As soon as you start doing those things, driver comfort becomes less and less of a thing you’re paying attention to because you’re going for pure speed. You’re definitely going to have to play the balance game between putting speed in the car and making them happy.
Heading to a newly-paved track is always a guessing game for the teams and the one thing that is a certainty is that the speed is going to be quite a bit higher than the last time at the track. Michigan can be very forgiving, thanks to the wide racing surface, which will help a driver if they make a mistake.
However, it can also be a dangerous facility – just look at the crash that ended Ernie Irvan‘s career. The balancing act between speed and comfort is going to be tough for the crew chiefs and the drivers. The one who can tolerate the most discomfort very well will probably win the race this coming weekend.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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