Shane Wilson has been crew chiefing in the NASCAR national touring series for the last 12 years. He’s prepared cars in all three divisions and has 24 victories to his credit during that span, working with such well-known names as Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. This season, he has been reunited with Brendan Gaughan, whom he started his national crew chief career with in 2001, and is back in the Truck Series. Frontstretch caught up with Wilson and spoke to him about the time off, preparing for Martinsville and keeping cool on NASCAR’s shortest track.
Mike Neff: It’s been about six weeks since you started off the season at Daytona. What have you been doing since that first race?
Shane Wilson: We’ve been wanting to get back to racing since we didn’t have a very good Daytona. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff. We’ve been building trucks getting our fleet prepared for the year. We get two test sessions this season to use at our discretion. We used one and went to Texas for a two-day test. We also did some testing at local short tracks to prepare for our trip to Martinsville. So we’ve been keeping busy.
Neff: What unique challenges does Martinsville present to the teams as they head there?
Wilson: I don’t know that I’d call them challenges, but there are things that we can learn as we look at past races there. Fortunately, as a company, we have a lot of confidence because we won the race there last spring with Kevin Harvick scoring the win in the No. 2 truck. That gives us a better baseline than some of the teams. However, the tire is changing for this year so that changes a lot of things, and the track pavement is a year older so we’ll just go there with a plan and good brakes. From there, we’ll try and anticipate what we’ll need to do for strategy and then adapt as the different changes come our way throughout the day.
That’s the biggest thing about Martinsville; you have to have good brakes and take care of your stuff. Then, it is all about hitting the balance for the race. There will be 10-15 guys there that are capable of winning. The team that hits their balance right will win the race. You have to be very good with old tires and low fuel, so that is what we’ll be working on the whole weekend.
Neff: I’m curious in comparing a truck to a car at Martinsville. People say aero doesn’t come into play at Martinsville but, if you’re doing 90 mph in your car, if you stick your hand out the window you can feel the downforce that can be created so I’m sure there is some downforce that comes into play at Martinsville. Does the shape of the truck, with the fact that it is bigger and boxier with a more vertical front windshield, help in slowing it down when you get off of the gas at the end of the straight?
Wilson: It absolutely does. The brakes for the Truck race aren’t really a concern. As long as you don’t totally abuse them so that the back or front gets too hot and boils the fluid… which causes pedal fade. The brakes are so good that you can make lap time by really abusing the brakes but, if you do it too long, you’re going to get bitten. You can’t abuse them for 250 laps. Nowadays, you can abuse the brakes but the tires can’t take the heat and will fail. You’ll see some tire failure in the Truck Series with fewer laps than many of the Cup series races. You abuse the brakes, they’ll generate heat, which is an obvious enemy of the Radial tires these days.
Mike Neff: Does NASCAR give you fewer ducts to cool the brakes on a Truck?
Wilson: It is relatively the same. It is a little more challenging for the Truck just because the overhang on the nose is a little bit shorter. All in all, it is the same stuff. Things are a little different for Trucks. The ducts are different on a car, and the hoses are a little shorter but most of it is the same stuff that gearheads like.
Mike Neff: Last year, in getting ready for Martinsville, I was surprised to hear it was tougher to keep the engine cooler under caution than under green. Is that the same challenge you face for your Truck?
Wilson: The trucks are a little bit better at getting through the wind. You don’t turn as much RPM there as the cars do. We run a 620 gear ratio maximum where the Cup cars run a 650. The Trucks make a little less horsepower than the Cup cars. Horsepower creates heat, so Cup cars generally run a little hotter. In general, the air doesn’t move much when the race is under caution and the result is it is the slowest it moves all year, which results in overheated and blown engines. At 55 mph under caution, the engine cools well. If you get down in to the 30s, the air doesn’t move well and you have to take some chances on the engine.
Mike Neff: The last few years, the Truck race has been a one stop edition. Do you think it will be the same this time around?
Wilson: I do. It depends on how the race goes, but you plan on coming into the pits on lap 70 to try and make it to the finish. However, if it goes green for a long time and you end up eating up your fuel, or you get too much tire wear, you could end up being beaten by the guy who stops a couple of times. It would have to be a perfect storm for it to happen.
Mike Neff: In the fuel mileage world, do you detune the engine in an ffort to make the fuel mileage last so that you can pit earlier and gain the track position that means so much?
Wilson: You’re already detuned with the spacer they have between the engine and the carburetor. You have to be careful when you mess with it and not detune it too far. You have to be careful not to have it too lean, because you could end up at a very large horsepower deficit. A Cup car, you can’t use all of the horsepower you have anyway so it helps the Cup guys. Martinsville is one of the places that we will tune it so that it isn’t any richer than we want it to be, but you have to be careful or you’ll be at a huge deficit. If we lean it out too far, we can overheat the engine. Trust me, most everyone there will have it very close. The difference between tuning for power and trying to tune for fuel mileage isn’t too far off.
Mike Neff: How many sets of tires does NASCAR let you guys have?
Wilson: In the Truck Series, we get four. We’ll put one on for practice, we’ll qualify on our second set and then a lot of teams will have a set of scuffs to go along with a set of stickers. It is pretty much driver preference. I’ll have two sets of stickers in the pits because of my driver’s style. At Martinsville, most everyone will have a set of each. It depends on the driver. If you think you’re done pitting for the day, you’ll put stickers on vs. softer tires that haven’t been to the Windshield.
Mike Neff: Finally, I’m curious about the camber in the front end of the car. Is it dependent on the amount of brake heat you’re going to have?
Wilson: First, you have to go back and see if you’re racing Saturday night or in a Cup race. In order to finish first, you must first finish. There is always a performance gain with big camber changes at Martinsville. The thing people don’t realize is the camber only helps you on low air pressure. You can run a pretty decent amount of camber, and once the air pressure gets back up, you can run it without abusing the tires. Everyone will wear on the inside, but the guys who blow out [a tire] usually have too much brake and maybe a little too much camber. Nowadays, though the problems have primarily come from drivers using too much brake.
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