As the series heads to Richmond for the final race of the ‘regular season’ the priorities of different teams fall all across the spectrum. While some teams are throwing caution to the wind to try and win a race to make it into the Chase, others are focused on less lofty goals, trying to score their first Top 10 of the season. The No.7 Tommy Baldwin Racing entry falls into the latter category. They have yet to put Michael Annett in the Top 10 yet this season but their finishes have been creeping upward throughout the season, even though the last couple of weeks leading up to Atlanta were not what the team wanted.
Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion is this week’s crew chief in Tech Talk and he touches base on a variety of topics. He covers the drag strip section of the pits at Atlanta before analyzing the new tires that are coming to Richmond this weekend. He also explains how his pit crew not only keeps his team competitive but it prepares them to help out Chip Ganassi Racing. He also compares and contrasts Bristol to Richmond before explaining the two most important keys that all race teams desire.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch.com: You ran 21st at Atlanta this past weekend. It seemed like a pretty good night for the No. 7 team. You were in the mix all night and ended up just one lap down. How did you feel like your night went?
Bono Manion: I thought it went really well. We unloaded off of the truck good, we qualified good, only one spot from the transfer to the next round. In the race we started a little too free, we made a couple of adjustments and we were able to race right there and have a good race. Michael was pretty happy with it once we got it tightened up a little bit. We didn’t have it that free to start but the leader was coming at such a fast pace. Early on he had a seven second lead on second place and lapped a bunch of cars early on and we were unfortunately one of them. We finished that one lap down with a solid finish. We ran really well and that was what was important after two bad weeks. Running good again felt good and it gave us plenty of confidence to move forward to Richmond.
Neff: I don’t believe they mentioned it during pre-race or the race but when they showed the aerial shots of the track you could see where they had used the pit lane for their run-what-you-brung drag races this Summer. Did the prep they did for the drag racing make any difference for your ingress or egress on pit lane?
Manion: We were far enough down pit lane for it to not affect us. I do know, when I walked on pit road, there was quite a bit of grip down by the launch area of the drag strip. Maybe some of the teams chose their pit because of that. I certainly thought about it but it was out away from the pit box so you weren’t leaving on it. If it had been in the pit box and there was that much more grip, then we would have chosen in that area so that we could get a better launch. With where it was outside of the boxes I don’t think it affected anyone one way or the other or affected their decisions on pit selection or how the cars launched out of their boxes.
Neff: Is the pit crew that pits your car on the weekend made up of guys that work in the shop during the week or are they contractors that come in just to pit on the weekends?
Manion: Each team at Tommy Baldwin Racing is different. The No. 7 team is a complete Chip Ganassi Racing B-Team. I knew a lot of those guys over there last year so it is a win-win situation for the No. 7 car and for Chip Ganassi and Shaun Peet, who heads up that program over there. I know, working at Ganassi for the last few years we had a B-team. It is working really well this year. We give those guys actual pit stops on a competitive team. What is good about it, the win-win side of it is, they do all of their training and practice at Chip Ganassi so I never have to worry about the pit crew. They have done extremely well this year and that is the win on our side. The win on Ganassi’s side is that they have dipped down two or three times when they needed someone. One fella was having a baby so they grabbed our guy and gave us another guy in his place so we didn’t have to worry about it. They were able to get a seasoned guy, and they are able to watch their backup guys. You can call them second string but, as far as I’m concerned, they are all first string guys. They are very, very good. Also, Shawn can come down and watch the film and train those guys. They feel 100% confident plugging the guys in when they are needed. It works like a true minor league team that is playing in the big leagues. They are on pit road with the rest of the guys and a competitive car making competitive pit stops.
Neff: We are getting ready to head off to Richmond. Tires were an issue during the Spring race so Goodyear had a test in July to bring in new tires for this race. It is the first time these compounds have been used at Richmond. The left side tire is being made in a different mold that is supposed to increase the stagger. Is that going to have an impact on your initial setup or is it something you’re going to have to feel out when you get to the track?
Manion: it is definitely going to have an impact. A lot of people complained that they were extremely tight in the middle of the corners in the Spring. The new tire is smaller on the left which obviously opens the stagger up and will help it turn in the middle of the corner. The right side tire is also not the multi-zone tire that they used in the Spring. The tire data makes it look like it will have more grip and that is what they were shooting for. They want a tire with a little more stagger and a little more grip. Everything you read about the tire should be a plus or positive for almost everybody. Looking back, if you were tight in the race last time then maybe you’ll go back with a similar balance and see just how much the tire does help you.
Neff: The tire design of the right side tire is also supposed to put more rubber down onto the track. Does that mean you have to put a little more adjustabliity into the setup because the rubber is going to build up a little bit more?
Manion: We’ll see how much it puts down. Richmond kind of always had some sealer on it. I don’t think they’ve sealed the track in a couple of years. It used to pull the sealer up with the different tires. Some tires at Richmond used to make green smoke when you spun out, I think that was part of the sealer as well. We’ll learn a little bit throughout the weekend and see how the track changes. We’ll actually see how much rubber the tire does put down and we can tell that by looking at the track along with looking at the cars to see what kind of rubber comes off of the tires. Is it sticky, is it dusty, does it stick to the car, does it roll off or peel off and make marbles? We’ll take a look and see how it plays out throughout the weekend and how it does on the long run. As far as the race, tire buildup at Richmond hasn’t been a problem in the past but it could be. Every time you bring a new tire to the race track it is a new game. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Neff: One more tire question. Since Richmond is a short track you don’t run inner liners. Does not having the tire within the tire alter the spring rate of the tire?
Manion: Y’know, that is a good question Mike. I never thought of it like that. I still think the spring rate is the spring rate. I don’t think it changes it now that I think about it for a minute. I never thought of it like that so I don’t know. An engineer would be able to tell you that. We’ve never brought it up when we talk spring rates. I don’t think it will change the rate, I don’t know why it would but now that I think about it I’ll have to get back to you on that. It intrigues me to be honest with you. We’ve never talked about it or never heard it brought up before. I’ll check on it and let you know.
Neff: When you go to Richmond do you bring a car similar to Bristol or is it a completely different animal?
Manion: No, it is a short track car going to Richmond. I guess there are a few similarities between them. Bristol is rough and rigid and you have to have a pretty solid car there with the amount of loads. The speeds aren’t up but the loads are up considerably for Bristol. Richmond we try and build a short track car with larger brake ducts and larger brakes. May be a little lighter on the body side as far as the amount of bracing we put in there. Rear cooling is more prominent at Richmond. It is definitely a different car. You could run the same car for sure but I’m going to say that 100% of the larger teams definitely have a different car. They might take the same car there but components on it will be drastically different.
Neff: The banking at Richmond is 14 degrees in the corners. It is not near as much as Bristol but it is more than Martinsville. Is the attitude of the car, as it goes through the corners, more like Bristol or Martinsville?
Manion: I would say it is more like Bristol. Martinsville is just such a completely different animal, where Bristol you could categorize the loads more like Darlington, Dover, or Charlotte even. Martinsville is just like a road course. It is so unique you almost count it completely separate from everything else. Richmond falls in line with a Loudon or Phoenix. Bristol might be considered a short in length track but it sets up much more like an intermediate track than a true short track.
Neff: Now that we’re going faster than we ever have before with the cars down on the earth with the new rules is that making them more aero dependent or is it simply because the cars are faster regardless of the car being on the ground?
Manion: It is a combination of everything. Aero, we used to say, we’re only going to Martinsville and aero doesn’t mean anything or we’re only going to Bristol. Aero is as important as anything else. Just like horsepower, you wouldn’t say ‘I don’t need any more horsepower, I’ve got enough’. When we talk about it why? It is because it is a component of racing. You want as much downforce as you can get, you want as much horsepower as you can get. I don’t know that it is because the cars are faster, although that plays a part in it for sure. If they told you that they’d give you an extra quarter inch on your rear spoiler going to Martinsville you’d take it, you wouldn’t say no. Just like you’d take five extra horsepower if they wanted to give it to you you’d take it. There is no trade for horsepower and there is no trade for downforce. Those are two key things that we work for as much as we can at every single race track, whether it is Bristol, Martinsville, a road course to a fast mile and a half track. There is definitely no trade for downforce anywhere.