Tony Gibson has faced a lot of challenges in his long and varied career in NASCAR. The latest addition to his resume is sitting on top of the pit box for 2004 Cup Champion Kurt Busch. Gibson made his debut last weekend at Texas in his Haas Automation outfit with a eighth place run. As the 2015 season looms after the completion of the next two races the head wrench on the No. 41 already has his eyes on implementing next season’s extensive rule changes.
This weekend’s race provides an opportunity for Gibson to put a second win in the books for Busch at Phoenix. The elder Busch won the race at Phoenix in 2005. To make it to Victory Lane Gibson and Busch will have to overcome several challenges. Gibson talks this week about dealing with sand pitting the windshield and stressing the fans in the brake ducts. The sun also puts a lot of glare on the windshield and the options to combat it are limited. He also shares the challenge of dealing with K&N rubber on the track early in the weekend.
Mike Neff: Coming out of Texas, what challenges did you face down there? It was cold early in the weekend but warmed up a bit for race day.
Tony Gibson: It was a little bit different. The track rubbering up is the biggest challenge as you go through the weekend. Everybody was there with Trucks, Nationwide and then our practices and our race continues to build rubber up on the track all weekend. It makes the track tighter and tighter as you go. I thought we managed pretty good. I thought we unloaded pretty good on Friday. We qualified well then Saturday in practice we just tried to make small changes because we felt like we were in the ballpark. We were pretty fast in both practices. I think we were P1 in both practices on 10 lap average. That is always good so we felt like we were in decent shape. After listening to the Nationwide race Saturday night and talking to a couple of guys their cars got pretty loose as it went into the night. So, we snugged it up a little bit which probably wasn’t the right thing to do for the start of the race. We got along pretty well and were running third or fourth there for a while. We made a couple of adjustments that kept up with the track pretty well. As it rubbers up you just keep adjusting and adjusting all night long. We never stopped tuning on the car all night long and I thought we did a pretty decent job.
Neff: We all know that you switched over to be on Kurt Busch’s pit box now. Aside from the seat and the steering box do you change anything else on these modern cars or is there a lot of tweaking to adjust to the personal preferences of a given driver?
Gibson: We really didn’t change anything other than the seat and a few interior things. We unloaded there just like we were going to unload with Danica because you have to start somewhere. We just unloaded it like we would if she was driving it and we tuned from there. We were really close right off of the truck so it worked.
Neff: We’re heading to the desert Southwest for a flat, one mile tri-oval with the dogleg on the back straight. What is the most challenging part of getting a car around Phoenix now that they widened out the backstretch?
Gibson: You carry so much speed off of two. You climb the hill for a little bit when you come out of turn two and then, when you get to roughly the middle of the backstretch you start going back downhilll so you are carrying a lot of speed into turn three since they widened it out there. Being able to get back into the gas early and stay in the gas to carry a lot of speed down the back creates a little bit of an issue getting into turn three because it is a really flat corner. Drivers are carrying a little more speed than they need to into there so drivers have to manage that and keep it in the back of their mind because of that backstretch being opened up.
Neff: Sun glare always seems to be a problem early in the race at Phoenix. You can put duct tape on the window and the drivers can put tinted tearoffs on their visors. Is there anything else you can really do to combat that problem?
Gibson: Not a whole lot. NASCAR let’s us put the duct tape on the inside of the window to try and make that the best we can. Other than that and the driver’s shield that is about all we can do. It gets really tough coming off of four going into one there. That sun is right in your face It is like when you are in your street car going to work when the sun is rising and glaring in your face and you can hardly see anything. You put the visor down and it helps a little bit but it doesn’t take care of the whole problem. They’ll still fight that because it is really bad there and there isn’t anything we can really do.
Neff: Sand is another big issue at Phoenix all weekend. No matter how hard they try to keep it off of the track it seems like it is always on the surface. Sand can really pit up a Lexan windshield if it gets to it. Do you put extra tear offs on the windshield to try and prevent the pitting of the windshield versus keeping the view clear from oil and rubber for the driver?
Gibson: Yeah, it is mostly for the pitting and sandblasting. The wind down there just pushes the sand over the wall and down onto the racing surface. They will blow it off of the track but the loose sand is the biggest battle because it will pit the windshield very badly. If you mix a little bit of oil or oil dry on top of that it can make it really hard to see. We run multiple tear offs to combat that similar to Atlanta. It is really sandy and dirty like that and we have to put extra tear offs on to make sure it doesn’t get down to the actual windshield.
Neff: The sand affects more than the windshield. You have openings in the front of the car for the radiator and the brake cooling. Is sand building up in those openings something else you have to worry about during the course of the race?
Gibson: Yes you do, it certainly does build up. Just like the windshield it is very abrasive. We have little motors and little fan blades in the brake ducts and that sand pits them up really bad and it is really hard on those little motors. Those motors are like what you’d run on a little 1/10th scale RC car or something. It is not very friendly to those things. Usually one race is it for them at a track like Phoenix.
Neff: The K&N cars are a companion event at Phoenix this weekend. They run a bias ply tire I believe. Does the different rubber from those cars make things difficult on you tuning the car in practice until it gets peeled off of the track?
Gibson: Yeah, we don’t get too carried away with our adjustments, especially on Friday because of that practice and all. You have to go out and practice because that is when it is scheduled. It takes about 10 minutes to get it knocked off of there and start laying down our rubber. It s a bit of a hassle at the start but eventually it gets cleaned off and then we’re in good shape.
Neff: Since the reconfiguration of Phoenix the apron on the back straight is wide open for people to use if they want to. Is that something that you can possibly plan for in your setup or is it in Kurt’s hands if he wants to try and use it?
Gibson: That is on him. We can’t really tune for that. It is what it is and it is going to drag through there and be rough and bumpy. If we tried to cater for that one section there it would hurt us everywhere else. That is a deal where the driver gets after it because he wants to take a shot and it is a guided missile at that point. Wherever you come out on the end of that, good luck. We don’t tune for that, it is up to the driver if they want to try and use it.
Neff: You mentioned that speed that you carry down the back and into turn three. Is Phoenix similar to New Hampshire when it comes to getting off of the corner or does the speed you carry into the corner let you have more speed coming off of the corner so you don’t have to worry as much about the drive off of the corner?
Gibson: It is about the same. The drive is a little worse at Phoenix than it is at Loudon. The asphalt is a little different than it is at Loudon and the tire is a little different too. Our air pressures are a little higher due to the loads we are carrying at Phoenix and not a Loudon from the higher speeds. A lot of that comes into play with the forward drive. Forward drive will always be an issue at Phoenix just from the way the track is configured and how hard you are trying to turn. You’re going so fast and the thing has to stop and turn. It is a testy little track to get off of the corner and carry that speed.
Neff: 2015 rules are out. Have you delved into those very much or are you just focused on getting out of this year?
Gibson: Every time we’ve tested these last few times we’ve put that package in and tried to work around it. We’ve got our feet wet with it. We had a company test at Charlotte and we were at Homestead last Tuesday and Wednesday with Kurt. The second day I put that package in and let him run with it. Stewart jumped in the car and he drove it too. Everyone has gotten their feet wet with it. At the end of the day what it is is what it is. We’ll adjust as it goes. There will probably be some tire tests early in the season that we will hopefully get to go to and be a part of and go from there. I feel pretty happy about what we’ve already put in the cars with the 2015 package and gone and tested. I feel pretty confident about it so far.
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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