Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Matt McCall on Atlanta Inspections, Trackbar Adjusters & Las Vegas Challenges

One of the new wrenches on top of a pit box this season is Matt McCall, who has taken over the reins of the No. 1 ride for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McCall is a racer and an engineer who is from the Denver, NC. He graduated from the University of North Carolina Charlotte’s Motorsports Engineering program. He is former champion of the UARA series and has made a handful of starts in the Camping World Truck and XFINITY series. He made the move in the offseason from Richard Childress Racing, where he was the race engineer for the No. 31 team.

In this week’s Tech Talk McCall gives a little insight into the tech issues at Atlanta. He also talks about the upcoming challenges at Vegas, the new track bar adjusters and the difficulties of preparing cars for three consecutive west coast races.

Mike Neff – Atlanta didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Before the incident how did you think your weekend was going?

Matt McCall – It was OK. I don’t think we can complain. We had decent speed. It was nice to have a good qualifying run. Race trim we got a little bit off but we were able to get everything put back together and have it somewhat respectable for the race. We made a couple of mistakes during the race that cost us track position but we were able to get some of that back. It was ok. I think that, for the first time out as far as it being a race where we could work on the car I can’t really complain. Obviously you want to be faster but I think, if we hadn’t been involved in that wreck, it was going to be a decent day for us.

Neff – You were one of the teams that made it through the technical inspection process for qualifying. From your perspective, what was going on with that deal and why did so many people have trouble?

McCall – There is a lot of trouble each week. With the way the tolerances are, and you want to match the tolerances, but sometimes you can push the car off and push it back on and sometimes it will change. Sometimes you roll over there and you aren’t always confident that you know what you’re going to have. We were fortunate enough that everything seemed to be OK. Sometimes that isn’t the case. You might roll over there and think it is going to be ok and you end up having to put the camber back because it is a half a degree too much. I think some of that was a time thing. They tried to cut some time out of pre-qualifying and pre-race and I think it just put everybody in a position where there wasn’t time to put more cars through. Then, when there are multiple cars that they have to be rechecked there just isn’t enough time to do that.

Neff – We are headed off to Las Vegas. It is another track that does pretty decent wear on the tires. How do you think the new package will treat the tires once we get to Vegas.

McCall – It is a different compound, all of the way around, and that is going to be a little bit of an unknown but I think it could be similar to last year. The 88 stayed out and ran out of fuel on the last lap. He was going to win the race until then thanks to track position. I think it is going to be like it was this past weekend. Track position is going to be really important unless you have a truly strong car that can run up through the field, like a couple of the cars last weekend. There is going to be more strategy this weekend. It isn’t going to be four tires every stop, I don’t believe, unless the tire wear is higher than expected.

Neff – When we were at Atlanta, the horsepower is down but the speeds in the center of the corners seemed to be up, at least on fresh tires. Did you see the speed in the center of the corners fall off more when the tires fell off than they did in the past?

McCall – It seemed like about the same fall off. It is kind of hard to compare since it has been a while since you were in Atlanta and it was 40 degrees so that obviously controls a bunch of it. The biggest thing was slower on the straightaways, faster in the corners. That equates to similar lap times for what it is worth.

Neff – There were teams in Atlanta utilizing the new self adjusting track bar. Did Jamie try it out or was it a bit too much to deal with in the car?

McCall – He loves it. There were a couple of times that we might have adjusted the wrong way on the car and he was able to move the track bar a little bit. He felt like he had more control and it gave us more confidence in making a change because he had already made a small adjustment to the balance during the run and that made us more confident making a wedge or air pressure adjustment.

Neff – Was he adjusting the bar throughout the race and then backing it off when he came to you in the pits so that you could make an adjustment and then he could fine tune or did you make the adjustment from where he left off with his tweaking?

McCall – We tried a little bit of both. We started off a little big tight and he had it raised up some. We got it freed up with some air pressure stuff and then he was able to adjust it back down close to where we started. We just tried to keep it in the range that would accommodate our track bar range was the biggest thing. We tried to adjust help where he needed help the most.

Neff – There were a few teams coming over Fanvision that said, at some point during the race, their adjusters quit working. Not sure if it was a part failure or debris getting in the way of the mechanism. Did you hear of that and is it something that will require some modifications to the devices?

McCall – I did hear some people had some issues, although I didn’t hear what caused the problems or what they were. That will be an ongoing thing for the first half of the season or so, knowing that it is something new to everyone with brand new components. Nobody has been able to test actual track conditions. You can test in your shop or in a controlled lab but you can’t duplicate the track until you get into an actual race. It will be interesting to see how that bears out for everybody and whether they can make it consistently operational or if some still have issues. I don’t think there wre a ton of issues but there certainly were some who had situations.

Neff – When you get to the track and you have to go through technical inspection, is there a set order? Do you go by points or is it a first come, first served scenario?

McCall – When you first get to the track it is by points. For qualifying it is by the qualifying draw unless they have a certain time that you can submit earlier than when they start the timed process. It is the same for the race. You go in order of starting position unless they open it before the timed session, in which case you can go early.

Neff – For Vegas, have they decided if they are going to expand the amount of time for tech since it was such a crunch at Atlanta?

McCall – There was discussion that they might start it a little earlier, although the time between practice and qualifying is exactly the same but they will be working on making it a little more smoother to avoid another situation like Atlanta.

Neff – Since we are on the west coast swing, people often have smaller haulers take their Phoenix car out and meet the main haulers to swap out cars and then again for California. Is that how you are planning on handling that travel as well?

McCall – Yes, all of the Phoenix cars are wrapping up now. They’ll leave on Friday and get swapped out on Monday in Vegas. They’ll go to Phoenix and then the following Monday they will do the same thing with the Fontana cars.

Neff – From a preparation standpoint, with having to make these swaps two weeks in a row, has it been a tall task to get the first five weeks cars ready before the season started knowing how much time you will be away from the shop so you aren’t scrambling to get the cars ready when you are trying to leave to get to races?

McCall – That is definitely one of the biggest things. It doesn’t help killing that car last week. It would have been nice to have it ready to go in case something bad happens. If you have two or three bad weeks it would be nice to know we had a car sitting here that we’d already raced. We have cars but when they are vehicles we haven’t raced it comes to the point where, ok we’ll take them if we have to. The preparation has been really intense as far as having enough vehicles. You have the cars for Vegas, the two Phoenix cars are wrapping up and heading out the door on Friday. Assuming everything goes well in Vegas, the backup there will become your Fontana backup. The Fontana primary will leave a week from Friday.

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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