Tony Gibson had his team poised for a great run on Sunday at Bristol but had to watch it from his motor home thanks to a second kidney stone this season. His team was in contention for the win before a late race mishap from someone else’s problem took it away from them. Now he is getting ready to head to Richmond where his driver Kurt Busch won 10 years ago.
As the team gets ready Gibson has to prepare for the car trying to roll over onto the right side, working to keep the left front tire on the ground and balance loose in and off with rolling the center. He also has to work on the challenges of pinion angle and overcoming lateral G-forces.
The No. 41 team is beating on the door of a win and, if it does, the team won’t have to worry about climbing the points to try and make the Chase without a victory.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch – How are you doing after your battle with your kidney stone on Sunday?
Tony Gibson – I’m doing pretty good right now. I passed it about an hour after the race there at the track. I got home and went to my doctor to try and figure out why. I’ve had a lot of them but never this close together. I had one at Vegas five weeks ago but I’ve never had one this soon after one before. We’re trying to figure out why and what and all of that. I’ve tried everything in the world to not have them. Everybody in my family has them, I guess it is just meant to be, but I’m doing good now.
Neff – The No. 41 sure looked strong at Bristol, how did it feel having to watch it from the motor coach instead of sitting on the pit box?
Gibson – It sucked pretty bad. I was so drugged up I tried to get up a few times and make it out there but I could not make it happen. I knew, when I got out of the drivers meeting and got back to the truck and started to get ready it wasn’t going to be good. It was bad, it was pretty much the worst thing you want to go through. Not just having a kidney stone but not being able to be with your team to finish out the process we started on Friday. It wasn’t good, it was not fun at all. I just couldn’t help myself, unfortunately. Everybody did a great job through, Zippy (Greg Zipadelli) and Johnny [Klausmeyer] did a good job keeping everything going and flowing in the right direction.
We knew our car was really fast on Friday. In practice we made some long runs and we knew the car was really fast. I figured it was going to be a pretty decent night. It was definitely shaping up to have a shot to win it but circumstances again kept us from winning a race. But we’ll keep our head up. We have speed every week and we’ll get there.
Neff – Were you in contact with Johnny Klausmeyer on the box or was he calling the race himself?
Gibson – No, just him and Zippy; I stayed out of it. When you aren’t sitting up there you don’t have all of the facts in front of you, air pressures and builds and that kind of stuff. So trying to call it from the lot just wouldn’t work. I had communication and I was listening but I didn’t have any input. I stayed out of it and let those two guys make the decisions. I talked to Kurt before the race started about helping make the decisions and laid the night out about how it was going to happen. He was going to have to work with those guys and be a big part of the decision making process throughout the night on changes and things like that. We had a game plan going into it When the car is really good, like that car was, it is more about not screwing it up than trying to make it better. I let those guys run the deal and they did a really good job of it.
Neff – As we turn our attention to Richmond, looking at the track, the banking is 14 degrees in the corners. Other tracks we go to, like Kentucky and California, have the same banking in the corners where Martinsville is a little bit less (12 degrees). Does the setup of the car compare more to Kentucky or California or does it come closer to Martinsville?
Gibson – Actually it is closer to what we run at Phoenix more than anywhere. Richmond is its own little racetrack. It has its two different corners as far as the shapes of them and the D-shaped front straight which is relative to what we have at Phoenix just flip-flopped. Turns 1 and 2 at Phoenix are more like 3 and 4 at Richmond. They are closer together than anything.
Neff – Richmond is a little bit bigger than Bristol so from a speed perspective they are about the same. However the banking is far less when you get to Richmond. What is the main challenge in making the car turn when you get to the flatter corners?
Gibson – That is the challenge, you are pulling a lot of lateral Gs there and no vertical so it is hard to get your car to compress and use the spring spread and the stops. You have a lot more body roll at a place like Richmond which is very hard to manage. The car wants to roll over onto the right rear and pick the left front up. It is hard to get the center to roll really well without making it too loose in or loose off because of the lateral load you are pulling there. A place like Bristol, you have so much vertical that the car is loaded all of the time, even on the straightaways so you compress really quickly and you come off of the corner very evenly. At Richmond you don’t, you go into the corner and you roll over onto the right rear and then the right front. Then, as you try and accelerate, it tries to roll back over onto the left rear and pick the right front up.
It is a different animal, that track at Richmond. It is a little more difficult but the lateral that you pull versus the vertical at Bristol is the biggest challenge.
Neff – When you are dealing with that increase in lateral loads, do you have to run rather large sway bars in the front of the car?
Gibson – We do, we run a lot bigger sway bars than we run at Bristol just for that reason. It helps keep the roll out of the car. The track bar ends up being really high to keep the roll center very high in the back. We try to mirror that so that we can keep the car as flat as possible. In doing that with the track bar it makes the car free in and free off but that is what you need to be able to roll through the center. When you put a big sway bar in to try and help the entry and keep the left side loaded up sometimes it will make you too tight. There is that balance of keeping the track bar at a happy place and keeping the right side of the car loaded up so that you can keep the left rear loaded on the exit side.
Neff – It is a short track, but any time you are going 100 mph aero is going to come into play and we are still figuring out this new package. Have you learned anything on the aero side from Phoenix or Bristol that is going to help you out at Richmond?
Gibson – Not so much Bristol but Phoenix a little. We run fast at Phoenix and Richmond, a little bit faster at Phoenix, but aero does come into play more so at a place like Richmond for sure. Some of the things we learn on our mile-and-a-half program does translate over to our Richmond package. It is a smaller scale but those things do transfer right over. We continue to work on our bodies as much as we can. We are handcuffed pretty good with the rules but there are some areas we can work on and we try to beat those to death, but they do come into play at a place like Richmond.
Neff – You speak about the body roll being far worse than Bristol and similar to Phoenix. When the body is rolling like that, do you have more travel in the right front of the suspension to keep the contact patch as big as you can on the track or is it similar to most of the intermediate tracks?
Gibson – It is relatively the same as the intermediates except for on the intermediates we do carry a little more vertical load since the speeds are up. The body roll is still there but it just isn’t as critical because the corners are tighter at Richmond. A place like Kentucky where the banking is similar the corners aren’t as tight as they are at Richmond. You’re trying to turn a car in a whole lot tighter radius at Richmond than you are at Kentucky. It makes it harder because you have more roll set into it which makes them put more wheel into it so it wants to roll even more. With the body roll deal the drivers don’t like it because it feels like it is rolled over so far that they can’t feel all four tires. It is a track thing and a speed thing that we have to fight at Richmond and Phoenix.
Neff – We have seen a few different instances lately of drivers breaking off shifters. Weight makes a big difference in these cars and anything to lower the center of gravity helps, but don’t you have to sacrifice a little bit of weight to make sure you have the strength to last the entire race?
Gibson – You try to do your best but they still break things because, with this low center of gravity and low ride height package that we have, the car doesn’t transition through the huge harmonic balance with the drive shaft and drive train. The car is spending a lot more time in the critical zone where the drive shaft is pretty much straight. It doesn’t have any angle in it. Any time you have that you start picking up the harmonics of the U-joints on the drive shaft from the gear and the transmission. They start flopping and moving because you don’t have any angle in it. With this package it is harder to nail that down. We spend a whole lot of time in that critical speed of that drive shaft which creates vibrations. When you are vibrating something that is revolving 9,500 times per minute for that long it is going to send it through the transmission and the shifter. It is like electricity. It is going to find its way out and the shifter is the easiest and quickest place to release its energy. That is why you see the shifters break.
Neff – Kurt has only run five races versus the eight that most of the others drivers have run, but you are 27 points behind 16th place. Winning is still the main goal, but are you getting to a point where you have to think a little bit about finishing races so that you can crawl up into that top 16 in points and possibly point your way into the Chase?
Gibson – I think that is a second option. We’ve got to win. I don’t think anyone can count on making it in on points. You focus on winning and to win you have to finish. If we can win a race or two the points will take care of themselves and you’ll be in the top 16 anyway.
We don’t really focus on the point deal so much. We just try and win races. If we run good every week and we win the points will come along with it and it will cure itself.
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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When Junior had his shifter breaking he mentioned it was from vibration rather than him physically breaking it. Now, I understand why the vibration is bad with this package. Also, liked hearing about the body roll and why the drivers don’t like it. Been a fan since the 70’s but your articles always give me something new to learn. Thanks Mike!
Agreed Dennis. Love this column. Long may it live. :)