Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Tony Gibson on NASCAR Pit Lane Shenanigans

The day race and night race at Bristol could not be much different. The heat of the day makes the whole event a handling exercise while the night race is more about battling and beating to gain positions on the track. This week Tony Gibson takes his driver, Kurt Busch, to one of his favorite tracks on the circuit. The new aero package and the associated tires will throw new challenges at the teams that no one is positive what they will be or how they will play out.

In this week’s edition of Tech Talk, Gibson revisits Texas and the effort his team had to put in to handle a track that evolved completely differently than they anticipated. He follows up with a discussion about rubber buildup, timing lines, pit road shenanigans, fuel mileage and throw back paint schemes.

Mike Neff – We’re coming off of Texas. It was the first night race with the new aero package. Did that throw you any curve balls that you hadn’t dealt with already with the new low downforce package?

Tony Gibson – I wasn’t there Thursday or Friday due to some personal issues. We struggled both of those days with being really loose, mainly on exit. Texas is known for that, no matter what downforce package you have, but it was a little worse on Thursday and Friday with this package. We made some pretty big changes going into Saturday, expecting the track to get freer. We kind of overcompensated I guess. It seemed like other guys got really tight, for some odd reason. I don’t know if it was just because of the rain or what. We ended up trying to back stuff out during the race that we had put into it going into Saturday. It was kind of an odd race for us. We ended up finishing well but we had to work our guts out the whole race to make a top 10 car out of it. It was just different. We were expecting it to be really loose and free and it was just the opposite. It seemed like most of our whole bunch at Stewart Haas struggled with the same thing. Other guys did too. We scan them and guys had the same issue. I think the aero package was fine. I think it was just the nature of the tire and the race track being really green when we actually did get going.

Neff – At the end of the race there were a couple of guys that stayed out having only three or four laps on tires. Even though the tire was falling off so much. Was it something that you even considered or were you still throwing changes at it so it didn’t cross your mind?

Gibson – No, there was no doubt in my mind. You need to put tires on at that place, even before this tire. We got beat there a couple of years ago with Kurt during the night race. We were leading the race and we were able to survive the first two restarts but after the third refire on tires it was just terrible. Saturday we talked about it in the truck and we were going to put tires on it no matter what. It is a big race track with multiple grooves that allow you to pass. Tires were huge as well. A guy on three or four lap tires was half a second slower than a guy on new tires. I was really surprised those cats chose that. Obviously it didn’t work out very well. It ended up causing a big wreck with the 3 trying to restart on those old tires. We never even thought about staying out. I would have never stayed out. I don’t care where I was running I was not staying out. You get yourself in a bad position and can get your car torn up and everything. We were four tires no matter what.

Neff – We’re now headed to Bristol for a day race. What things do you throw at the track differently for a daytime race during a night time race?

Gibson – It is crazy because last year both of them were night races. With the weather in the spring we ended up running at night. It will be a little different in the daytime. I think the pace will be a little slower. It is supposed to be fairly cool up there so I’m sure the track will be pretty green. That place is always loose in when there is no rubber on it. I think what will happen during the day is the rubber will get piled on it because it will be a little warmer with the sun beating down on it. It will take rubber a lot quicker than it does at night. As the rubber builds up, cars will get tight through the center and then tight off. You have to be able to turn and rotate quickly to be able to drive down the hill and make passes. The day race is a little different than the night just due to the temperature of the track and how much rubber gets piled on.

Neff – Speaking of rubber buildup. That was an interesting development at Martinsville. It seemed like that track never took rubber. We obviously use a different tire with the different loads that they endure at Bristol. Are you confident that we will be able to get rubber into the track unlike we did at Martinsville?

Gibson – I think it will. This is the Texas left side tire so I think it will put rubber down, especially for two reasons. First there is a lot of vertical load at Bristol. The tires get pushed into the ground a lot more than they do at Martinsville. At Martinsville the loads are lateral so the cars just slide across the track and the rubber just balls up. At Bristol, where you have the vertical load, it will actually push the rubber down into the track. I don’t know that it will have as much rubber as we’re used to seeing at Bristol but I think you’ll see more than what we saw at Martinsville for sure.

Neff – A couple of years ago, Brad Keselowski took advantage of timing line locations at Bristol to make passes on pit lane. They tried to correct that with more timing lines but are there still advantageous pit stalls at Bristol based on line locations or is the focus now just clear in and clear out?

Gibson – There are still timing lines where you can make a little bit of time but nothing like it used to be. When he was making hay the timing lines were more spread out. He was making so much time through the corners where there were no timing lines. That was where he made the big gains. NASCAR went in and added more lines so that they are closer together. It is a little harder to make that time up. You can still make time up if you are positioned just before a timing line. You can then run seven or eight pit boxes to the next one. You can still make gains. You see that at Martinsville. You’ll see it here too. There are still a few boxes. It is more crucial to have the clean in and out. You’ll take that over a timing line any day. There are still some advantages to being on a timing line though.

Neff – Speaking of Martinsville and pit road, we have seen there and at several other tracks, one lane has a distinct advantage on restarts over the other. We see guys playing games trying to get into the odd or even number position in order to take advantage of that. Would you like to see NASCAR go to an option like a choose cone or a commitment line where the driver picks their restart position on the inside or the outside instead of it being just position?

Gibson – No because you’d end up with two cars on the inside or the outside and everyone else on the other lane. I don’t think that would ever work. You’d have more altercations on pit road with guys trying to change lanes or switch in front of a cone. I think it would be a total disaster if they tried to implement something like that. The best thing they can do is tell guys they have to maintain their speed, they can’t stop. At Martinsville the 42 car stopped right in front of us at the end of pit road. We ran into the back of him because he was counting cars. You saw it there last year too and we took advantage of it. I think it was the 11 and the 4 and we just drove to the inside and passed them. It is getting out of control. They are going to cause a big wreck on pit road. NASCAR, I think, needs to tell these guys that there is no counting cars. You must maintain your speed all of the way to the exit at the yellow line. If you don’t maintain speed then you go to the end of the field. That is what needs to happen.

Neff – You get to Bristol where forever it was around the bottom. Now it is around the top. Are we getting any closer to a point where the two lanes are going to even out and we’ll see guys make hay at the top or the bottom?

Gibson – I don’t think so. The top is going to be where you need to be. Especially with the lower horsepower and gear rules that keeps taking horsepower away. Keeping the momentum up is crucial. You’re going to be running around the top. I don’t see the bottom lane coming in. Only on restarts for three or four laps trying to get by someone, making something happen while the tires are good. Once the tires get some laps on them, everyone will be running around the rim up there.

Neff – It’s been a while since we’ve seen a fuel mileage race up there. With the way the tires are giving up now is there any way someone can pull an Elliott Sadler and run 100+ laps, staying out and maintaining track position?

Gibson – If the caution comes out, people are not going to stay out. Back then you could do that, gain the track position by staying out and hang on because the tires weren’t wearing that much. Now the tires are wearing out. It is just too huge, you can’t do that anymore. We could go a full fuel run absolutely, unless someone blows a tire or something, because we don’t see the cautions we used to see up there thanks to the one groove race track. Nobody is bumping and grinding and doing all of that. I think you could see some green flag runs that go a full fuel stop as long as someone doesn’t have a problem.

Neff – They unveiled Kurt’s Darlington paint scheme this week. Do you have any input on that or are you purely on the mechanical side of things?

Gibson – (Laughs) I’m strictly on the mechanical side. I don’t get involved in that. We leave that to the guys above the red line up there. They figure all of that out with the sponsor people. I just focus on the car and whatever color it is we go with it.

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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