Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: The Newest Rule Changes for the All-Star Race with Trent Owens

Trent Owens and his No. 43 team, driven by Aric Almirola, have been in the All-Star Race before.  But if they are going to make it there this year, they’ll have to earn it through the All-Star Showdown or via the fan vote, as Almirola did not qualify for one of the 15 berths for All-Star Race inclusion.

Not only is he faced with trying to claw his way into the big show on Saturday night, he is also faced with changes to the current rule package.

This week Owens sheds light on all three of the changes being attempted this weekend to reduce side force and skew. He also talks about tires and strategy while preparing to run on new tires for Charlotte.

Mike Neff – Dover International Speedway is a great track for Almirola, and you were moving forward early in the race before you received some rear fender damage. After you had to pit to fix that and went two laps down it took forever to get your laps back. How do you diagnose your weekend?

Trent Owens – It has typically been a good track for us. The race started and the car was competitive. It was more competitive late in the run, which was going to be nice the way the race played out. I think he and the No. 14 got together racing for 15th or somewhere around there and had to pit under green and got two laps down by doing that. Like you said, it took us every bit of three quarters of the race to get our laps back. Luckily we were fast enough to get our laps back; someone always stayed out. We thought we had a couple of opportunities to do wavearounds, but someone would always stay out. It seemed like the car right in front of us every time, which made the wave around tough. Through Lucky Dogs we finally got them back.

As soon as we got back onto the lead lap we started to make some progress and then we had the restart with the No. 48 issue. There is nowhere to go at Dover. We started on the inside, so all of the cars came that way and pretty much ruined our day. The race itself was a positive for the simple fact that we had speed and had it throughout the whole run. We’ve been missing that at most places this year. Even though it was a bad weekend because of the accident we can take it as a positive because we definitely were competitive and running where we need to be.

Neff – Most teams generate new cars quite regularly. Was there a thought of taking that car back to Dover in the fall, before it was mangled in the accident, and can we assume you have to build a new one now?

Owens – These days you can’t really get attached to a car. The more you build new cars the better they seem to be. That particular racecar, surprisingly, was the car we raced at Richmond. I know people will be like, “What? You race the same car at Dover and Richmond?”, but we’ve had good luck with that car. It is one of our oldest cars in our fleet and I hated to lose it. It had an updated front clip and had been completely stripped down and refurbed to basically a brand new car. It isn’t like it was built in 2013 and we never refurbished it, it has had all of the updates.

Unfortunately it is a goner now. It is cheaper and easier on the workload to go ahead and build a new chassis. The chassis building part, even though there are strict guidelines through the NASCAR certification and process, one of the easiest things to do is build our own chassis rather than cut apart and repair another one.

Neff – For the last few years the Monster Mile hasn’t had much in the way of teeth, but it certainly did last weekend. Was it a combination of the new package and tires, was it the weather, or was it something else that made the track a little tougher on the drivers this weekend?

Owens – I’d have to say it was the lack of downforce. I’m not sure when the XFINITY practice started, I think it was just the track itself. The track was fast, there wasn’t a lot of rubber down, a new tire combination had a different grip level and might not have been what it used to be, I don’t know. For our practice the accident was more from the oil being on the race track vs. cars just wrecking. But then you get into the race and you obviously had the big issue with Jimmie [Johnson]’s transmission issue.

There seemed to be a little more action, in the way of accidents, and the lack of downforce probably caused most of that, but that is kind of good. That means the cars are sliding around and the driver can do more with the car in those situations vs. something that is just stuck to the track. That is when the difficulties come with passing people and stuff like that. You saw a lot of passing I think. The racing was really good, although you did see some mangled race cars. It is just a product of the package, which is OK.

Neff – You are going to Charlotte for the All-Star weekend, and NASCAR is throwing you a curve with some changes to the rules. Let’s look at each one individually if we can. First of all, how difficult is it for you to make adjustments to your cars when they make an announcement of a rule change a week before a race is taking place?

Owens – The rules they put in place this weekend, mainly the rear tire alignment and the toe, is an easy change for us. We have adjustable housings where we can adjust the toe of the rear tires. It is something we do weekly trying to maximize the numbers they do give us. We change those things in 10- and 15-thousandth increments just to get the maximum allowed toe anyway. For us it was an easy change as far as the car itself.

Now, when we get over there and start practicing, I’m sure there will be some challenges as far as drivability. We expect the car to be a little bit freer on entry due to the lack of sideforce. Maybe a little tighter on exit too. We’ll just have to see after we get on track. The car itself, the crew chiefs, the owners, the competition directors, everybody gets together with NASCAR when you decide to do something like that and they try and make it a bolt on type of change. It isn’t like we’d have to re-skin a whole body or something.

Neff – The trailing arm brackets have to be welded on. Have teams changed to bolt on brackets to allow for the arms to move?

Owens – For some time, even before you start talking about moving stuff, you used to have a welded mount with three or four holes for adjustment. Now, as we try to make the cars lighter and do everything at a minimum, if you want to run a truck arm in a specific position, you have a bolt on mount that just has that one hole location on it. That way you didn’t have that whole mount for weight and there are also aerodynamic advantages of not having the mount hanging down lower than it needed to. If you wanted to run a higher truck arm and keep the mount out of the air you had the opportunity to do that with the bolt on bracket.

Also, with the bolt on, any time you have bolt on parts you can build in additional tolerances that allowed the left rear to move forward under acceleration and stay there, gaining more skew on the race track. I believe that is why the welded truck arm mount came back for that reason, especially this year. As they start to tighten up the tolerances and they start looking at the parts and pieces, people are going to find other ways to achieve that additional rear turn and yaw the body. It is just a start. It is the same for everybody. The majority of the garage had bolt on truck arm mounts, for various reasons, but seeing as it is the same for everyone it isn’t that much of a challenge. You kind of know where you are at.

Neff – Is it correct that they implemented that rule change for Kansas Speedway and it is staying for the rest of the year?

Owens – That is correct. That rule came out before Kansas and that is something that is weekly now.

Neff – Second change is limiting the number of cooling fans. What are you limited to, and are you limited on the location of the openings for the ducts going into those fans can be located?

Owens – Yeah, we were starting to use fans for purposes other than cooling the tires and brakes. NASCAR caught wind of that and basically said, “this is what you can do and what you can’t do”. On the mile-and-a-half [tracks] and up we can’t run anything on the left side. If you have a fan in your brake duct that duct has to run to the spindle duct, which has always been there. Even our bead cooling fans that you can run on the right front has to go to the bead with a duct with a hose connected straight to it. You won’t see the hoses firing straight out the fenders or stuff like that which we were starting to see. You won’t see rear fans at all. Any rear fans that go to the brakes or tires have to go through the quarter window. That is a big aero disadvantage to let air through those quarter windows.

I’m OK with the rule. There was starting to be a lot of wind tunnel time and research going into those things that wasn’t necessarily needed. Especially for us smaller teams, we were pretty much getting to the race track, seeing what we saw and trying to duplicate it versus actually having the information about what it does.

Neff – The last change is rear toe alignment. Rear toe has been around for a couple of years. It sounds like they’re taking that away and going back to a neutral rear toe. Is that accurate?

Owens – Yeah, basically the rule that is in place now you can have a certain amount of rear toe in one side and then there is a certain amount of rear toe tolerance in the opposite side. You have some freedom, it isn’t a lot. The maximum you can have on one side or the other is 60 thousandths, which is a 16th of an inch, which is not a lot. We had a pretty tight rule to start with, but you could pretty much double the opposite side if you wanted to. Now they’re saying that you have to go through the LIS (Laser Inspection System) machine, and the most you can have in the rear tires is zero in both sides. Basically zero toe and then, after the race, they’re allowing a post-race tolerance of, I don’t know, 30-40 thousandths. That is left rear in and right rear out, that type of steer. They are pretty tight tolerances, both post-race and pre-race.

I really don’t know why, I think they’re trying to tune the sideforce down some from listening to some of the Driver Council talk. There are some ongoing talks about what the drivers feel like they want to race and try and I believe this is a product of that. We’ll see; it is still going to be the same old game. They give us a set of numbers that you have to be before you hit the race track and we’ll try and do things to optimize it when we get on the race track. It didn’t really change anything other than our preliminary tech rules.

Neff – How are you planning to attack the Showdown since the winner of each segment advances to the All-Star Race? Are you looking at trying to be as aggressive as you can, to the point of having a qualifying setup for the first segment to try and get out there and knock it out of the park? Is that a danger, if you miss it on that, of being way behind the eight ball for the last two segments?

Owens – We all see how, if cars can get to the lead and get into that clean air, it helps. We’re definitely going to look at everything for a short run type of setup. The segment isn’t that long and we know, if we can get into the lead, there’s a good possibility of taking off and hanging onto it. We’re going to be more to the aggressive side. We’re not going to try and wait on it, we want to transfer as quickly as possible. My initial plan is to get over there and hopefully get some practice, although the weather is looking questionable right now, is to be aggressive on a short-run setup and see what we’ve got.

Neff – This weekend, if you’re in the Showdown you get four sets of tires. If you make it to the All-Star Race they’ll give you another three to equal what the All-Star teams have been allotted. Is that a disadvantage for you, knowing that you have to manage tires in the Showdown to make sure you have enough to make it through the All-Star Race, if you advance?

Owens – No, I think you do everything you can to transfer. I don’t think, even in the back of your mind, you worry about the tire situation going into the next race. The first priority is getting to the next race first off. I think, the way the rules are set, you pretty much get on equal terms if you transfer. I don’t think anyone is going to have a really big advantage. If you get down to the end of that All-Star Race you can play strategy or whatever strategy they tell you that you’re on (laughs), and see what happens.

It isn’t a concern for us to try and save any tires through the first race. If we transfer that is a bonus because we weren’t counting on being there anyway. We’ll just race it the best we can. Sometimes, in the past, you’ve seen where cars that transfer from the Showdown race have the advantage of having track time and being able to adjust on your car after the thing for the next night. If you do get to transfer you kind of get a little heads up on the track conditions.

Neff – Your teammate Brian Scott was involved in the tire test that they ended up selecting for this weekend. Does that help to get knowledge transfer of what they learned during the tire test or is most everybody using the same knowledge thanks to the help that Goodyear provides?

Owens – We’re pretty much going to use the data that Goodyear gives us. The time and date of that test session was so early in the year the temperatures don’t really represent what we’re going to be faced with. Even though they felt good about their test and we can obviously look at the air pressures and some of the driver comments it is really a different weekend. These tires come out of another batch. These aren’t the same tires that they brought over to test. Even though they got their information from the test they went back and built a whole other batch. The tire tests sometimes help but time of year weighs in. Just like we did the Michigan tire test this week. It was perfect conditions. We know it is going to be sunny and 80 when we get back up there, not 55 degrees. It makes things difficult to learn a lot from the tire test team wise, to be honest with you, but it does help.

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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