Pocono Raceway is unlike any other race track. Not only does it have three turns, but each one is also unique in terms of radius and banking. Setting a car up is all about compromise and finding a fast way through all three corners while maximizing the turn that a team feels gives them the best chance to make passes, which is what Matt McCall, crew chief of Jamie McMurray‘s No. 1 team, hopes to do this weekend.
This week in Tech Talk, McCall talks about all three corners, fuel strategy and dealing with the latest rule changes. His teammate (Kyle Larson) tested at Pocono, and that knowledge might afford him a small amount of insight into tire behavior for this weekend. He also touches base on the upcoming experimental rule change that will be implemented at Michigan and Kentucky.
Mike Neff – Looking back at the Coca-Cola 600, it was a battle for second. How did you feel things went with the new rules package and the single zone tire?
Matt McCall – Obviously the tire wear was not as aggressive as it had been the previous few weeks so it probably hurt some of the racing. But when the No. 78 was in a league of its own and when you have a car that dominant, I’m not sure what rules they could have changed that would have mattered.
Neff – They talk about the transition from day to night every year surrounding the 600. It seemed that, on Sunday, the cars that were near the front of the pack early in the race were also near the front at the end. Was it a little different this year than it has been in years past?
McCall – It wasn’t as big of a swing for sure. The lap times didn’t pick up, I think that was the changing aspect of it. They may have picked up a little bit for some but, from where we were running, it really didn’t change at all from our fast lap at the start of the race until the end of the race. Normally that is what will end up changing the balance more than anything is pace. I believe that is why it wasn’t as much of a swing from who was good at the beginning versus the end.
Neff – We are now headed to Pocono. It is called the Tricky Triangle, because it is just that. Have you heard anything from any testing that has gone on so far as to where the challenges are going to lie with this new package heading up there?
McCall – No. The No. 42 tested up there. It didn’t seem like it was drastically different. I don’t think they had the exact tires that we are running this weekend on the vehicle at one time. Pieced together they had some lefts and some rights on that we’re using. It didn’t seem like it was a ton different as far as overall balance. Obviously they never made any super long runs like you’ll have to during the course of the race most likely. When you get 40 cars out there they always driver differently, too. I think that will be the outlier, once the race starts, [is] how it is in traffic for those first few laps before it gets spread out.
Neff – It is always a compromise in Pocono because there is no way to set up a car to handle all three styles of corners. Let’s look at each of them. When you are going into turn one you have the most banking to catch the car. Does that let you get away with softer bump stops to let it dig in a little more or do you have to worry about the car bottoming out too much if you sail it into the turn too hard?
McCall – That is the thing. Your maximum travel will be in turn 1. However soft you set that the higher it is going to be around the rest of the race track most likely unless you play with some rear spring combinations to try and help with different pitch through the different corners there. For the most part it is definitely different through all three corners, no matter what you do. You try and get a good compromise. It does seem like, if you are good in turn three it will equate to some passes down the front straight. You don’t want to be very bad over there. You really want that to be your best corner, in my opinion.
Neff – In the last couple of years, it has seemed people have been able to get through the tunnel turn, turn 2, a little bit easier than in the past. In fact, people have seemed to be able to go through there side-by-side successfully. Is that due to the aging of the asphalt or the package that we’re running?
McCall – It is probably some of both. Last year, with the track sinking or whatever you want to call it, where they actually tried to smooth all of that out, where they put the patches down it made it just a little more equal to be side-by-side through there. I think it will be a little different story if the tire wear is where it has been at some of the other tracks this season during the day. You may do it for a lap or two but you won’t be running through there side-by-side for 25 laps.
Neff – Turn 3 is where they put the patch down four or five years ago. That made running a lane up off of the bottom the preferred line. Pocono winters have certainly taken a toll on the surface. Are we to the point now that you have to set your car up so that it can eat on the white stripe through three in order to get the launch down the front straight?
McCall – Yeah, I think so. If you can make it good on the bottom that is your best bet. Then hopefully have the ability, assuming it doesn’t change a bunch, to move up and kind of diamond the center there and make the straightaway even longer. That will help a little bit. I definitely say that, for the most part, you try and make it drive the best on the bottom.
Neff – With the truck arm rule change they made since Kansas, does the fact that you’re back to welded mounts make preparing for this race, as you go through practice, more difficult because of how you have to change your truck arms?
McCall – I guess the biggest thing is, if you had different style mounts with different heights, it becomes a little bit of a pain then. When you go to welded you try and not worry about thinking you’re going with the right setup and not change before qualifying. If you need to change something or try something it is just a little more time consuming.
Neff – They have also eliminated where some fans were being directed. Do you see that as being a dramatic change for everyone in the garage since it sounds like this has been going on for a while now?
McCall – I guess I don’t know much about that, really. I don’t know exactly what they’d changing there. It has always been rather chaotic around there so I don’t think it will be anything for the worse most likely.
Neff – They’re talking about making some experimental changes for Michigan and Kentucky, specifically dropping a significant amount of spoiler off of the back of the car. Any time they change something front or back you have to battle to get back to balance. However, is that big of a change going to be a significant challenge to you as you head up to Michigan?
McCall – Yes, it is not going to be easy by any means. It is just going to be a different approach, a little bit. Honestly I think they’ve done an OK job with aero balance being close to where it is now. We had a car test that at Michigan. It just seemed like it was slower as far as overall lap time with the tires they had there at that point in time. The peak speed was not as much as what everyone was predicting to start with. It is still crazy fast but it isn’t like it gained a bunch of top speed and then it was obviously way slower through the corners. We’ll see how that works out. I still think 215-218 mph into turn 1 I don’t think everyone is going to be like, “let’s get six- or seven-wide,” especially if they’re out of control (laughs).
Neff – You mentioned that you almost treat Pocono like a road course, due to the size of it, and some people call it a roval. Do you approach it by calculating fuel mileage backward and pit as soon as you get to your window, or do you want to wait and see how tirewear falls and it might come down to who has the best goodies at the end of the race?
McCall – I think it will be a little bit of both. It obviously depends on where you are running. The best approach is any time you can have clean race track is going to be your opportunity for best lap times. Sometimes during the race that little bit of strategy will change. The windows are not super huge but there is a little bit of room to play both ways there with the route. I think that tire wear will dictate if you can make it the maximum number of laps on the last run, if it is going to be whatever, 33 laps. I’m not sure what the window will be this weekend but I will bet it will be somewhere in that range of 33-35 green flag laps will be a stretch but it is possible. We’ll just have to see how that works out.
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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