Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Matt McCall on Martinsville Strategy, Tires & Brake Cooling

Having been eliminated from Chase contention, the sole focus of the No. 1 team of Jamie McMurray is to win a race before the end of the 2016 season. McMurray has won two poles at the half-mile track in southern Virginia, and his average finish there is among his best on the circuit. His crew chief Matt McCall joins Tech Talk this week and will dissect what he’s focusing on for the weekend.

As the team prepares to attack the short, tight confines of Martinsville Speedway, McCall is looking to set the stage with a strong qualifying run. He will work on getting drive off while not negatively impacting the other parts of the corner and adjusting for the lack of rubber build up with the tire that Goodyear is bringing. He doesn’t have to worry too much about brakes or aerodynamics but his focus on strategy will be key.

Mike Neff – You got away from Talladega Superspeedway in basically one piece. It was surprising that you had so little damage when you T-boned Kasey Kahne. Was that a surprise to you as well, or are these cars just that strong?

Matt McCall – You never know. You don’t know what you’ve got until it comes in. I’d say we got pretty lucky not having a ton of damage there. I think it helped that everyone was going the same speed when it started. It wasn’t like he spun out 20 cars in front of us and then we hit him.

Neff – How did you feel your overall day went?

McCall – We felt like we weren’t as good as we’ve been. We thought we made some gains at Daytona [International Speedway], and then at Talladega we didn’t feel like we raced as well. We’d get to about seventh or eighth and that was really about it. One time we got some track position on a pit stop we really couldn’t maintain. We fell back to that seventh or eighth position. He tried anything possible to try and pass cars, and he just lost spots every time. It was not that good of a performance for the speedway guy we have so we’ve got some work to do on our cars there for sure.

Neff – When you roll off of the truck at Martinsville, what is your first order of focus?

McCall – It is weird when you first start there. Even if it is warm, there will be minimal rubber on the track. Fortunately we got to test there so hopefully it will give us a good baseline. Basically get the balance close and then get into qualifying trim and work on that. Qualifying is pretty important for that first run of the race. That will be the biggest thing after the first race run. Maybe make a couple small changes but get into qualifying trim quickly.

Neff – At the recent Martinsville test, NASCAR tried throwing the resin down in the second lane and decided not to do that going forward. Did it seem to help bring in a second lane or was it futile?

McCall – It actually worked fine. There were only four cars there so it was hard to judge how long it would last and that kind of stuff. The concern from the drivers was that if they did it then they wouldn’t be able to pass. If the top lane comes in and everyone ran up there then they could run side by side, but as far as picking up positions if someone got in trouble off of the corner, it would be a slimmer chance to advance your position, so I think that is why they decided not to do it.

(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)
After being eliminated from the Chase, the only goal for Matt McCall and Jamie McMurray at Martinsville Speedway is a trip to victory lane. (Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

Neff – Martinsville is so tight in the corners that you have to get it to rotate and then drive off. What tools do you have on the setup side to play with to affect and enhance your drive off of the corner?

McCall – There are many knobs to turn, but normally, any knob you turn affects something else. That is always the Achilles heel to always get better, not messing up another part of the corner. Obviously you can change everything you want and you may fix one part, but you may hurt your overall speed because it hurt another part of the corner. It is always a trade-off there for sure.

Neff – You’ve had the same tires for three years now. They don’t seem to put down a lot of rubber on the track. Is the lack of rubber buildup something that helps you plan for a more consistent platform throughout the race?

McCall – Not really. I think the lack of rubber does result in the platform not changing, but for some reason the tire wear is not consistent throughout the race. You may make a run where you wear the tires out and then make another run, where the track looks the same, and you don’t wear the tires at all. It seems like the driver controls a lot of that. It may be inconsistent tire wear, I don’t know. At the test they had a couple options of tires that laid rubber down, but it was also 70 degrees. I don’t think it is going to be that hot in Martinsville this weekend. Hopefully the rubber will lay down a little better than it has been.

Neff – Brakes are obviously a big deal at Martinsville; you have to slow down dramatically from high speed twice a lap for 500 laps. We haven’t heard much in the last few years of guys losing their brakes or having a lot of pedal fade late in the race. Has the cooling system of the brakes improved that much, or has the construction of the brakes improved so much that they last longer than they used to?

McCall – I guess the answer to that is yes. It is a little of all of the above. All of the technology between the parts you can buy and the cooling. It has all added up to where you don’t start the race and save your brakes anymore. For the most part you’ll be in pretty good shape, There are small gains to be made if you don’t have to abuse them during the first half. No matter what you have less braking at the end, but it isn’t like you don’t have enough. It just may allow you to out-brake someone more at the end of the race if you haven’t abused them too much.

Neff – You run quite a few fans to the brakes. Does the number of fans and location of the inlets impact downforce on the front of the car?

McCall – I would say it is more the brakes. The downforce there is so minimal as far as how much aero load is on the vehicle in the middle of the corner. Any type of mechanical grip will most likely overrule complete aero changes. If you think you’re going to go solid to start the race, I don’t think there will ever be a good outcome. It is more important to cool the brakes and tires.

Neff – Is there anything you learned from your Late Model-driving days that you can employ on the Cup side?

McCall – Definitely not. The biggest difference is the tires. They run bias ply tires and our tires are substantially different from anything like that, so nothing really overlays for sure.

Neff – Depending on when caution flags fall there will be different strategies that avail themselves to you. Do you envision pitting more often early and then making long runs late to maintain track position, or would you rather short pit near the end, sacrificing track position for fresher tires?

McCall – I think track position will still be the key. If a caution comes out and there are 40 or 50 laps, there isn’t really enough time for a long run. That is what will dictate getting tires or not getting tires. You have to play it out so that you’re equipped for a long run if you think there is going to be a long run, as far as getting tires and fuel. At the end of the race it is most likely not going to run green for the last 150 laps. You have to be prepared so that you have some short run speed for the last 60 or so.

Neff – We always get these shenanigans getting off of pit lane where guys want to get on the inside because being on the outside is so horrible. Shouldn’t it be relatively easy to implement a choose cone at some of these tracks where lanes are so divergent?

McCall – No, you definitely could. I don’t really know that it would change that much. They do that a lot in Late Model racing. The few races I run I feel like the guy running sixth decides to restart second. It just doesn’t happen that much anymore. I don’t feel like a guy who is supposed to restart fourth on the outside is going to drop back and restart eighth on the bottom. I think it is too much of a risk when you don’t know if there is going to be a hole there or not. I think the leaving pit road stuff is only for a select few cars and you have to be pretty close to the front for that to work out for you. You never know if a car is going to have a penalty. There is a lot of stuff that can dictate that even if you had it right leaving pit road.

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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