Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Crew Chief Tony Gibson Breaks Down New NASCAR Rules and Transitioning to Ford

Mike Neff: Tech Talk is back for another season on Fronstretch.com. This week’s edition was recorded before the Duels Thursday night. Unfortunately Tony Gibson’s car didn’t have much of an opportunity to show what it had on Sunday during the Clash. He felt like the car was strong and was going to have something at the end. The car showed some of its capabilities on Thursday with a 3rd place finish.

As the team looks to the Daytona 500, this week’s discussion looks quite a bit at the transition from Chevrolet to Ford. The changes in front end geometry and steering thanks to engine mounts were a challenge for the Stewart Haas teams. He also reminds that there are still height rules on Superspeedways. He discusses strategy with the new segments and points awarded throughout.

Tony Gibson: It is a little different. You saw the handling difference in a few of the cars Sunday when the track got really slick. Whatever balance you are fighting, in the evenings when the track is nice and cool it masks a lot of the handling issues. If you are a little bit tight at nighttime, you’re going to be really tight during the day. If you’re a little bit loose at night, you’re going to be extremely loose during the day. It kind of magnifies whatever balance challenge you have during the night. The cars being impounded we couldn’t do a lot other than air pressure to start the race. It obviously bit the No. 48 there which ended up biting us. When he spun out he got into the side of us, there was nothing we could do about it. It will be a different game during the Duels. It will be cold and the race track will be cool with a lot of grip. You probably won’t see any of those handling issues, at least you shouldn’t, tomorrow night.

Neff: As you mentioned, you were cut short during the Clash. What were you able to learn during the practice for the Clash, practice for qualifying and qualifying, about your car as you prepare to head into the Duels?

Gibson: It is a brand new car, so we’ve never raced it before. We didn’t get to run a whole lot in the Shootout, but our car was driving really, really good. We were just kind of hanging out there and biding our time. We were going to get the caution at 25, do a little strategy, and then go to the 50 deal. We didn’t really get to go that far. We got taken out kind of early. The car was driving really good. He was happy with it and it had good speed. The 500 car, is brand new. Other than qualifying we haven’t really had any track time with it. It will be interesting to see how everyone stacks up before the Duels. You don’t want to get yourself into too much trouble. We’ll try to run with a smaller group of cars, just to get a handle on it, then cut practice quick and early if we can so we don’t put ourselves in a bad position. We’ll get some practice on it. We’ll see where we stack up.

Neff: You mentioned this is a new car for you. Stewart Haas Racing is switching over to Fords this year. From the external shell of the car, the grill openings and sculpted body panels, and things like that, what have you seen that is different and given you the most trouble switching from Chevys to Fords?

Gibson: We really haven’t had an issue with anything body wise or anything. The engine stuff has gone extremely well. The grill area and figuring out the square inches and things we need for opening is a little different based on the shape of the nose versus the Chevy. All-in-all, it hasn’t been that big of a drama. We got some experience in the drafting practice for the Shootout, and what little bit of race time we got we seemed to dial it in pretty quickly. Other than that, it hasn’t been a huge difference. Speedways are what they are. When we start getting on the mile and a half tracks that is when we’ll notice a little bit of an aero shift like we see in the wind tunnels. Along with some of the testing the No. 4 car did at Phoenix. It won’t show up as much at Daytona as it will at other tracks.

Neff: When we get under the skin, the first question is, now that you’re in a Ford, do they have different engine mounts than a Chevy does or at engine mounts required to be in the same spots on all Cup cars?

Gibson: No, they are all different. That was one of the biggest hurdles. We had to have all brand new clips on our cars. All of that is different. The engine mounts are different and interfered with our steering components and all that kind of jazz, so all of that had to be remanufactured on our side and is just something totally different than what we’re used to. That is just a learning process and a little bit of a growing pain. It is all working out fine and we’ll be in good shape. It is just something a little different.

Neff: You mentioned the steering components. Does that mean you have to make some changes in your front end geometry or is it more about the components between the front wheels?

Gibson: No, the geometry changed too. We had to make a change there. Moreso on our speedway cars than on our mile and a half program. But it all had to change a little bit. We definitely had to make some changes.

Neff: Now as we go back a little bit, did it change how the exhaust gets from the engine to the side of the car?

Gibson: No, all of that stayed the same. None of that really changed. The headers changed but the booms that exit the car, all of that was the same. None of that gave us any headache.

Neff: For the truck arms getting to the back, and the rear end, that is the same for all manufacturers isn’t it?

Gibson: No, that is all the same for everyone.

Neff: On the rules in general for next year. Were there any changes in engine specs or anything on that side of the rule package?

Gibson: No, that is all the same. NASCAR had a few little changes on some things under the car. Engines, specs and all of that kind of stuff, all stayed the same. There were some minor changes with shielding and things that we do underneath, that was it.

Neff: Did they give you a new restrictor plate this year?

Gibson: No, it should be the last one we used at Talladega?

Neff: One thing of note during practice and qualifying, the side skirts on the cars are normally sealed off when you are on the straights and at full speed. This past weekend the rear of the skirts seemed to be pretty far off of the ground until you compress down into the corners. Is that by choice or is that a result of the springs and shocks that are handed out by NASCAR?

Gibson: We don’t have the zero ride height rule at the plate tracks. We have to start at six and eight, and the car compresses from there. That is why you see the difference in heights of the skirts from a speedway versus the other tracks. The car is constantly trying to come back up on a speedway.

Neff: We know the rules have changed this year for scoring points during the race and the races are broken into segments. At first blush, since obviously tomorrow is the first look at it, what do you initially feel like it will change about your strategy for attacking a race?

Gibson: It will be different for the first half of the race because everyone is going to want to get those 10 bonus points or at least some points. You’ll be more aggressive the first two stints of the race, everybody will. However you don’t want to put yourself into a bad position that it hurts you for the overall points deal. You still want to try and win the race because that is going to pay more than anything. Guys will be more aggressive the first couple of stints,whether it is pit strategy aggressiveness or on track driving, I think everyone will be a little more on edge around those laps.

Neff: If you find yourself outside of that top ten, do you think the guys who are sixteenth to thirtieth but still on the lead lap will come in before they close the pits before the end of the segment, then stay out to be up front to kick off the next segment?

Gibson: It depends, they are going to close the pits two laps before a caution comes out for the end of the segment. If you pit you won’t have any shot at winning one of those segments. If you’re at the back you may roll the dice and pit early under green to try and get up front for the next segment. However, on some of these old mile and a half tracks, you’re going to put yourself on older tires to start a long run to the end of the next segment. I don’t know if that will do you any good or not.

Neff: There have been different stories out about the length of the caution at the end of the segments. Has NASCAR told you how long that is going to be for you guys?

Gibson: No, they haven’t said. As far as I understand, it is just like a normal caution. They will throw it, the pace car will pick up the field, they will open pit road like they do on any other caution, lead lap cars go first, lap down cars go second, everyone gets a chance to pit, we go back to green. That is how I understand it will work.

Neff: Now that you’re over to Fords, you have different manufacturer partners. Have you had the chance to work with the folks from Penske, Roush or Petty yet?

Gibson: Not a whole lot. We’ve talked to them on and off, and it is a little friendlier than it was before, we’re just trying to get our feet wet. We know all of the guys and we’re friends with them but, when it comes to sharing we’ve never been on that same playing field with them. We’re just trying to get warm and fuzzy with each other, what we can say and not say, who you can believe and can’t believe. We go through that with every crew chief and everybody out there. We really don’t have any kind of alliance yet but that will get more and more open as we go along for sure.

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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