Race Weekend Central

Oil Coolers, Springs and Wheel Travel in Tech Talk with Trent Owens for Talladega

Four times a year the racing is taken almost completely out of the driver and crew chief’s hands and give to the aerodynamicists. This weekend is the last time for this season with the Cup series heading to Talladega. Trent Owens talks, in this week’s Tech Talk, about how little a small team can do with a speedway program while big budget teams have entire departments dedicated to the four speedway events each year.

For Talladega Owens fills us in on wheel travel, shocks and springs assigned to the teams, and development of multiple components. The new rule package is going to dictate a new oil cooler and is going to bring the speedway cars in line with the regular cars that we see all but four weekends per season. Owens also gives us a little insight into Charlotte and discusses how the PJ1 evolved throughout the weekend last week.

Mike Neff – Alrighty we are coming out of Charlotte which we actually got in on time was little worried about that but we pulled it off seem like your day went pretty good till about it 200 yards from the finish line. How did you see it?

Trent Owens – Actually Charlotte was a good weekend for us. We were a little closer to where we need to be qualifying. Throughout times during the race we were quick and we stayed on the lead lap. We came away with a top 20 finish. We were really happy with the performance of our car. Over the last month we’ve struggled a little bit so it was nice to get the performance back and have a good race. Coming to the checkered flag I’m not sure what happened. Some cars got jumbled up coming off of four, we made a move to the inside of the 77 and AJ saw a hole there and took it and that kind of spun us out. It was just a racing accident. No hard feelings. We’re all trying to race for top 20s and to get to the top 25 in points. That is important. I consider it racing and I’m just glad we both finished.

Neff – When you slid through the infield there was a lot of grass flying but it didn’t look like there was much damage to the car. Was it none the worse for the wear?

Owens – Our car ended up ok. The right front tire blew so that did the most damage. It damaged the hood, the right front fender, the quarter panel was bent from the 47 getting into us but it was all cosmetic. No frame damage, no suspension damage so we’ll get that car repaired and possibly take it to another race this year.

Neff – We had the PJ1 on the track at Charlotte. Did you feel like we needed it or was the racing the same as it would have been without it?

Owens – On Friday I was definitely questioning it. I was wondering if they put down a drum of soap (laughs) instead of PJ1. After it rained and they ran the XFINITY race I think it was good that we had the PJ1. The middle to top groove was racable from the beginning. As the race went on, and we’ve seen this before, the PJ1 actually wears off and it is quite a challenge to keep up with the changing race track conditions. I think it provided better racing. It allowed some cars to be better at the end of the race while others were good at the beginning of the race. It kind of mixes things up. From a racing standpoint I think it was a good move. However, I don’t know what we have to do next time before we get into a situation like we did on Friday where the track was very slippery. Almost like it was when we tested after the Kentucky repave. Not really sure what went on there.

Neff – We now head to the longest oval in NASCAR. We are about to be thrust into the crap shoot that is plate racing. How much have you changed on your plate car since we ran at Daytona in July?

Owens – We were fortunate enough to get through the Daytona race without any damage. You hear this every time when people go on about speedway racing. It is all about survival. You’ll have a pack of cars that run to the front all day and another pack that runs at the back just trying to avoid disaster. They all come together at the end and you just hope you make it through the big one. We’re a small team and it is really difficult to put a lot of effort and time into the speedway cars just because we’re trying to be competitive at the other tracks, which is the majority of the tracks. We don’t have a full speedway program so to speak, or people dedicated just to that type of car. We were lucky to get through Daytona so we’re just going to polish those two cars up and take them to Talladega.

Neff – We always hear about getting the cars through the air is key to getting the cars to be fast at Daytona and Talladega. How much does the underside of the cars come into this scenario? It seems like there is a lot of development and massaging on the underneath side of these cars that we don’t hear about in the mainstream. Is there a lot of development there?

Owens – That is very true and it is also very true on our Intermediate tracks. As much as we worry about knocking drag off on Daytona and Talladega we have a lot of stuff going on underneath at the other tracks trying to make downforce. The underbody is an area of investigation but we have rules there as well. The rules are so tight on the outerbody. I know, if you look at pictures, you can see the different shapes of splitters running around to feed air to the underbody. After it gets there you have to figure out what to do with it. It is opposite of the downforce tracks but it is definitely an area that a lot of teams spend a lot of time on just trying to knock drag out. Talladega moreso than Daytona. At Daytona you have tighter turning radius and it is a little narrower race track so handling can still come into play and downforce can matter, especially when that temperature is rising. Talladega is so wide and the turning radius isn’t as tight so it is pretty much all out speed with that limited horsepower.

Neff – Having been around Indianapolis when ground effects came into use, it was all about getting the air out from under the car and creating a void that sucked the car to the ground. Are you now saying that we actually want air under the car to make it faster by helping with the resistance going through the air?

Owens – Yeah, it is a situation where we have so many rules that we’re not able to have a smooth underbody by any means. There are tricks you can do with what air you do see and where you try and exit it. That allows you to move the numbers around a little bit. It is a unique situation with stock cars and how you evacuate the air. Simply because we have so many rules about how we build our chassis and how the splitter sees the race track and seals off. Probably not a straight comparison to a CART or IndyCar but, as time goes on, the development of the underbody is pretty big right now. In 10 years these cars are going to look ancient to us. It is just all about development as time goes on.

Neff – We are truly developing things every single day on these cars. Next on the Talladega agenda is cooling. Getting the cars to run cool when you’re in those packs is always a challenge. Last week we spoke to Drew Blickensderfer and he has a software program from his engineers where he can plug in his desired engine temperature, his ambient temperature and a couple other parameters and it tells him how many square inches of tape to run. Do you have a similar program that can tell you about how much tape to run?

Owens – Yeah, you can get an indication of what you want to run. We have wind tunnel numbers that of the VR of the air coming into the radiator and coming out of the radiator. We all have a pretty common radiator at the speedway races now. We can input that information to get a specific square inches of tape that will result in a certain air velocity coming through the opening. That is a perfect world scenario where there isn’t anyone around. When those guys get tucked up into the draft and they are right up on the guy in front of thems bumper, that is when the car doesn’t see a lot of air at all and that is when you run into temperature problems. You get into that traffic and the driver may be forced to move out of line a bit to get some air into the car. You can get close, and NASCAR regulates the size of the opening on the speedway cars versus the other tracks. We have a smaller opening at Daytona and Talladega to keep the cars from bump drafting as much as they used to. You still have to see some air first to cool the engine. We all have those numbers with software and a lot of it is driven by past history.

Neff – Speaking of cooling, part of the discussion in the last week or so was about the new rules for 2018 and that include a new, common, oil cooler. You currently have a common oil cooler for plate tracks correct that NASCAR dictates?

Owens – We talked about development as time has gone on. Oil coolers and radiators have gotten so expensive. It was just time to do something. With the owners and competition directors meeting through NASCAR we have agreed on a common ground and a common cost. It was more cost driven than anything. Those rules are coming for us at every race track and I think it is a good thing.

Neff – The oil coolers you have now you can’t really adjust or change?

Owens – No, everyone in the garage has the same thing. It has been a good deal. They did that in the XFINITY series. Once everyone had their initial purchase and everyone saw the positive with that they decided to carry it over into the Cup garage as well.

Neff – Talladega was repaved a few years back and, while some of the character is coming back, it is still quite smooth. How much travel do you have in your suspension between the straightaway, when you are relatively unloaded and the corners when the suspension is fully loaded?

Owens – If you’re looking at the wheel travel, you are close to 1 ¾ on the rear tires, on the straight. Up front you’re getting close to 3 ¾ of travel all of the way around the track. The back comes up on the straight because of less load. Once you’re compressed into the corner the rear can see upwards of five inches of travel. We have another mandate, at least for right now, it won’t be that way next year, but we are mandated to a certain rate on our rear springs. It is still a game of trying to get our springs as soft as possible in the rear and get that spoiler out of the air. We can see about five inches of travel in the corners once it is fully compressed.

Neff – Does NASCAR still give you the rear shocks and springs or are they just tested during technical inspection?

Owens – These are issued. The rear springs are issued through Eibach and the shocks are issued through Penske. This will be the last race for this package. Next year our speedway races are going to be pretty much the same every other track with no frame height rule. We’ll be able to use any spring in the hauler, there won’t be any specs. So this will be the last race for what they call the 2013 rules package.

Neff – If that is the case, you remember when we used to have the squatted rear ends with the tires going way up into the wheel wells. Do you think we’re headed to another round of that?

Owens –There will be some of that however, through the chassis certification process now, the track bar mount has to be a certain length. That will determine how far you can travel the back end. You won’t see fuel cells dragging the track because you can remove everything that we used to from the chassis. Your frame heights, from the build are the standard six and eight inches. Everyone’s pipes are in a certain place. You have a few things that are a constant on how you can build the car. That said, I’m sure you’ll see some sparks coming out from under some cars next season at the plate tracks.

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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