Race Weekend Central

Tech Talk: Steve Letarte On Tires, Aerodynamics And Fontana

_Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the second hottest driver on the Cup circuit right now, with top-10 finishes in all four of the races that have been held this season. Some pundits predicted that Earnhardt would do better with this new generation car than he did with the previous incarnation of Cup cars. Other people might just point to the man on top of his pit box. Earnhardt is starting his third season with Steve Letarte as his crew chief and the two seem to be hitting their stride as they begin the 2013 season. Letarte gave Frontstretch a few minutes to look back at Bristol and ahead to California._

Mike Neff: *Dale made some contact with the wall early on in the race at Bristol. He fell back for the remainder of that run but rebounded rather quickly after the next pit stop and ended up with his fourth top 10 of the season. Did the contact damage the car requiring adjustments to correct it or was it just cosmetic damage?*

Tech Talk: Jason Ratcliff Tries For Two In A Row

_Jason Ratcliff spent his first full season in the Cup series in 2012. Many people might think he was an overnight success, but he's been crew chiefing at the national touring series level since 2000 when he started with Casey Atwood in the Nationwide Series. He's been on top of a pit box for nearly 400 races between the Nationwide and Cup series and his drivers have gone to victory lane 38 times, most recently last weekend. Frontstretch spent a little time with Ratcliff this week to talk briefly about his win with Matt Kenseth at Las Vegas, pit speed enforcement and options that teams have for Bristol._ Mike Neff: First of all, congratulations on winning your first race of the season and the first for Toyota in the new car. It has to feel pretty good getting there so quickly with a new driver. Jason Ratcliff: Yes it does. I feel like we have a strong race team and obviously we have a strong driver. I knew we'd have some success in 2013 with Matt coming onboard with Dollar General and Husky partnering with us. It would be crazy for me to say I didn't think it would come this soon but honestly, I'm surprised it came this soon. I thought it would take us a little bit longer to gel and get the chemistry where it needs to be. It just goes to show you that the things we did in the off-season have really paid off when it comes to communication when it comes to chemistry between the driver and the race team. MN: Matt's not a very outwardly emotional guy but seemed very emotional about the win. Do you think he put more pressure on himself because of the way the season started? With him blowing the motor in testing and the trouble you guys had right out of the gate at Daytona? JR: Now that I know Matt, he's a guy that puts a lot of pressure on himself all of the time. He's very competitive, obviously. He pushes himself and puts more pressure on himself than anyone. He has some high expectations for himself and the race team. So far we've been to three races and he has pushed himself as hard as anyone I have ever seen to try and be competitive and put himself in a position to win. Y'know you're leading the Daytona 500 and fell out and started the season off in a hole that way, it kind of puts you a little bit behind. At Phoenix and Vegas, was he pushing a little harder. Yeah, he was trying to get back up there and put himself back in the top 10 where he feels like he and his race team belong. I don't think he pushed himself any harder than he normally does. He's a pretty hard charger no matter what the situation is. MN: With the way the new car is reacting and the advantage that clean air has. Is track position still the biggest factor? With the tires they had at Vegas that just didn't wear out, did that play into your strategy? Knowing how important track position is. JR: It is a little early to evaluate this car. There was a discussion about Phoenix and the fact that it was hard to pass. Most of the time, if we go to a track that has a new surface, and Phoenix is one of them, most of the time if it is a track that has a new surface, we see that. They have a lot of grip and everybody can run the bottom and until the track wears out a little bit and widens out, like Vegas did, you have a hard passing. It is just the race track. At Vegas, I thought there was a lot of passing. We started 18th and passed a lot of cars throughout the day. Matt, and a lot of other guys, were able to pass the slower cars easily, along with a lot of the other guys. At the end, Goodyear brought a good tire that was durable and the fall off wan't that much. The track conditions were a little bit cool but that isn't what I meant. Once you get into the top five, the cars are so competitve that someone has to make a mistake for us to take advantage of it. The competition is so close that someone has to make a mistake. I knew, as we got close to the front, our car would get better. They always do. Was it going to be enough to hold off the No. 5? It seemed like it did. MN: Two of the JGR cars got busted for speading on pit lane. Would you like to see them make the speeds for everyone on pit lane visible to everyone and would you like for them to go to a GPS system where it is actual speed, not the average speed? JR: I think, right now, they give you enough information that you can control it. They tell you where the timing lines are, you know how many feet are between them, they tell you what the speed is, they give you a five mile per hour cushion. They give you all of the information you need to play the game, so I think it is a race within a race and I like that. The guys who want to push it, push it, You get caught, you knew what the rules were. The thing I don't like on the GPS, I don't feel like we'd get to see that information. It would be hard for us to calculate off of it. Right now, if we make a mistake, we usually get to do an evaluation that says this is where we went wrong and what to do to make it better. I like it the way it is. Guys getting busted are just pushing it. MN: The fans spoke out about Bristol. The ground the top of the track. By the time guys were done, the guys were making time off of the bottom by running around the top. Are you setting up your car to run the top, bottom or inbetween? JR: To me, you always set it up to run the bottom. If you have a car that can run the bottom, it can run the top. If you go to a track and the driver tells you that they can't run the top, that is a driver preference thing more than a racecar thing. A lot of times you'll get cars that can run the top or the bottom. We'll work on the bottom until the race gets going. We'll see if there is some grip at the top but we won't live up there. If everyone is running the top, I'll work it for a good option but the fast way around is the bottom. We're going to work on the bottom and use the top as a bonus optoin. We'll try to make sure we can partner with Rocky in the car. Hopefully there will be some differences with this car . Until the top takes some rubber, we most likely will learn nore. MN: Is the new rear end camber change going to be exploited at Bristol? Will teams be maxing out the rear end camber or just trying. JR: I don't think we'll know until the weekend. This is the first time we've been to a track of this style. You'll need to be prepared. A lot depends on how the car reacts. It is always a compromise with every corner of the car. If you put more camber in, you'll have more lateral grip but you'll give up longitudinal grip and some forward bite. Until you get there, I don't think you'll know. I really think it will be setup specific. I feel like a lot of guys will unload with a fair amount of camber. Will they be maxed out? Probably not, but they'll be closer to that than any other way. Throughout practice they'll take some away slowly to see if they can find some speed. MN: When they repaved the track, there was progressive banking. Now that they ground it at the top, did that result in the middle of the track having a hump or is the banking still progressive? JR: It is hard to tell with the naked eye. Best I recall in the fall, it seemed like there definitely some change there. I don't know if it is as much banking as it is the texture of the surface. They definitely decreased the angle, but to get it to cover the top to bottom with the same banking, I don't think there is enough concrete there. I think you'd have to dig so far that you'd hit the rebar. It is still progressive but there is definitely some change to it. MN: You don't have to move people any more but do you still add extra bracing to the nose and back bumper in anticipation of the contact? JR: The bars in the nose are there every week. NASCAR mandates what goes in. The car is pretty stout out front. In the rear end, they give you a couple options. You can add or take away a couple tubes but the basic structure is in the rule book. And that is what you have. The days of going in and bracing the bumpers up, are gone. To me, they're pretty stiff everywhere we go. MN: I would like to see some air get under the cars. I'd love to see the front valence come off the ground by two or three inches. That would get air to the car behind and their cooling system which would help them coo.l. JR: You would think that it would, but I don't know if it would change it that much. The biggest problem is we have this period that is resulting in explosions of changes to the car. It wasn't one single thing that changed. So to go back and make a couple of changes for the betterment of the car in front of behind there will be a lot of other changes required to make the cars go around the race track. The biggest thing will be the tire itself. Goodyear has kind of followed the race car. It has turned into we'll build a tire for this year and then next year and then year after year after year. Now they have a tire for what we're currently racing. If they change the car, then the loading and grip and tons of other things change. As Aero grip is taken away, you have to make up for it somewhere. Otherwise you'll still have ill handling cars that will not be able to pass because no one can drive them. So do I think lifting the cars up will help? Yes. Unfortunately it is going to require a ton of changes to go along with it and I don't think all of them will join in on that feeling. _The No. 20 was in Victory Lane this past weekend. Kenseth has won at Bristol before, and with Ratcliff on his box, they could form a formidable combination._ *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Tech Talk: Comparing Loop Data To Analyze The Gen-6

_Author's Note: An unexpected scheduling conflict caused our crew chief to be unavailable this week, so we're going to take a look at the loop data statistics from last year's Phoenix race vs. this year's to see what the performance of the Gen-6 vs. COT looks like from a purely data-driven perspective._ NASCAR compiles a mountain of statistics each week that allow digit heads across the land, and in the garage area, to make unbiased comparisons on many different levels. Since Sunday's race was the first unrestricted event for the latest version of the Cup Series car, it just might be interesting to see what the numbers reveal. The first numbers we'll look at are quality passes. A quality pass is one that occurs on a car running in the top 15 under green flag conditions. In last year's race, Jimmie Johnson finished fourth but had the most quality passes during the race with 63. Interestingly, in 2013, Brad Keselowski finished fourth and also had the most quality passes; however, the defending champion only notched 35 of them. In looking at the quality passes, the top 11 passers in 2012's Spring Phoenix race made more than the top passer in 2013. That's sign that to pass someone, last Sunday it was far more difficult than during the race a year before. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15503.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"102\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Much has been said of the Gen-6 cars leading into the 2013 season, but are they really that much better than the COT was?</p></div> Next up is the speed in traffic stat. It gives you the average speed of the driver when he has another car within one car length of them during green flag laps. This year's top runner at Phoenix was Matt Kenseth with a speed of 129.807 mph. Last year's best in traffic was Jimmie Johnson who clocked 130.260 mph. When it was all said and done, the speed of the top runners was nearly identical from one year to the next. Third up is the statistic that backs up the argument that you always hear from the people who attend the race in person. They always maintain that there is so much more action back in the pack than what you see on TV. Green flag passes will most definitely let you know which race had the most excitement from front to back of the pack. In 2012, Jimmie Johnson once again led the category with no less than 90 passes during green flag competition. That was nearly 50% more than this year's king of the overtake, AJ Allmendinger, who put the move on 61 cars throughout the length of the race. The top 12 drivers in the 2012 green flag pass statistics made more green flag passes than the top passer in 2013. Laps led is another category that indicates the competitive nature of a race. More drivers leading laps means more drivers were at the front. Certainly some laps led occur when drivers stay out during cautions, but in the long run, more drivers leading laps indicates more competitive races. 2013 saw nine drivers lead laps, with five of them leading double digit laps and Carl Edwards leading the most at 122 circuits. In comparison, 2012 saw 15 drivers lead the field across the line, but only five of them led double digit laps. The mandate that came down from above as the manufacturers and NASCAR's R&D center started working on the latest edition of the Cup series car was to have more side-by-side racing and more passes for the lead. While there is a long way to go and many things to be learned about this new car, for now it is looking like the older car was a bit more competitive. However, the older car had been around for six years, and there had been a lot of tricks and techniques learned to make it better. For now, the jury is still out on the new car. But, looking at the numbers that were accumulated last Sunday, the older car was faster, had more passing and more leaders. We'll see what it looks like when the series rolls back into Phoenix in November. *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

Tech Talk: Alan Gustafson Takes The New Car, And Jeff Gordon Back To The Desert

_Phoenix International Raceway has been a challenging place for Jeff Gordon during his 20-year career. It was where he was able to break through and end a winless drought nearly two years in the making, back in 2011 and where he scored win No. 76, tying Dale Earnhardt in career victories in 2007. Now, the track will pose a different type of challenge for Gordon and others, hosting the first race for the new Generation-6 Cup car with an unrestricted engine. The series heads to the desert Southwest with so many unanswered questions surrounding how the new chassis will handle on those types of speedways. Frontstretch got a few minutes with Alan Gustafson, Gordon’s crew chief to talk about the challenges faced by teams heading into the race, along with a quick look back at Daytona._

Tech Talk: Slugger Labbe Breaks Down Prepping For The Daytona 500

_The Daytona 500 will start off the NASCAR points race season this Sunday, and the cars from the Richard Childress Racing stable are heading into the event feeling rather confident after one of their own, Kevin Harvick, scored the first win of the season in the Sprint Unlimited. Sitting on the pit box for Paul Menard this Sunday will be Slugger Labbe. The veteran crew chief from Saco, Maine has been in Daytona’s Victory Lane before as a crew chief with Michael Waltrip; now, he’s looking to repeat the feat and bring his driver a maiden plate race triumph. Tuesday morning, he gave Frontstretch his views on how things have unfolded so far in Speedweeks, along with a little insight into the Battle at the Beach._

Tech Talk: Tony Gibson Dishes on Preparing for Gen-6 at Daytona

_Tony Gibson has been around the sport of stock car racing for a long time. He’s seen three or four generations of the race cars in the Cup Series and now, he prepares to climb aboard the pit box for one of the most well-known female drivers in the history of the sport, Danica Patrick. As he takes on that new role, he also has to take on the task of learning how the latest iteration of the Cup car will react to the subtle nuances that crew chiefs throw at it in an attempt to make it faster. Gibson took a break from all that complexity, plus preparing his team to head to Daytona to speak with Mike Neff about the challenges that teams are facing as they head to the World Center of Speed in this season’s first installment of Tech Talk._

Mike Neff: *You went down to Daytona last month for the big test with the new car. How much did you learn and when you unloaded down there, were you in a 500 setup or were you testing specific things with the car?*

Tony Gibson: We were pretty much in race mode. I know it sounds strange to say single-car runs, but we weren’t in any kind of qualifying mode.

Tech Talk: Making a Car Stick in the Florida Sun with Bob Osborne

_Bob Osborne was Carl Edwards crew chief for most of the first seven years of his career, with the exception of a brief stint with Jamie McMurray. He ran the No. 99 for the first 19 races this season before stepping aside due to health concerns. He is still part of the management of Roush Fenway racing and has his finger on the pulse of all of the teams under the Roush banner._

_Osborne shared his opinions on setting up for a variable banking track, an oval without a bend in the front straight, the character of Homestead after baking in the Florida sun for a few years and the strategy every team uses when they come to the race track on a race weekend. He also tells FS what he’d like to see out of the tires that are brought to the track every weekend._

Tech Talk: Darian Grubb and Putting the Power Down at Phoenix

_The 2012 Chase has taken a turn for the worse for Denny Hamlin. After a mechanical issue cost him a quality finish at Martinsville, the hopes of the No. 11 team for a title this year went out the window. Can they recover for a season sweep in the desert before the 2012 season dries up? With two races to go on the schedule, it has come down to win or nothing for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. Darian Grubb took some time at Martinsville to talk with Frontstretch about the upcoming race at Phoenix, the 2013 car that they tested at the track before Martinsville, the cars they’re putting into the fleet for next season and the changes that the track at Phoenix has presented to the teams._

Tech Talk: Saving Gas While Going Fast in the Lone Star State

_Jason Ratcliff has been turning wrenches for Joey Logano all season. He led Logano to his second career Cup victory along with a fourth-place finish at Daytona in July. Ratcliff has a Nationwide championship under his belt, with Kyle Busch in 2009 and 2012 marks his first full-time season as a Cup crew chief. In our latest Tech Talk, he shared with Frontstretch the advantages of having the driver run Nationwide and Cup, how EFI can and cannot help with fuel saving, the effect of sideskirt adjustments and how racy the track is at Texas._

Tech Talk: NASCAR Eyes In The Sky Equals A Full-Time Job

_This week for Tech Talk, we thought we’d take a detour from life under the hood to give you a taste of what life is like up on the roof. Mike Herman, Jr. has been spotting for several years for drivers at local tracks all of the way up to the Sprint Cup Series. Before that, he was a driver and mechanic, winning multiple track championships at Concord Speedway and competing in the Hooters Pro Cup Series back when it was one of the strongest short track divisions in the country. So as NASCAR heads to Martinsville, Virginia this weekend with its Chase for the Championship Frontstretch sat down with Herman to talk a little about the tools of his trade. Find out more insight about the responsibilities of a spotter, what the toughest pit road in the sport is and how much the best spotters in the business spend on their equipment as Herman, Jr. sits down for an extended conversation with our own Mike Neff. Oh, and we talk a little Martinsville inside info, too…_

Goodyear Engineer Justin Vanthozen On Picking the Right Tire for Kansas

_Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company has been making racing tires for as long as there has been racing. In 1914 every competitor in the Indianapolis 500 raced on Goodyear tires. Over the company’s long history they have continually advanced tire technology to new heights that some would argue might be too advanced for what their product is supposed to do. Whatever your opinion, the fact of the matter is that Goodyear is the top manufacturer of tires in the United States and they have developed racing tires that are the most durable that we’ve ever seen in our sport._

_Goodyear Engineer Justin Vanthozen sat down with Frontstretch to discuss tires; how they are constructed, the most important characteristics in race tires, the construction compounds (without divulging industry secrets of course) and more. As the series heads into Kansas with their newly repaved surface, tires will most certainly be at the forefront of the conversation, and Vanthozen helped to clarify that picture._

Tech Talk: Night Racing in Charlotte with Tony Gibson and the No. 39

_The Cup series heads to Charlotte for the final night race of the season. Teams will be dealing with a more stable racing surface since the entire race will be run after the sun is below the horizon. The teams will also be sleeping in their own beds and racing in front of friends and family that don’t normally get to see them compete live. As the Chase reaches its halfway point, Tony Gibson shares his views on preparing for 500 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway._

_Gibson touches base on how smart the EFI system is, squashing tires to calculate spring rates and how much better racing would be if the tires wore out more. Check out his opinions in this week’s edition of Tech Talk._