Next up from the media’s stop at Stewart-Haas Racing is Darian Grubb, crew chief for Tony Stewart, and Tony Gibson, crew chief for Ryan Newman. Also on hand was Stewart-Haas Racing’s Director of Competition, Bobby Hutchins. Read on to find out their thoughts on Daytona, the new nose on their Chevys, & much more from the technical side of things.
Question: Darian and Tony, if you guys could add, from a technical perspective, new nose on our Chevy Impalas, new asphalt at Daytona and even a new fuel with ethanol. If you could talk about 2011 from a technical perspective. Darian, if you could talk about 2011 from a technical perspective.”
DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief, No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet: “It’s an exciting time for us. A few changes coming from NASCAR with the rules and new body style with the nose with Chevrolet, done a nice job on that. Excited working with Chevrolet in its 100th year of operation and being a part of its motorsports program, which has gotten so strong. The competition level is so high, we feel like we have got a leg up with our Windshear wind tunnel program, our new technical partner with Mobil 1. We feel like we have a leg up on the competition and trying to take that technology edge to the racetrack.”
Question: “Tony (Gibson) if you can add from the 39 team’s perspective.”
TONY GIBSON, Crew Chief, No. 39 U.S. Army/Tornados/Haas Automation Chevrolet: “I think one of the biggest things we have been working on is our aero department. Chevrolet has done a great job on the new noses and spending time in the tunnel and Chevrolet does well in giving us time in the tunnel and Windshear has been a huge benefit for us. On the aero side, it’s been big and we’ve been trying to pay attention to get most out of it. And keeping the nose down with the least amount of traffic is pretty big, and working on a fuel deal. Hendrick (Motorsports) has been doing a good job and making sure we get good mileage and performance out of the engines going to the new E-15 fuel, and getting that in a bag so when you get down there, you’ve got to work with all of it. So you’ve got to dibble in all of that stuff to make sure that you’re on top of it. You can’t leave one thing unturned. So everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing has done a great job – all the engineering staff, they have done a great job staying on top of that and making sure we are getting as much as we can out of each bag.”
Question: “And Bobby Hutchens, our director of competition. If you are to look at this from a holistic standpoint, last year at Homestead and beginning of this year at Daytona – not much off to our offseason – can you talk about the logistics of planning for a season?”
BOBBY HUTCHENS, Director of Competition, Stewart-Haas Racing: “Our engineering department led by Matt Borland has worked hard to get us ready for 2011. They have been out working on our speedway program and up in Michigan this weekend at a GM facility working on drivetrain parts and pieces, and then with our new sponsor, Mobil 1 and WIX Filters, technical partners, hope that helps us over the offseason to make our end product better on Sundays. As these guys said, this shop here has worked really hard to make sure our third season is our most successful season, yet.”
Question: I wanted to ask Tony Gibson: you were at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) when they dominated the restrictor-plate tracks, and now you go with new nose and new asphalt. How much of an adjustment is it? Is the nose mainly cosmetic, or is the asphalt a big deal? What did you find and how big of an adjustment is it for you?
TONY GIBSON: “The racetrack has a ton of grip. The old Daytona – me and Darian were talking earlier – you would run 15, 20 laps and the grip would go away and it would come down to handling and guys would get single-file. Now there’s so much grip in the racetrack, there’s some different characteristics in track to track versus Talladega, but I think it’s, for us set up-wise, it’s really, really close to Talladega. Get as much speed out of it as you can because handling doesn’t seem to be a big issue right now. I think it’s going to come down to raw speed and, if these guys can stay nose-to-tail and push each other, that will be the key. I think you’ll see a lot more side-by-side racing than you’ve seen in the last few years at Daytona, just based off so much grip in the racetrack.”
Question: For Darian – how will the elimination of the catch-can man affect pit stops and the responsibilities of the remainder of the over-the-wall guys?
DARIAN GRUBB: “I think that’s something we are all still going to learn as we go along as we get to Daytona and see what the teams have done as a pit stop scenario. We are only going to be allowed the six guys over the wall but I think you’ll be allowed to be creative in how you do that. You’ll probably see guys having multiple gas men and see some guys change the way they work with the tire carriers and the tire changers and the coordination of the pit stop. So far, the fueling process is a little bit slower than it was in the past, so that obviously changes our timing a little bit. But we are still in the learning process with that, now that we have all of the new equipment in.”
Question: Darian, can you talk about how finding speed is more of a nuance or an “Ah-hah” moment?
DARIAN GRUBB: “I think that just comes as a property of the NASCAR rule book now. Everything has gotten to be such a tight box that we are all competing in. The performance level of every team is very high. It’s all about the fine details, now, and the hours that you put in at the shop. The detail work is where you’re going to find the speed, now. If somebody could find that big ‘aha’ moment, they will win two or three races, but everybody will be right back on top of them. It’s pretty easy to figure out when they are working two or three feet away from you in the garage. It’s hard to keep a secret when it works that tightly, the whole network. But it’s something we are really happy about because it gives us a chance to go through and show that detail and the expertise of the Stewart-Haas employees and be able to show that at the racetrack.”
Question: With all of the years you’ve (Hutchens) spent going from one season to the next, how can you compare what it’s like now to transition and look forward to the next year versus the way it might have been all those years ago?
BOBBY HUTCHENS: “Many years ago, we might spend 20 or 30 days (testing) between Talladega and Daytona. Of course, the last few years, we have not been there at all. Going back there three days this year brought back memories of years gone by. But the way we have it now, at least the folks in the shop and especially the guys who travel on the road, have a bit of a life in the offseason where, before, we were gone probably more back in those days during the offseason than we were even when we traveled normally to the races. So from my perspective, I like to see the no-testing during the offseason.
Question: I guess for Darian – as the changes are going more toward “green” fuels, is there much difference in the performance of the vehicle, and does it create any — what kind of work do you have to put in to make any kind of adjustments? Or do you notice much of anything in the way of difference?
DARIAN GRUBB: “It’s more of the fueling system that’s come into play, since there’s no more catch can. The biofuel addition – that we think is something very good for NASCAR. We are all looking forward to taking that next step and going all the way to E-85 at some point. Partners like Chevrolet and Mobil 1, everybody is on the edge of that green initiative and we are proud to be a part of that.
So far, we have not really seen that much of a performance change. It’s a little bit more power but a little bit less as far as the fuel mileage goes. So it’s going to be something that’s even through the entire field and not going to make a major change. We have had a lot of testing in-house and also with outside suppliers, determining how the material compatibility is with the alcohol content and the fuels and those things. Everybody has pretty much done the homework. We don’t think there are going to be any hiccups and we are ready to go to the racetrack with it.”
Question: We hear all sorts of crazy stories about Daytona cars, the insane level of detail and preparation that goes into them, bolts being ground off the bottom and decals painted instead of stickered. How much work goes into a Daytona 500 versus a regular-downforce car?
BOBBY HUTCHENS: “Our cars were started in the August and September (2010) timeframe, and there’s been somebody working here pretty much every day on those cars. And most of the things you alluded to, those are things that we do and, like Darian mentioned earlier, you’re going to get down there and the small details that we are taking care of here by the body shop, by our fab shops, those guys taking possession and ownership of their particular area and rubbing on it a little harder than the next guy is going to make the difference when you get to Daytona. So that is a big, big thing that is going to happen because the cars, and the rules, as Darian stated, are so even.”
Question: NASCAR is discussing setting qualifying order based on your fastest practice times. Is that going to change your strategy of how you attack a race weekend? Are you going to come more focused on your qualifying practice speed to make sure you get that good qualifying draw?
DARIAN GRUBB: “I think, for myself, what Tony and I have been through the last two years, we learned a lot about each other and the styles of the racetrack and what we need to have. We have done better, personally, as a 14 team by starting out in race trim, letting Tony go out and get a feel for the track and tires. We have had a lot of changes happen between races and tires and aero setups between the wings and the spoilers and all those things.
Now, we are going to be settling into a new change, once we get that comfort level of where we know we need to be. We might be able to go and spend more time on qualifying. But we personally like to spend a little more time in race trim, get a feel and lay of the land and make sure everything is comfortable and right, and then we know a set change we can make to the qualifying trim that usually puts us higher on the board when we do that. If you’re not close with your race set-up, you are not going to be close at all with your qualifying set-up. So the more we can know the shift and balance we can have, we feel like we can be stronger doing that.”
Question: As a follow-up on that, one of the other things we are seeing is Saturday-morning qualifying sessions. Talk about how that plays into it, whether it’s just how that plays into it on those weekends. Or, it looks like we are going to be back and forth on it, how that plays into your attack of practice sessions.
DARIAN GRUBB: “As the schedule comes out, it’s definitely going to change a few things, the way we approach the practice sessions, we have two sessions on Friday at a couple of the racetracks, already, and then a Saturday qualifying. It’s going to be a little tougher from the driver’s standpoint more than it is the crew because we are still going to go in and do everything we can do to make the car as fast as possible for both scenarios. It will be up to Eddie (Jarvis, business manager) and Mike (Arning, director of public relations) to get Tony there on time for qualifying and out of bed and get the sleep out of his eyes. That’s going to be probably a big change on a lot of those guys. I don’t think it’s going to give us an advantage because we have the veteran drivers who can be able to step into the car and make the same lap they made yesterday and trying to figure it out and have an hour break before they go qualify. I think we will be really good at that.”