The crew chief for Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy answers your questions in his usual candid manner.
What goes into selecting a chassis for a given race? Do you take into account the banking and other characteristics of the track and solve for the geometry of the setup you want to run or are there other factors that determine what makes a particular chassis better suited than another?
Good question. With the current CoT, we have a little less variety than with the old cars, where we'd have seven or eight different styles. With this car, we have a short-track car for Martinsville, Richmond, Loudon, Phoenix. We have an intermediate car which we run everywhere from Dover to Michigan – 1.5-mile to 2-milers. Then we have road course cars, and superspeedway cars. So the variety is much less. What goes into the car for each race? Well, we have a comfort level with certain cars. Over the summer, we run just about every car we own, and then see which one performs the best, has the best feel or the best characteristics, and then we set those aside for the Chase to run at specific tracks. For instance, the car we take to Chicago more than likely will be the car we race at Kansas. It's the same style track and these cars are so finicky with their bumpstops, that if you can figure out the front heights and the travel at Chicago, it will give you an advantage when you go to Kansas during the Chase.
The other interesting point is that there used to be variations in cars that appeared to be set up exactly the same. But there's much less of that
now. As the teams have become smarter in terms of knowing how to order our steel (whether we order it oversized and machine it to the right size) or the way we sonic test the metal – a lot of the variants we had 10 years ago have gone. We now measure even rotor arms to the thousandth of an inch. So the cars are more consistent now than they've ever been.
Some team members switch between organizations (occasionally a few teams in a few years), so does NASCAR have a program that provides insurance and benefits for the team members or are they taken care of by the individual teams? By the way, congratulation on the success this year (without the Talladega and Texas wrecks and the engine at California, I believe the No. 24 would be leading the standings)!
Sam, you've written in before as a fan and now I'm wondering if you're also in H.R., because this is truly a question I didn't expect! Some 15 years ago there were no benefits. Teams were very small, most everyone was paid by the hour, and if you were salaried, you worked night and day for not a lot of money. That's really changed in the last decade: these are big organizations now, and all the programs are by the team. There are no NASCAR programs or benefits, and there are no unions like there are for NFL players. So here at Hendrick Motorsports there are insurance plans and 401K plans – it's no different than going to work at IBM or Bank of America or any other industry. Just as there's no general banker insurance that covers a Bank of America employee if he leaves to go to another bank, there's no NASCAR policy that covers you across any team. NASCAR only provides insurance and workers' comp while we're at events; at the race shop, we're covered by our teams.I wonder if this is more a question for the drivers of both, but I couldn't help noticing that Kyle Busch's pole time in the Trucks at Dover would have put him 12th on the grid for the Cup race! How big are the differences between them in terms of where the vehicles pick up their time from and do they use the same lines? And how big a difference are the Nationwide cars in the same respect? Good luck.
Excellent question, Andy. Five years ago, I'd say the three categories were very similar in terms of where they drove on the track. Now, there is a huge discrepancy. The Trucks have a tremendous amount of downforce and so do the Nationwide cars, and they're very short on horsepower compared to the Cup cars. Nationwide cars have a tapered spacer to restrict power. The Cup cars have quite a bit more power, but quite a bit less downforce. So if a Nationwide car and a Cup car run roughly the same speed on a 1-mile or 1.5-mile track, the Cup car has much more straightaway speed and the Nationwide car carries much more speed through the corners. I think the new Nationwide car will continue to be slower than the Cup car in a straight line because of the spacer and, as for the corner speed, let's see and what happens once they've got everything fine-tuned in terms of aero balance. The Truck downforce is huge: I was speaking to Aric Almirola about his win at Michigan, and he said from the final restart with eight laps to go he never lifted off the gas once. Believe me, you can't dream about going wide-open around Michigan in a Cup car.I've been reading these – they're great, and thank you for your honesty. What's your policy now at this part of the season? Are you still going all out for wins, like you were in the first quarter or is it just about keeping Jeff in the Chase? Thanks.
Appreciate the fan base Lyle. We really were aggressive in the first quarter and it hasn't changed in the second quarter. While it appears that the No. 24 lost a little speed, that's more about the cycle of NASCAR: we really had our chassis figured out at the start of the season, and they're driving just as good as they did in the spring, but they look slower because other teams have caught up. That's normal. So we need to find what setup or what part of the setup it is that we need alter to gain some speed and re-establish ourselves. Running in the top five is good, but we can't continue to do that without being contenders for the win. We need to make sure we're leading laps. I truly believe that 10th-6th place finishes are not going to be enough once the Chase begins. You're going to have to have wins and bonus points.Hendrick has done a lot less winning this year. Is this because people like Penske and JGR have stepped up their game? Do the 24 and 48 teams have something in reserve for the Chase to mash everyone else like the No. 11 is doing to everyone at the moment?!
Obviously this question came in before Sonoma and Loudon, but it's still an interesting question. Ken, as a company we would always like to win more and we have to be realistic about what we expect in terms of total number of wins. Of course, we want to win every week, but I think Penske and JGR are definitely great competitors and we chase them, it seems, at almost every race lately. But a lot of this is about what direction your company is going, no different than say, what Apple does with the iPad. When Apple developed the iPad, that didn't just happen in the last month. Two or three years ago, someone had to decide that was the way for the future, that's what will sell two years from now. Well, we're the same way in racing: we decided months ago what to work on, be it wind tunnel testing, straight line testing or KMC testing. I think if you pick the right thing and it matches the tires and you get the cycle of the sport right, then you will achieve a lot of success. For example, I think we need to reinvestigate some of the areas with the spoiler, because I think we have the balance we need but maybe lack a little bit of speed. So we'll go back through our check list and verify we have everything where we need it to be.