Steve, I don't know if you're allowed to say what you think, but do you agree with me and a lot of NASCAR fans that the current car is uglier than hell? If you ignore the paint jobs, what was your favorite car you've worked on?
Good luck in Talladega. I'll see you there!
I'll be honest, Will: When they first came out with using the wing, I thought the car was ugly. And then, as we've raced it, it's grown on me. I think the spoiler and the longer quarter panels definitely give the cars a better look. I think we have to work on our paint jobs. DuPont does a great job with the No. 24 car and the bright colors make it stand out well, but I think some of the other teams' liveries could do with a makeover. As we've changed the height and shape of the car, the old car's paint job won't complement the current car so well.
In answer to your second question, my favorite car was toward the end of the old-style car, the Chevy Monte Carlo, when it looked like a Late Model! You could really twist the bodies, make the noses flat, and they just had a great look to them on the track. The best-looking example was the one we won with in the fall of 2007 at Charlotte (shown below -Ed.). It was one of the most tricked-out cars we'd built and it was just beautiful, in my eyes.
How long in the life cycle of a NASCAR car does it take to reach its peak? Will these cars be any quicker in 2013 or '14 than they are now? I only ask because Indy cars have run the same car for about 6 years, but they still seem to make a tiny little gain each year. Does NASCAR ever lift restrictions between seasons so engineers can find new parts of the car to develop?
I don't think you ever reach a car's peak. Even in one year, we can go back to the same track in the fall with the same driver, car and tires and we'll find a tremendous speed increase. Engines get more horsepower, bodies get more downforce, engineers do a better job with setups, and so on. You don't necessarily need new parts to get car development: you can just apply the parts in a different way.
Every year NASCAR looks into an area of the car that we should improve upon. The reason we have the current car is because safety was the No. 1 priority; we had to get the greenhouse bigger, we had to give the driver more headroom and now the drivers are better protected. Now NASCAR is onto the performance of the car, starting with the aerodynamics; that's why we have the spoiler coming in and they're looking at new front fascias in 2011. From there, I think they'll move onto the mechanical side, maybe with some different suspension components and, as everyone is aware, fuel injection. I think NASCAR is smart to do it area by area and not bite off more than they can deal with. We want to make sure the owners can afford to go racing, and we want to make sure that we don't have 50 percent of the field failing. That wouldn't put on a great show.
The way it works is that NASCAR's favorite test lab is the racetrack, and they will lift small restrictions in the area they want to develop. They'll let us work on that for six or seven races, before reconvening and closing the box back down and building the regs around what we've found. For example, when we first got the new cars, the rules on the splitter, the duct work and some of the aerodynamics were very open. After eight or 10 weeks, they saw all the teams' solutions, they liked the path that the majority had chosen, they made rules off of what we'd done, and put everyone into that box.
It can be frustrating, though – we have a very talented group of engineers at Hendrick Motorsports, so you mentally have to accept that when you find an advantage, don't put it on the shelf. You better put it in the car and run it this week, because it might be gone next week! Similarly, NASCAR has an open forum with inspections: The winning team has to dismantle its bump stops and shocks, etc., in front of other teams. So we spend a lot of time ensuring certain components don't look exactly how they should. If it works one way, we really try to make it look like it works another way so that rival teams will see it and not know what we're doing!
As you'd imagine, for the last four years, everyone's been gathered around watching the No. 48 get dismantled. Here on the 24 team, we already know exactly what the 48 ran, so if even we are still trying to play catch-up, it makes you (almost) feel sorry for the teams who are left trying to figure out car 48's inner secrets!
Thanks for all your questions and keep them coming! Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.