Crew chiefs discuss whether limited Talladega practice is a concern
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Friday’s washout at Talladega Superspeedway didn’t leave Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams with much time to work on their race cars for Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET, FOX).
Rain forced a very early end to the opening practice session, as drivers only had roughly 14 minutes to shake down their cars.
Shortly after, NASCAR cancelled the remainder of Friday’s on-track activity, which included final Monster Energy Series practice.
FOXSports.com caught up with a number of crew chiefs to see if they were concerned about the extremely limited practice time at the 2.66-mile track prior to Sunday’s showdown.
Chase Elliott’s crew chief was disappointed after losing valuable practice they would have used to gain more experience in the draft.
“It’s not ideal,” Gustafson said. “I like to practice and run in the pack, which is representative for what we’ll do on Sunday. Unfortunately, recently a lot of teams or manufacturers have chosen to run by themselves. There really wasn’t a pack to run in. I would have preferred to run in a pack and get some experience with the car and see if we can improve it in those conditions.”
But overall, if there’s any track where teams can afford to lose practice time, Gustafson said it’s Talladega.
“The fact that we didn’t get an opportunity and practice was shortened, of all the places we race, this is the minimum effect,” he added. “Still not ideal, but probably the minimum effect.”
Kurt Busch’s crew chief and the Daytona 500-winning team are confident about Sunday despite the lack of practice.
“Obviously, you want more practice, but we had made a plan with all of our Ford teammates,” Gibson said. “I think there ended up being about 10 or 11 of them that got out there and drafted together. We did get 10 solid laps in, which lets the water gets where it needs to be and everything kind of situates itself. The handling of the car settles in and the air pressures build where they need to be. So, that’s a pretty decent run – 10 to 15 laps are what you want to see.”
“We’d liked to have run a little bit longer, but we’d rather have 10 (laps) than none,” Gibson added. “I feel good about it. I think in the race, all of the Fords are going to be pretty stout.”
Gibson also noted that working closely with other Ford teams really helps their cause.
“Ford Performance does a really good job of making us work together and be one big group of racers,” Gibson said. “We’ve never really had that before with other manufacturers, so it’s really nice to have a company like Ford Performance to help guide us and make us feel more friendly to one another. A lot of these guys I’ve never worked around before because I’ve always been a Chevy guy, so it’s nice to be able to get together with other crew chiefs and drivers.”
The crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team isn’t too worried about the limited track time.
“It’s not really a concern,” Childers said. “I would say with some of the lower-budget teams, you might need more practice to get your splitter height right if you don’t have a good simulation tool. But the better teams pretty much have it all figured out before we come. We felt good about our car and didn’t need to make any changes to it after practice, so we feel good about it.”
Harvick finished second to teammate Clint Bowyer in the practice session. Childers said you really can’t look into the times too much at Talladega, but it does boost the confidence.
“It’s hard to say off of times, but I do think the Fords are going to be strong like they were in Daytona,” Childers added. “On the other hand, we were all kind of lined up together and we got a little bit of help with some of the Chevrolets that were lined up. Overall, I feel like we have a really good car.”
Matt Kenseth’s crew chief is another crew chief not concerned because he feels practice at Talladega really doesn’t accomplish much for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
“I think here you don’t get much out of practice anyway,” said Ratcliff. “Just being able to get on the track and get some fast laps to know where we’re at on splitter clearances, give the driver the opportunity to make sure the steering and other things are operating well. It was thankfully for us. That one run was enough to know what we had in the race car, so it should race fine on Sunday.”
, LAT Images www.latphoto.co.ukNigel Kinrade
Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team, concurred with Ratcliff about his practice philosophy at ‘Dega.
“Basically the same thing, making sure your mirrors are good and no vibrations,” Pearn said. “As long as you get that in, that’s really all you learn anyway.”
Interestingly enough, Austin Dillon’s crew chief had a different opinion about limited practice.
“It’s probably about 10 minutes too much,” Labbe said jokingly. “It is what it is. We all know what shocks, springs and bump stops that we run here, so as long everything was fine on the warm-up laps – nothing leaked, the brakes worked fine and the mirrors are all good."
"It’s Talladega," he added. "It would be concerning at Daytona a little bit because it’s more of a handling track, but Talladega you run four wide here and you really don’t even need to put tires on during the race. Some people didn’t even get a chance to make a run yesterday (Friday), so I’m sure they slept OK, too.”
Nigel Kinrade/LAT Photo USA
The guy atop the pit box for Trevor Bayne said he’s not worried about it, but they could have definitely used more time to prepare.
“It’s not really much of a worry,” Puccia said. “We’ve had enough laps here and there’s not a whole lot you can do with handling and drivability here. We weren’t really driving as great as I wanted it to. I would have liked to have had one more run, but I feel like we have a good enough notebook from previous history here that we can tweak on it and get it to where we need to be for Sunday.”
“The biggest thing is working on strategy and figuring out what you’re going to do with the segments, who you’re going to work with and who’s going to be your friends,” he added. “We didn’t get to answer that as much as we wanted to.”
, LAT Images www.latimages.co.ukNigel Kinrade
The crew chief for Kasey Kahne and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team said it’s never a good thing when practice is cut short.
“I think you’re concerned about it everywhere,” Rodden said. “We really didn’t get to try anything. The draft we had wasn’t great. But we got to hit the track and some guys didn’t, so it was good.”