Loudon: GM crew chiefs' pre-race notes

Flat, fast NHIS presents big challenge for crew chiefs Loudon, N.H., July 19, 2003 -- Every race track has its challenges. Bristol's challenge is keeping the fenders on the car. Talladega and Daytona are exercises in using air to your advantage.

Flat, fast NHIS presents big challenge for crew chiefs

Loudon, N.H., July 19, 2003 -- Every race track has its challenges. Bristol's challenge is keeping the fenders on the car. Talladega and Daytona are exercises in using air to your advantage. At New Hampshire International Speedway, the challenge begins before a driver ever gets in the car.

"The biggest challenge when you come to NHIS is, you're always tight here," said James Ince, crew chief for Johnny Benson's Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix. "You're always tight in the center [of the corner] and tight off. When you go back and fix your tight problems, you end up getting the car loose in. It's also a race track that changes every 15 seconds once the race starts. You have to continually free the car up from the very first run. If the driver says it's perfect, you'd better free it up because it's going to be tight by the end of the next run."

NHIS, which has turns banked 12 degrees and straight-aways banked at 2 degrees, can be a nightmare to get ready for under the best of circumstances. Throw in new pavement and you have a challenge of daunting proportions.

"It's always pretty challenging, and it's even more so this week," Ince said. "The new pavement appears to be great, and what they [NHIS track owners Bob and Gary Bahre] did was good. We gained grip, but in the process, we created a lot of chatter bumps out there. The track is not as smooth as what it was, so the shocks we've run here for 10 years aren't working right now. This is a great race track to come to and we like flat tracks. To me, it's enjoyable because it is so challenging and Johnny does such a good job on flat tracks. But, for a normal guy with hair, this place can make you pull your hair out."

The new pavement has made it easier for the 3,400-pound stock cars to grab the track, but there's one spot in the very bottom groove that is sort of a booby trap for unsuspecting racers. "When you're on the race track, it feels like the race track is flat and the bottom groove is off-camber," said Benson. "There is a definite spot there [in the bottom groove] where it seems flatter. I think once the Busch race gets going and the guys start running down there and get a little rubber on it, it'll be OK, but right now that's just way too slick."

Benson said that the new asphalt has backed up the braking point for entry into the corners. "You have to get off it sooner because you have to give yourself room to catch the car," Benson said with a chuckle. "I could go in there harder, but it's a 50-50 shot on whether I make the corner. There's a fine line there."

The Valvoline Racing Team was not among those teams who spent one of the five annual test sessions on NHIS, and Ince says that fact does not hurt his team's chances. If anything, it might be somewhat of an advantage not to have tested.

"It almost leaves the teams that tested at a disadvantage," he maintained. "They came up here and tested on a very green track and the pavement was newer than it is now. By the fact that yesterday we didn't get to qualify, it's kind of put everyone in the same boat. There isn't a lot of rubber out there. We learn a lot of things on Friday in qualifying trim that would ordinarily apply to what we do in race trim. Even though those guys came here and tested...sometimes you come to a new track with a new surface and you think you really learn something. That might get you doing something different than what you would normally do. By the time you run the Busch race, the Busch North race and the Modified race and we get all our practice in, the track is so different than what it would have been testing anyway, it might actually put them at a disadvantage.

"This is a momentum track," Inc said. "You have to be really smooth and if you over drive the corner at all, it really messes the car up. You try to get it really consistent and really comfortable and put it in the driver's hands. This is a place where the driver can really make the difference."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Johnny Benson