“We learned our lesson last week. Track position is everything,” said Greg Erwin.
Those accurate words spoken by Greg Biffle’s crew chief described Sunday’s Pocono NASCAR Cup Series race and the general state of the tour as well. More often than not being out in front of the field on a late race restart means more than four fresh tires or any chassis adjustments for a better handling racer.
Regardless whether a COT car or the previous generation’s ‘twisted sister,’ aerodynamic dependency has grown head and shoulders above mechanical grip.
The bodies have evolved over the years to provide an exceptional amount of downforce. Teams have realized a perfectly formed quarter panel can be a stronger tool than correct spring selection.
A wise choice of sway bar, camber, caster, and control arm lengths is still crucial. But all of them have to be in absolute perfect harmony to overcome a car that has access to clean air out front that the body is working to maximum efficiency.
Biffle used pit stop strategy more than once at Pocono to move through the field and toward the front. Erwin’s final pit stop call changed just right side tires and allowed the team to move into second position behind race leader Sam Hornish.
Biffle was able to drive into, and off with, the lead. Moments later he then drove into victory lane. Erwin said, “we learned our lesson last week.”
The Brickyard 400, just seven days prior to Pocono, was a race where ‘The Biff’ was able to show his strength near the front of the field. He just had to get there first. The two-tire trick worked well. He led several laps and settled for a top-5 finish.
Conversely, Juan Pablo Montoya led much of the Indy race until he got stuck in race traffic following a four-tire stop and others changed only two. Montoya could not work his way past the cars in front and eventually crashed after losing control of his car. And he had displayed superior control over the field leading up to that point.
These have been common occurrences over several seasons. Teams will try pit strategy near the end of the race to get out front, forsaking the formerly obvious four fresh tires or an aggressive chassis adjustment.
This has often left the leader as a sitting duck instead of with the advantage. He will dive to pit road for a tire change, not sure of his opponents’ decision. Some team trailing will see cars pit and stay out going to the lead. And now with a body working in fresh air, a mediocre car has become superior with only a few laps remaining.
Biffle and Erwin are part of a Roush camp that has been competitive this year, but has not crossed under a Cup checkered flag first until Pocono. Their efforts on making the cars faster were complimented with a good pit decision.
Fast cars are nice. Clean air makes them all just a little bit faster. Biffle used that logic and ended his victory drought.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Thursdays at 9pm ET. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com)
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