Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – BROOKLYN, MI – Throughout the bulk of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Kyle Larson has been the fastest of the Chevrolet drivers.
Larson may have a secret weapon that accounts for his speed—former NASCAR competitor Josh Wise.
Now an athletic trainer for Chip Ganassi Racing, Wise is perhaps most famous for his stunning upset of heavily favored Danica Patrick in the 2014 NASCAR All-Star Race fan vote, after the Reddit community on the Internet mobilized behind him.
But Larson credits Wise with playing an integral role in dialing in Chevrolet’s simulation programs, which have become an essential component in achieving speed in lieu of on-track testing.
“I think what has really helped us is Josh Wise, who is part of our race team on the training side of things and just kind of filling in a lot of different gaps, but one of them is the simulator,” Larson said on Friday before opening practice for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Michigan International Speedway.
“He has done a really good job of going there and making it drive somewhat similar to where I don’t go there and spend two of the four hours that I’m there just trying to get off pit road. It’s good that he’s there.”
And as the simulations become refined, they resemble more closely the actual on-track experience.
“I really feel like all year long, and even at the end of last year now we could go to whatever track on the simulator, and even though it may not be exactly right, it’s pretty close,” said Larson, who will try for his fourth straight Michigan victory in Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400.
“There are still little tweaks and stuff that we kind of work on each time I’m there, just trying to get it to feel more realistic, but it’s definitely a good tool, and Chevy has done a good job, as well as our race team has done a good job at getting it closer to where we can now learn some things off of it.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR. HOPES MICHIGAN TRACK WILL WIDEN OUT BY SUNDAY
The most recent repaving project at Michigan International Speedway was completed in the fall of 2011, but drivers still struggle to use the full width of the racing surface, particularly the high line.
Reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., last Sunday’s winner at Pocono, hopes that will change when Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) gets under way at the 2-mile track.
Goodyear has brought a completely new tire combination for the event, with both left and right-side tires built to provide more wear. Designed to run cooler on a track that tends to generate high temperatures, the right-side tires feature a single-tread compound, as opposed to last year’s multi-zone tread.
“It’s definitely been a challenge to work the higher grooves here,” Truex told the NASCAR Wire Service. “Because of the way the banking is at this race track, with the bottom groove being the flattest part of the track, you typically don’t run down there throughout the weekend until the race, when you have to have somewhere to go.
“You have to have an option, so it seems like everybody runs the middle all weekend, and then Sunday during the race, you start going to the bottom for an option instead of going to the top, so we’ll have to see. It seems like (Turns) 3 and 4 is a little bit more prone to getting wider, especially on the entry because of the way the corner’s laid out and on the exit, but it’s been tough to make that third groove work here since they paved it really.”
That doesn’t mean drivers won’t be trying to work in the higher groove.
“I think there’s maybe one or two races where a few guys got it working at some point in the race, but typically, it hasn’t been the fastest way to get around here. Hopefully, as it wears, it will continue to move up – continue to give more options.
“Before it was repaved, you could run all over it, so the geometry of the race track and the way the banking is, I would think at some point it’s going to lend itself to it being wider and being able to run higher and make those higher grooves work. But so far, it’s been a challenge with the pavement not wearing very fast.”
FOR SECOND STRAIGHT WEEK, NASCAR XFINITY SERIES WILL RUN RESTRICTOR-PLATE PACKAGE
The success of a new high-downforce, high-drag restrictor-plate competition package in last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis provided the impetus for the use of a similar package in last month’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte.
With additional Cup races contemplated for the All-Star configuration, Saturday’s LTI Printing 250 Xfinity Series race (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will again provide a laboratory for the promising aero package.
“I’ve enjoyed the new package,” said joe Gibbs racing driver Brandon Jones, who raced under the same rules last Saturday at Pocono. “The one thing I think we all could probably agree on is just our corner speeds were so low at that track.
“When you had your momentum going and you were built up, it was really awesome. You could really race side-by-side. But as soon as your car got a little bit tight, or you got side-by-side with somebody and got choked down, you’d get freight-trained, and guys would go by you really bad.
“I thought you could keep speed up a little bit better at Indy (last year). I think that’s what produced a really great race with that package, and I think it’s going to do the same thing here this weekend.”