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AUTO CLUB 400
“Seams” Easy From the Outside

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Published on Sat, Mar 19, 2016

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Jamie McMurray eases his way onto the Auto Club 400 track (Gabriela Moya)

Story by Brian Kennedy Pictures by Gabriela Moya Looking just a wee bit sleepy and with a catering cup of coffee beside him, Kevin Harvick met with the media Friday morning in advance of the Auto Club 400 in Fontana to talk about what he expected of the weekend. His initial comments included some discussion of the race last weekend in Phoenix, and that revolved around the new package that the Sprint Cup series is running this year, which includes less down force and what he described as a “soft tire.” He said that pit strategy is key in these conditions, something that perhaps doesn’t strike fans as all that interesting. They wanna see the racing take place on the track. He addressed that too. “The cars are effected a lot less by the aero push than they were before. Depending on where you are in the field, obviously, they aren’t going to be as good as if you were in the lead car, but we’ve made some headway. There are notes that have been gathered, and from the driver’s point of view, this is the race we’ve all looked forward to the most just because of the fact that you have some high speeds, lots of racing lanes, and we’re going to slide all over the place. This is definitely a weekend we’re all looking forward to and this has probably been one of our better races through the past several years . . .”

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson discuss the performance of No. 48 (Gabriela Moya)

The question came about the seams in the track, and how he would attack them. Harvick responded, “A lot of it depends on how this particular package reacts to how the groove is going to go. The left side is going to lay a lot of rubber. I was watching the race from 2011, and the left side would actually keep the race track clean, so right on the seams was, seemed to be pretty good, because the race track was cleaner there. You just have to see how the track rubbers up with this particular tire. The hardest part about the seams is just getting hung on one. That’s really what you don’t want to do. You want to have the tires just below it, just about it, split it, but if you’re right on it, it just grabs is like glue, and it goes in a direction you definitely don’t want to go in, so you have to try to split the seams and be off of it with the tire itself in order to make time.” Discussion then ranged over the break which comes after this race, and Harvick got into the difficulty of the so-called “West Coast swing,” which is the three weeks ending this weekend (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Fontana). He said that it’s tough on everyone—logistically, in terms of people moving, and in having cars prepared ahead of time. Essentially the teams have to have a dozen cars ready when they go to Daytona in February—enough to do them through this weekend, the fifth race of the year, or sixth if you count the shootout race in Daytona in the week before the 500. “These aren’t any of the cars you can race in Atlanta,” because all of the tracks are different. “You’re looking at ten or twelve racecars that have to be prepared, way in advance.” That’s why the upcoming break will be much needed before they get into what he labeled, “The meat of the season.” Harvick commented on the technique of driving this track, which was quite interesting from the technical point of view. “You’re going to have to lift a lot,” he said, “You probably have three seconds of fall-off as you go through the run, because the tires just fall off so fast.” (He’s talking about the difference in lap times from new tires to old.)

Denny Hamlin makes his way to the track for practice on Friday at Auto Club Speedway (Gabriela Moya)

“You have a lot of straightaway speed because of the low drag, so there’s definitely going to be a lot of off-throttle time, and I think that that, the amount of time, is going to change dramatically from the first lap to lap thirty. There’s going to be a huge pace swing.” Now that provides you something to look for, and even measure, as you watch the race, whether you’re at the track in person or viewing on the telly. At to go at it. I haven’t seen very many of the tracks we’re racing this year. I try to keep the car clean and finish well every race, and we’re going to keep learning.” LA Car asked him about the seams in the track and how he’s being mentored to handle the demands of the Fontana circuit. “I know a couple of our RCR teammates, Brendan Gaughan being one of them, have finished pretty high up the previous race. I think he finished second. He’s got a lot of good advice for me. I’ve been talking to him a little bit about the race track and going back and watching a couple of videos to see how they run over the seams. Like you said, that’s a pretty big deal. Learning how to run those, to take that to your advantage during the race, is going to be a big key.” He later added, “The biggest challenge is trying to learn these places I haven’t been yet. We kicked off with a pretty tough schedule. . . . Some of these places that I haven’t seen, it’s been tough to learn right off the trailer.”

Kyle Busch during practice on Friday in Fontana, CA (Gabriela Moya)

As practice proceeded later in the day, the Sprint Cup cars were mostly out for a lap and in for a few minutes for adjustments. I spied Martin Truex Jr.’s team removing his right rear brake rotor and the axle shaft, so perhaps there was a vibration. Denny Hamlin’s crew seemed concerned about his left front tire, spinning it around to see if it was true. Danica Patrick stalled and restarted her car in the paddock. Kyle Busch seemed to be doing something with front shocks. And Jimmie Johnson and his crew chief were scrutinizing his telemetry at length in the garage area. NASCAR Sprint Cup qualifying was scheduled for later in the day Friday, with the Xfinity series qualifying on Saturday morning in advance of a 1pm race. Updates can be found in all the usual places. Read Brian Kennedy’s AUTO CLUB 400: The Calm Before the Storm For information and access to the Auto Club 400, click here. [nggallery id=autoclub400calm]

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