By: Ashley McCubbin
Over the recent years, Team Penske has become the king of the road at Watkins Glen in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Over the last six events, one of their cars has gone to victory lane on four occasions, with three victories for Joey Logano and one for Austin Cindric.
This is a topic that NEWS FROM THE PITS discussed with Team Penske competition Travis Geisler, among others.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: Given Team Penske’s success at Watkins Glen, what is the secret to the success?
TRAVIS GEISLER: That’s a good question. I think from an Xfinity standpoint, it’s just seems to be always be a track where we’d run extra cars and that’s always helps us in having an extra shot at it and a lot of emphasis put on it from a preparation standpoint. We’d always have our Cup guys that would run it, and they were always focused on using it to learn the track better for the weekend, and I think whenever you put those guys out there, the odds increase for you.
But we’ve also won there with other drivers so I think Watkins Glen has always seemed to suit our power band for our engines, I think that’s one thing that’s important there. Roush Yates has always good power when it comes to our engines there. You’d think, ‘well, it’s a road course, it’s no different than any other road course’, but it’s much faster, much more momentum for a road course than say what Sonoma used to be in being a somewhat smaller, slower technical track.
I think the momentum, high sped nature of Watkins Glen has suited our cars well, and suited our drivers well, as well. A few of those things combined all together is what given us pretty good odds there.
ASHLEY: How would you rate your team’s road course program in the Xfinity Series and Cup Series?
TRAVIS: That’s a good question. I would say we still have tracks that are much better than others, and I would say our Xfinity program is stronger than our Cup program right now. Certainly Austin is a extremely talented road racer. We put him in the Cup car at Road America and he went out and led laps, and for someone whose a real rookie in the Cup Series, to be able to go out and do that, is very impressive. He was able to do the same at COTA in a Cup car so I say that speaks volumes to where he is and it helps our Xfinity program.
From a Cup standpoint, there’s no question the Chevys have had a strangle hold on the road courses lately, especially Chase Elliott. There’s no doubt that he’s kind of elevated the game from a car and drier standpoint, so we have some work to do to catch up to be where we want to be. It’s an area that tends to gain more importance in frequency in the Cup schedule so it’s one we’re focused on to try and improve to be in a better position moving forward.
ASHLEY: You mention chasing Chase Elliott on the road courses, but it seems everybody has been chasing Hendrick Motorsports in the Cup Series this year as a whole. Do you feel you guys are gaining them and closing the gap?
TRAVIS: Some weeks it feels like we are, and then other weeks, no. But overall, I think the gap continues to close a little bit. I think there are things that are going to be difficult to close given the way the rules are at the moment. There are some things that are set in place that make it hard to do a lot of new parts and pieces because of things being frozen this season, so you have to work around that a little bit.
So it’s made it a little challenging to close it as quickly as we would like to, but I think if you look at this past weekend – one race at Atlanta, we were in a little bit better position than we had been and I think the field was as well. We’ll continue to chip away at that and got a little bit of time left before the playoffs start so focused on doing that as much as possible.
ASHLEY: As you chip away at it, what do you feel you need to improve upon the most?
TRAVIS: I think road courses are certainly one. I think that’s a place where we haven’t gotten the average finishes out of all of our cars that we need. I think we’ve given up a lot of points in road course races and we have two more coming up in Watkins Glen and Indy, and then in the playoffs, you have the ROVAL. So three of those left are a defining focus of ours. Going into two in a row after the August break, they are a focus to do as strong as we can.
Past that, I would say the 550s and 750s are – we probably have Joey that’s a little stronger from our group on the 750s and Ryan (Blaney) that is a little stronger on the 550s. So it’s trying to find out how to mix those two and get the best of both worlds is the focus at the moment.
ASHLEY: What’s the biggest challenge in preparing for these weekends with a lack of practice as you’re trying to close that gap?
TRAVIS: It’s defiantly hard to do without practice. Fortunately, all of our cars have wins so that’s an important thing that if you want to try something and you miss. I mean, points are always important and you always wanting to be scoring playoff points, but at some point, you have to learn. Fortunately as I said, our cars are locked in so we have a little flexibility to try some new things to learn, but it’s always hard to throw a dart at the dark board and hit a bulls eyes and have no chance of practicing it.
I understand why we’re there, I feel like our sport has done a fantastic job staying going and willing to make aggressive changes to have us move forward, but certainly track time is pretty imperative right now and we’re trying our best to have good races but also try some new things and learn.
ASHLEY: So moving down the road, would you be in favor of practice returning like it was before, no practice, or something in the middle?
TRAVIS: I think there’s a lot of factors to that, depending on what perspective you’re looking from. For us, track time is important especially with a brand new car and trying to develop the Next Gen car to the level of refinement that we’ve become used to. I think that can be accomplished a few different ways and practice is one, a little less efficient than just actual track time and a full day to test where we can get full data on the car and streamline everything to know exactly what the car is doing. I’m in favor of having a few tests so that way we can learn at the most detailed level.
On a race weekend, you have a lot of time constraints that come in – time of day, the tire sets that you get, not having data on the car, having to be on a track that is changing drastically because you have 40 cars running for a 50 minute practice so all those things just make it harder to learn. But it’s also hey, the race weekend and you want to get dialed in so it’s nice to have. I think there’s probably a middle ground between where we were with two hours and 50 minutes of practice most weekends – that’s probably a bit much for what is necessary these days.