This is the first of a weekly series of articles with a member of Team Penske
As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Team Penske, we will provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff to readers throughout the 2017 season.
This week, we go one-on-one with Team Penske’s NASCAR competition director, Travis Geisler and tackle the hot topics of the upcoming season.
Q: Can you shed some light on how the 2017 aerodynamic rules package will affect Team Penske’s NASCAR teams this season?
Geisler: I think these type of aero package changes were pretty dramatic and pretty big and created upheaval in the organization a few years ago because we weren’t accustomed to having those kinds of shifts. There would be multiple years where we didn’t go through any changes to the bodies and things had stabilized. We’ve had enough changes here recently that I feel we’re starting to get proficient at adapting to a new aero package and understanding how it’s going to impact our fabrication side, our aero development side and what it requires those guys to work through; what information teams need the most from those developments to create a new ‘aero map.’ We’ve gotten a lot better at preparing that. So, I think we were more prepared for this aero change than any one before because we’re getting more practice at it. We ran a package very similar to this at Kentucky and Michigan and the All-Star Race and I feel like we ran very well. We’ve had success with this package. There haven’t been any big surprises in our tests this season, more like confirmation on what we had figured out.
Q: In regards to the ‘aero map,’ is that something that is continuously worked on throughout the year?
Geisler: For sure, aerodynamics in general are kind of a continual search. You never finish the ‘aero map’ – it’s just the one you’re using at the time. Anytime there are substantial rules changes or development, we’ll go back and re-create the map so the guys understand where to put the car on track. We have so many freedoms with the no-ride-height rule that you have to decide whether you want the back of the car up, down – what is the best platform for the car to be on track. Those are pretty critical to tools to understand that.
Q: How as Team Penske addressed the race format changes that have been implemented this season?
Geisler: We’ve had a lot of discussion with our crew chiefs, the race engineers and our pit crews about how the changes can impact them. Those groups have to understand the changing landscape and how we’re going to utilize each other to create the best end result. I think devising a strategy on how to race when you don’t have a win, how you look at your points and whether you can ‘point your way’ in to the playoffs vs. once we get a win and then we may decide to go after more bonus points. We’ve tried to talk through how we’ll strategize through the race, in relation to the pit calls we make but also in how we develop the cars. That matters, too. Everything is centered around how you want to race, and what you think is most important. NASCAR has changed the goalposts a little bit on what’s important.
Q: Does the creation of race stages mean teams like yours will focus more on short-run speed in their car development?
Geisler: I still think it’s going to be very situational. You’re still going to have to look at the race differently for each track. You’re still going to have to determine what your needs are out of the race weekend. For instance, you still get five more bonus points for winning the race instead of the segment. What it may create are some varied strategies. You may get to that second segment and the way your weekend has gone, winning the race may not be possible, then maybe I gamble and try to win a segment to get that bonus point since I’m probably not going to get the race win bonus points. Your strategies will evolve throughout the weekend as you learn what kind of car you have through the weekend. That will make a much more dynamic environment for guys to call races.
Q: In general, will NASCAR’s new vehicle repair policy change much about how your teams go about their work on race weekends?
Geisler: From an equipment standpoint, it will impact a few things as far as preparing for a race – what you have laid out, what your crash cart contains. Certainly, those things could change. The way you prepare for repairs on pit road is a little bit different now because you know you have a certain time frame. You have to find a way to make the most out of what is left on the car. We’ve talked through some of that. As far as how the actual races, go I really don’t see it impacting that a whole lot. In general, we all probably agree that it was a pretty unsafe situation when you have cars out on the track that may have been compromised from a safety perspective. Somewhere along the line it’s going to catch us and it’s going to be frustrating but there are also a lot of times when it could work out in our favor.
Courtney Force named Honorary Pace Car Driver for Daytona Clash
Where are they now? – Ernie Irvan