Friday, January 19, 2018

New Body Means More Work for JRM, Teams

New Body Means More Work for JRM, Teams In 2017 JR Motorsports won its second NASCAR Xfinity Series championship when rookie William Byron took the winner-take-all race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

When NASCAR moved away from the traditional sheet-steel bodies that had adorned NASCAR Xfinity Series cars for three decades, a new dynamic spooled up in fabrication shops around the sport.

Gone were the tried-and-true tricks of the trade, which men like Robert Gee and his son, Robert Jr., spent a lifetime crafting and refining. In its place is a flange-fit body kit that snaps together like the old Revell models many of us spent long hours—and many tubes of model glue—building.

It’s a learning process.

“We’re still learning this new body,” said Mike Bumgarner, race operations manager at JRM. “As long as I’ve been doing this, every new body we get we have to learn. NASCAR has to learn, too.”

At issue now is the addition of the Hawkeye scanner that NASCAR will use to check the new bodies. It’s another new process in a seeming stream of them for the sanctioning body.

“This new Hawkeye scanner they’re using is going to take a few races to get used to and it isn’t just us, it’s everyone,” Bumgarner said.

Back in the old days—which means a period spanning the entirety of JR Motorsports’ presence in the NXS—it was simpler.

“When you’re off (measurements) on a steel body, you can use a little bit of mud here or smooth this out over here...with these new composite bodies, there isn’t any of that,” Bumgarner said. “It is what it is, and that’s the way it’s going to be. When we ran these bodies last year, in those three races, we didn’t have the new scanner. It will take some time to get used to it.”

The new bodies do not allow any tinkering, thanks to NASCAR’s use of patterned areas on the nose, the A, B and C pillars of the greenhouse and the trailing edge of the rear fenders. It has been explained to the teams that any creativity inside these areas will result in bad things from a penalty standpoint.

The process for hanging the bodies on the chassis is relatively unchanged, other than the addition of some brackets at strategic points (in last year’s three-race experiment, there was some initial trouble with refueling when the fender panels bowed in as the can was inserted into the filler neck).

The parameters, however, leave precious little wiggle room. If you don’t pass the scanner, you don’t race, so teams have to be precise in a way that has not been the usual case for the past several years.

Bumgarner said the measurement points are mapped by one of the ubiquitous robot arms that all teams need to have, and if you’re off, you’re in for some rebuilding work. The major pain will be suffered in the body bays when the bodies are initially mounted, putting more pressure on the fab shop in the run-up to the 2018 season.

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