NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 84: Alba Colon on keeping secrets and Chevy’s ‘secret’ simulator

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Chevrolet Program Manager Alba Colon likes joking the NASCAR teams she oversees are her kids, and the primary challenge is getting them to play well and share together.

And just as with any sibling rivalry, even when the cooperation is strong, there still is the potential for a family squabble.

“They’re all hiding something from each other, right?” Colon asked with a laugh during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Because they need to go win Sunday, but it’s the whole concept of we have to develop the tools to get better.”

That plan seems to be working this season with Chevy leading the series in manufacturer wins (seven) that are spread across its three key partner teams, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Colon said the departure of Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2016 season engendered a renewed spirit of collaboration between the three organizations. The podcast was taped in a conference room at Ganassi’s shop, where Colon had met with executives from all three teams as part of a monthly meeting.

“A lot of things changed for Chevrolet at the end of (2016),” she said. “We always had a key partner concept, and when the changes happened, we got together and said, ‘Now there’s three of us. We have to get better and improve the way we do things.

“We work together as much as we can during the week, but Sunday, it’s one against the other. I’ve seen how we’re getting better and better at working together and that’s been fascinating.”

The teams have split the work of building and testing a wheel force transducer vehicle that should help optimize aerodynamics, and when they joined forces recently on another top-secret project, “it nearly gave me a heart attack,” Colon said.

The trick is General Motors can foster only so much team spirit without infringing upon proprietary information that can’t be shared across its teams. Colon sometimes takes copious notes to ensure she is cordoning off data.

“You need to have a conversation with teams to put that data in your brain but as soon as you get out of the building, you need to forget it,” she said. “Trust is a big deal. If you lose the trust, it’s not going to work. We have to know a lot of things. How do you help to give an answer without giving away (other teams’ information), that’s the magic that we need to all work together. How do you make things happen without giving away your trust?”

Colon, who has worked in NASCAR for General Motors since 1994, said it depends on the dynamics of those monthly meetings with Ganassi, Hendrick and RCR, finding the right people “to make decisions so that everything seems open but stays in the room.”

Another facet of Chevy improvement stems from a driver simulator that opened in Huntersville two years ago. (Chevy hasn’t showcased it to the public yet, and when asked if it’s in an undetermined location off I-77, Colon joked, “that’s very true and as much as we can discuss.”)

Ford Performance and Toyota Racing Development were ahead in building their driver simulators, but Colon said Chevy recently has been validated by buy-in from several drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested on the simulator before Dover International Speedway, and Colon said Jimmie Johnson logged several sessions of making laps in virtual reality.

“You see drivers asking for that, you’re doing something right,” Colon said. “We are not near where we need to be with it, though. We still are working on it.”

Other topics discussed by Colon on the podcast:

–Her joy at seeing the No. 3 win for the first time in nearly 17 years in Cup. At one of her first sessions as a GM engineer in 1994, Colon was told at Talladega Superspeedway by Dale Earnhardt that “I will not give you more than a year” in NASCAR.

“It made me a little bit mad, but he helped me,” said Colon, who has a prized photo with Earnhardt after his 1995 Brickyard 400 wins. “When someone says you can’t do something, that inspired me more. He helped me to get to where I am. He told me, ‘I knew you could do it.’ He’d be so amazed with everything his son has accomplished. He’d be proud looking at all of us.”

–The impact of engineering in NASCAR and the quest of Colon, who has a mechanical engineering background, to drive more women into the field;

–The battle to recruit more engineers to NASCAR away from Silicon Valley.

–The future of NASCAR in an era of autonomous cars.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

Erik Jones tops final Cup practice for Brickyard 400

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Rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the final Cup Series practice session for the Brickyard 400 with a top speed of 185.845 mph.

Jones’ top speed came on his third of nine laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Completing the top five were Kevin Harvick (185.824), Ryan Blaney (185.816), Jimmie Johnson (185.487) and Jamie McMurray (185.460).

Matt Kenseth, 20th fastest, recorded the most laps in the session with 34.

Johnson had the best 10-lap average at 180.951 mph. Kyle Busch followed him at 180.864 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.

During the practice session the spotter for Harvick, Tim Fedewa, told the driver over radio that he had his hard card taken by NASCAR after the sandwich he was eating fell from his perch on the Pagoda. NASCAR confirmed it returned his hard card after practice.

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Toyotas dominate opening Cup practice at Indianapolis

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Toyotas took the top three spots and four of the top six spots in the opening Cup practice session Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, led the way with a lap of 187.414 mph. He was followed by Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., whose Toyota went 185.559 mph. JGR driver Matt Kenseth was next at 185.200 in his Toyota.

Kasey Kahne was fourth for Hendrick Motorsports, leading his Chevrolet to a lap of 185.151 mph. Kyle Larson was next at 185.002 mph in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The top Ford was Ryan Blaney. He was eight in his Wood Brothers Racing ride at 184.453 mph.

There were no incidents in the 55-minute session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled to go from 11 – 11:55 a.m. ET on CNBC.

Click here for full practice report

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Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch among those penalized practice time at Indy

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NASCAR announced that the teams of Jimmie Johnson and Corey LaJoie will miss 15 minutes of practice in Saturday’s first session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for being late to inspection before last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The teams of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon will each miss 15 minutes in Saturday’s final practice session for multiple inspection failures before last weekend’s race at New Hampshire.

Today’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Points leader Elliott Sadler continues his quest for his first Xfinity Series championship in today’s Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sadler has made five previous Xfinity starts at the historic Brickyard. His two best finishes there have come in the last two races – fifth in 2015 and sixth last year.

Sadler holds a 45-point edge over JR Motorsports teammate William Byron and a 90-point lead on teammate Justin Allgaier.

Here are the particulars for tonight’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:37 p.m. Green flag is set for 3:49 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 100 laps (250 miles) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 15

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Corey Cox will perform the Anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast on radio and the Performance Racing Network at 3 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the IMSRN/PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 90 degrees at race time with a 23 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Kyle Busch started from the pole and led 62 of the race’s 63 total laps. Kevin Harvick finished second, while Paul Menard was third. Busch also won the 2015 race.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 12:45 p.m.