Crew chief Slugger Labbe details offseason development, new crew for No. 3 team

(Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

Offseason? Slugger Labbe doesn’t need an offseason.

Well, he might want one, but he’s still hard at work three weeks after the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

There still are 71 days left until the Daytona 500, but the crew chief for the No. 3 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing is doing what he can to make sure Austin Dillon continues to improve in 2016, his third season in the Sprint Cup Series.

Labbe appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” to share what his team is doing to prepare for next season, which begins on Feb. 21 at Daytona.

“Now’s the time to work on all the Daytona cars, get all that stuff knocked out,” Labbe said. “Typically what we do is we come back after the Christmas break and work on our downforce stuff.”

But before the Christmas break, the No. 3 team is doing its due diligence in the wind tunnel, preparing 14 speedway cars for the upcoming season. That includes spending as much time in the wind tunnel as college students do in a library preparing for finals.

“Yesterday we were in there from 2:15 in the afternoon till 1:05 last night,” Labbe said, adding that was a “typical second shift.”

“The first speedway car probably got about three hours and the second speedway car got the rest of the development time,” Labbe said. “I think we made 32 runs last night just working on different series mindsets, different processes to get the least amount of drag and get the right balance for Daytona.”

Labbe estimates each “run” lasts about nine minutes and is dedicated to different heights and angles.

No matter how many hours are spent in a wind tunnel, Labbe said the team is never satisfied, even when it leaves for Speedweeks in Daytona in February.

“You always ask yourself, ‘What’s next?’ ” Labbe said. “When you think you’re done prepping for Daytona, you’re thinking about the Talladega cars next. It’s a big revolving door.”

That revolving door means RCR already is scheduling wind tunnel time for next June. NASCAR teams use facilities such as Aerodyne and WindShear in the Charlotte area.

“It’s amazing how much money is spent at wind tunnels,” Labbe said. “They’re booked. They’re working almost around the clock, six days a week.”

All of that money and time used on the No. 3 car is in hopes that Dillon, entering his third Sprint Cup season, will be able to earn his first Cup win. In 2015, the No. 3 raced to just one top five (Michigan) and five top-10 finishes.

The No. 3 team will enter the 2016 campaign with new personnel on its pit crew. Labbe said that the team had hired former Michael Waltrip Racing crewmembers in jack man Brian “Hootie” Chase and front-tire carrier Allen Steele. Both worked on the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer in 2015.

Departing the No. 3 is car chief Chad Haney for the No. 41 of Kurt Busch. He has been replaced by Greg Osborne.