CHARLOTTE -- Kevin "Bono" Manion is a major part of Earnhardt-Ganassi's resurgence this season that has Jamie McMurray fighting for a spot in the Chase for the Championship. The data that he and McMurray have gathered this season has also extended to teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and crew chief Chris Heroy.
While unfortunate circumstances over the past three weeks have knocked McMurray out of the top-12, the recent speed by him and Juan Pablo Montoya suggests that both teams could be a threat to find victory lane and challenge for a playoff berth as the season progresses.
In an exclusive interview with SB Nation, Bono Manion talks about organizational improvement, crew chief suspensions and his personal battle with gout - an ailment he has battled while on the pit box for the past ten seasons.
SB Nation: Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has experienced a bit of a turnaround from last season. Jamie has been in the Chase mix all year and now Juan is starting to challenge for wins. Is this a result of hitting on something with the Gen 6 first or was this built off something from last year?
Kevin Manion: This is all the Generation 6 Cup car and how everyone is back on a level playing field because of it. The rules got really crazy last year with the rear-end housing constantly moving around and we weren't able to stay on top of it. We were one of the first teams to put our car together and we were able to run some productive tests and get some quality wind tunnel time.
Chip Ganassi has made a huge commitment to our team this year and everything is really starting to come together. The No. 42 has had some bad finishes due to part failures and bad luck but both cars are really fast.
SBN: With the difference in performance early on between the two cars, were the teams working in two different directions until one of them hit on something?
KM: Basically, both cars are built the same. We have one group of engineers and one group of fabricators. The cars are virtually the same which makes it easier to compare notes. With that said, each driver has a different feel. We tested earlier this season and Juan used a different shocks package that actually made us slower. And there have been times where they've made us faster, too.
SBN: With all the progress that has been made on the track, are you guys in a position to make the Chase and what has to happen to make the field of 12?
KM: With the No. 1 car, we have to win at least one race. I think we're in a good spot in regards to the points (15th), as long as we start to finish races more consistently. The last three weeks were devastating to go from the top ten and running well to getting caught up in bad luck on some of those green-white-checkers.
Juan is in a different spot with some of the bad luck he's had but some of his better tracks are coming up with the road courses, Pocono and Indianapolis. I think both cars are fifth to tenth place and if we keep that up, and win a race, we have a good shot.
SBN: You've worked with Jamie McMurray since 2010 -- how is that relationship from your perspective?
KM: Jamie is great. One thing about him is that he just understands the sport. He understands that when you're going through adversity, everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction. He's just a real hands-on leader. In fact, he's probably too hands-on sometimes because he's so motivated to make everyone around him better. We have a real good team in place right now.
SBN: Looking at the situation faced by the Penske and No. 20 teams, what changes when a crew chief isn't around on a race weekend? Most of the work is done in the shop, right?
KM: Sure -- what it does is test your organizational depth. The Penske and Gibbs teams have a lot of depth and we have good people, too. You have to be prepared, but with the communications that we have today, it's a lot easier. I've been there before and I was set up with a big screen TV, computer and was able to do everything but talk to the driver.
SBN: Should NASCAR do more to police a suspension? In the NFL, suspended head coaches, your equivalents, are not allowed to visit the practice facility. Should suspended crew chiefs be kept out of the race shop and away from the rest of the team?
KM: I don't think so. With all the attention going to these cars, I just don't think that would be the right policy. But with that said, when I was at (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) Tony Eury Jr. was suspended but came to the track and sat on his motorhome outside. NASCAR wasn't pleased and you saw them enforce the rule where you can't be on the property.
Even the Penske crew chiefs were in radio distance last weekend at Darlington so I do think we might see some sort of rule coming but I think that is so hard to police. What are they going to do - take our cell phones away?
SBN: You've had a well-publicized battle with gout and have teamed up with Takeda Pharmaceuticals to increase awareness and lifestyle plans. How did that come together and what do all of you have lined up?
KM: It's been an ongoing problem for about ten years now. It flared up and being a stubborn tough guy, I thought I might have stubbed my toe or something - like turf toe. It kind of went away and then it flared up again so I still didn't have any idea what it was until seven or eight years ago when I finally had so much pain that I had to go see a doctor.
The first doctor said it was turf toe but once it didn't go away, I saw another doctor and they determined without even using an x-ray that it was gout. And I didn't understand how that could be. I don't drink and I'm not old and that's when I learned that millions of Americans fight this. It's just a build-up of acid in your joints - a form of arthritis and there is no shame in going to see a doctor.
That's when Takeda reached out and through working with them, I've come to the conclusion that no one needs to suffer. It was just so painful. I couldn't sleep or climb on top of the pit box. It was about coming to grips - painful for sure.
Ultimately, gout is a painful form of arthritis and over 8 million Americans have it. Manion is teaming up with Takeda Pharmaceuticals to champion better management of gout and encourage people to work closely with their doctor.
Manion ended the interview by suggesting that those who suspect they may have the ailment visit their doctor and www.gout.com for tips and suggestions.