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Tires seem to be turning corner

Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013

Generally speaking, if NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs are talking a lot about tires during a race weekend, it tends not to be a good thing.

Last weekend’s Truck and Sprint Cup series races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway proved a very successful exception to the rule.

Time and again, drivers – usually veterans – raved about the new tire compound brought by Goodyear and how it contributed to better racing.

What was the difference? The tires – criticized during recent years for being too hard – actually wore out but not to the point of causing blowouts. Drivers with new tires were able to navigate through the field.

It wasn’t the 1980s and 1990s again, but it was a vast improvement – one many hope will continue as the season unfolds.

“This tire was good. I thought that it made us and forced us to come in and take four tires, and I thought that was pretty fun for the fans,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for last weekend’s Cup winner, Jimmie Johnson.

“It was fun for me to watch how somebody that would come in and take tires, they could maneuver up through the field and pass race cars. I think that was a big contributor to a great show.”

NASCAR had hoped the debut of the 2013 model cars would contribute to better racing, as some design changes were incorporated to do so.

It appears, though, that the tires might be the key to some of the on-track spectacle some fans have said has been lacking.

“I think the more experience Goodyear gets with the new car is only going to help the racing as a whole because as the tire falloff increases, I think the racing gets better,” Knaus said.

“From a car standpoint, I don’t think we need to mess with it a whole heck of a lot right now, just kind of let things shake out and let Goodyear get to work and see what they can do with the product.”

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said the tire helped create an “old-school Martinsville” feel to Sunday’s race.

“I think this tire brings more of the driver into play, even though it seemed like air pressure kind of helped that. I think we all started maybe a little bit too high on rear pressure,” Gordon said.

“I’d like to see that more. Durability is a big deal, especially on the bigger, higher-speed tracks, and so Goodyear is limited on what they can do, especially on the repaves.

“But on these older tracks, it’s kind of encouraging to know that they can build a tire that can withstand long runs but does fall off and wears a little bit.”

Finding the right combination requires the accumulation of enormous amounts of data from races and testing. Plus, each track is unique and many recently have been repaved.

“Tire falloff is what we’re all after. The competitors have been saying that for a long time, but Goodyear was afraid to do so with some of the loading and things that we saw with the other car,” Johnson said.

“… The last thing they want is four or five blown right-fronts and drivers climbing out of the car mad and hurt talking about the tire not doing its job. So they’re walking a tightrope.

“It’s easy to beat up on them, but they do have a tough job.”

At least for the moment, it seems a little easier.