Track Testers Get Jump On The Field At Phoenix
AVONDALE, Ariz. – The Goodyear Tire Co. staged a two-day tire test party Monday and Tuesday at newly-repaved and reconfigured Phoenix International Raceway and a handful of NASCAR’s top wheelmen were invited.
The attendees included Sprint Cup series co-leaders Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, No. 4 Carl Edwards, No. 8 Kurt Busch and No. 10 Tony Stewart.
Conspicuous by their absence was anyone representing Richard Childress Racing, whose stable includes No. 5 Kevin Harvick and No. 12 Clint Bowyer.
Is that an advantage the test drivers can capitalize on when the series returns to PIR Nov. 13 for the Kobalt Tools 500, the penultimate stop on the 36-race schedule?
Sure, it is, even though the test is a mostly controlled environment where teams are primarily following Goodyear specs in order to construct a suitable tire come Oct. 4-5, when another tire test is scheduled at PIR, one that is open to all teams.
“We do have an advantage, but you have to take it with a grain of salt because (Goodyear) could come back and change the compound on us for the October test,” Kurt Busch said. “But we do get a feel for the racetrack and we get to use our data recording system so we can’t complain.
“You want to be around as many tests as you could find. Of the teams in the Chase, RCR is the only team
that won’t have any information. Jimmie Johnson can give information to (No.6) Jeff Gordon. Tony Stewart is here to give information to (No. 7) Ryan Newman, if he makes the Chase. Kyle can give information to (No. 13) Denny Hamlin. All the teams are covered except RCR.”
Still, there was little information to be gleaned Monday, when drivers spent much of the session trying to rubber in the new surface beneath blistering ambient temperatures that reached 110 degrees during Monday’s test (157 degree track temps), which was open to the media.
It was monotonous duty, tedium times 100.
But, Johnson said, it eventually paid off.
“It was tough to learn anything because we had to work on the track,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, we started to learn something from a tire standpoint and what the cars kind of want here. Tuesday will be a better day.”
PIR’s new surface and revamped layout – front-stretch widened by 10 feet, variable banking in the turns and a reconfigured dogleg along the back-straightaway that should make it racier – wasn’t completed until Aug. 12.
Originally, Goodyear officials planned a Labor Day test or one even a week later. But the test was bumped up, which prompted track engineers to spread a lime compound on the surface to try and harden it some before this week’s test.
That along with the torrid heat and construction dust collected on the racetrack prevented anything close to hell-bent speeds on a hellish Monday.
Lap times were at best about 1½ seconds slower than the track record Edwards set at the April race earlier this season, when he uncorked a 26.224-second lap (137.279 mph).
Still, Johnson was puzzled with the slower lap times.
“We’ll find a little speed with the new tires, but I’m still surprised we’re not faster than we are,” said Johnson, who described the revamped layout as “dramatically different” and it reminded him of Concord (N.C.) Speedway. “I don’t know if the track is longer now. It sure seems different with that kind or dogleg or whatever it’s called.”
What it mostly was Monday was a single-groove track, a scenario PIR officials are hoping changes before the November race as the variable banking(10-11 degrees in Turns 1-2, 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dogleg and 8-9 degree banking in Turn 4) and a revised dogleg were designed to help produce side-by-side racing at the outset.
Whether that occurs immediately is a question in search of an answer.
One thing is certain. The Busch brothers apparently enjoy the changes to Turn 2 and the dogleg, which included pushing the dogleg out 95 feet and tightening the turn radius from 800 to 500 feet.
“To have that exhilarating back-straightaway, I don’t know what words to be used,” said Kurt, who was involved in the only on-track incident Monday when he hit the wall in Turn 1, forcing him to a back-up car Dodge. “But it’s like a roller coaster where you drive up the banking off of Turn 2, you drop down, then the car comes back up out of the hill into Turn 3. It’s like a nice, light feeling when you get up top.
As for younger brother Kyle, he said: “It adds a new element and is a bit different racing than we’ve seen in the past. It seems like there’s more room to race off of Turn 2. Maybe that means more area to pass over there.”
But a truer test likely will manifest itself in October for another two-day test.
“Right now, you’ve got one groove and it’s hard to think of anything but single file,” Johnson said. “But it’s unfair to judge the track at this point until we get other lanes worked in and more cars on the track.”
– Mark Armijo is the longtime auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.comNo Comment