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Minter: The Answer To Top Questions Is – Tires

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 4 2011

They're still round and black but tires have changed this year and as a a result, the racing in NASCAR has changed. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

HAMPTON, Ga. – Somewhere deep down, there’s always a reasonable explanation for events that seem to defy logic.

For instance, why have there been five first-time winners in the Sprint Cup Series and so many races decided by pit strategy and fuel mileage?

According to Denny Hamlin, the answer to that question, like many others in the sport, can be traced to the tires on the cars. Tires of late haven’t worn appreciably, which leads to improbable outcomes.

“Watching some of those old races back in the days, the cars made little downforce, the tires were soft and it was about who could time their tire cycles to fuel and overtaking another car was much easier,” Hamlin said. “It’s just so hard nowadays to do that because honestly the tires are better.”

He said that makes racing safer, but allows drivers to get away with moves they once couldn’t make lap after lap.

“Nowadays drivers don’t pay any price for overdriving a race car,” Hamlin said. “In the last year guys aredriving corner entry way harder than what they should be allowed to, and I think that is some of the reason why you see some of the more successful drivers and new drivers winning this year that you have is that you just don’t pay a price anymore for overdriving your race car because everything is just so good now.”

He said that drivers who relied on their experience and could manage tire wear don’t have any advantage today.

“The drivers like Mark Martin that you’ve seen for years and years be so good at saving his equipment, it’s not as big of an advantage anymore because the tires are so much better,” he said. “I would like to see in the future tires that we run fast for a lap or two, but then drop tremendously off. It forces us to come in and take tires, and these races are not going to be won on some sort of fuel strategy or some kind of gamble in the pits.”

Pressed on the issue, Hamlin went on to say that the driver isn’t as critical a component as he once was.

“It’s easier for driver to win because it’s really about the crew chief nowadays and what strategy they play,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s just not as driver important today as it used to be…You don’t see, in my eyes, the top three drivers in Cup winning and winning as often as what you would think because ultimately it’s out of their hands most weeks.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 4 2011