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Speeds Prompt Changes At ‘New’ Michigan

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 16 2012

Tires rolled to the forefront at Michigan on Friday as blister problems popped up in practice. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Practice speeds topping 200 mph produced instances of blistering tires at the newly repaved Michigan International Speedway Friday, prompting The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to change its left-side tire recommendation for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

The decision was announced late Friday evening after several teams experienced blistering tires following Friday’s practice on the 2.0-mile, D-shaped oval in Brooklyn, Mich.

Greg Biffle of Roush Fenway Racing ran an average speed in excess of 204 mph on his fastest lap Friday. For comparison’s sake, when Goodyear engineers tested at MIS in preparation for this race on April 3-4, the fastest average lap speed topped-out in the 198-mph range. The higher speeds caused significantly higher left-side tire temperatures and instances of blistering.

Goodyear officials have opted to bring a tougher left side tire to MIS from Charlotte, N.C. The tire code teams will now run (D-4020) features a tougher tread compound, a different construction and different mold shape than the tire teams ran in practice. The replacement tire was run at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway after that track was repaved at the end of the 2005 season. This code was run at both races at CMS in 2006 and 2007.

When Goodyear decided to bring a new tire to Charlotte for the 2008 season, a quantity of this code was built as part of the backup plan Goodyear engineers have in place for every racetrack on the circuit. Since this tire proved durable and provided an ample amount of grip for the repaved Charlotte surface, it made it a logical choice to be put into place for the situation created by fresh asphalt at MIS.

Cup teams are still scheduled to qualify Saturday at 1:10 p.m. (EDT) with the tires previously allotted by

Greg Biffle was fast at Michigan Friday. Too fast? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

Goodyear. Following the NASCAR Nationwide Series Alliance Truck Parts 250 race, Cup teams will be given a 75-minute practice session with the new left side tires starting at approximately 6 p.m.

“With the new repave here at Michigan, coupled with the high temperatures we’re seeing this weekend, we feel this change will help us put on the best race possible on Sunday,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition.

Biffle finished Friday with a top speed of 204.708 mph in the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, followed by Marcos Ambrose at 203.551 mph in the No. 9 Stanley Ford fielded by Richard Petty Motorsports. During the final practice session, 43 of 45 drivers surpassed the MIS Cup qualifying record of 194.232 mph. Ryan Newman, a two-time winner in the Irish Hills, set the mark in 2005 in a Dodge.

Led by Kevin Harvick (202.954 mph) and Carl Edwards (202.943 mph), 14 cars eclipsed 200 mph in the final practice.

Goodyear will ship in enough tires for teams to have 10 sets for the race, which is the original NASCAR set limit for this event. Teams will run their original allotment of right-side tires (D-4528) in Sunday’s race. Teams also will have additional tires available for the NASCAR-scheduled practice following the Nationwide race on Saturday.

“We decided this move was best to provide quality racing here on Sunday,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tires. “In collecting data and speaking with drivers and crew chiefs throughout the practice days, we had two choices to make. Our first option was to make the team’s race sets available to them before practice on Friday and allow them the chance to ‘scuff’ them, in order to run them through a heat cycle to increase heat resistance. We did that, but after all the practices ended on Friday we concluded the safer option was to go to our contingency plan and bring in the 4020s.

“This code has been run before under similar track conditions and we have full confidence that it will give drivers and teams enough grip to run a great race on Sunday, while doing so in the safest possible manner. Safety is always our No. 1 concern, and by bringing this tire here this weekend we will accomplish that goal.”

Asked if he felt comfortable during practice, Biffle said, “I don’t know what the speed is. All I know is the lap time is 34.17-(seconds) but I don’t know what that speed average was. It has to be about 220 mph on the straightaway. Probably 220.

“To be perfectly honest with you, I wish I could tell you that I was holding my breath and on edge but it must be a lot of adrenaline because I don’t remember. I’m trying to think of my lift points on the pedal and things like that. You get so in-the-moment. We scuffed in so many sets of tires and now I have to think about how I did it because I have to do it again (Saturday).

“That (hot) lap, the car was just really stuck to the ground really well. It actually wasn’t that hard to drive. It actually is a little harder to drive on low air and new tires in race trim than it is on that qualifying lap. They did a pretty good job with the racetrack.”

Harvick, winner of the second race here in 2010, reported blistering tires on his No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet Impala.

“The speeds are way up compared to a lot of the racetracks that we race at,” said Harvick, of Richard Childress Racing. “Our car ran good (Thursday); we had a few tire issues on three of the four tires in the long run that we had. That is really our only concern. It’s really not about the speed of the car anymore or how it handles. It’s really about making the tires survive. That is our biggest goal going forward.

“Yes, there were blisters, mainly on the left-side tires _ more on the left-front than the left-rear and along with the right-rear. That is our biggest concern right now is we’ve seen several of those situations through the garage. I don’t know that many people ran enough laps to really get to the blistering point. It’s either going to come down to the racetrack getting more rubber on it and the speeds slowing down or it’s just going to come down to you slowing down and managing the pace to keep tires on the car.”

Edwards said he did not experience any tire issues during the first practice, which he ran in full race trim. “The track is amazing. I can’t believe how much grip it has,” said Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. “It is also a little bit forgiving. We got the car sideways a couple of times and it doesn’t seem as treacherous as some of the other repaves. I think that obviously the speeds will be huge and hopefully we can race. Hopefully there are a couple lanes and we can get two-wide and run at this speed.

“The cars are so fast and making so much grip that it’s hard to imagine a little (tire) area making all that friction and Goodyear has to make that work and keep everyone happy. It’s a lot of force out there. You don’t want to be the first guy to blow the tire. If one guy blows then everyone is on guard. It adds another variable to the race.”

Nationwide Series drivers also got their opportunity to test the repaved surface for the first time. In the final practice session, Cup regular Joey Logano – winner of last week’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway – posted a lap of 189.773 mph to lead the field. Biffle set the MIS Nationwide qualifying mark of 186.548 MPH in 2007. A total of 19 Nationwide drivers in the first practice session and 18 each in the next two sessions topped the record.

Nationwide qualifying is scheduled for Saturday at 11:05 a.m. The green flag will drop on the 21st annual Alliance Truck Parts 250 at 3:45 p.m.

MIS, which first played host to NASCAR in 1969, features 18-degree banked turns, a 3,600-foot frontstretch banked at 12 degrees and a relatively flat 2,242-foot backstretch banked at five degrees. Harvick noted that while blistering was not an issue last week at the recently repaved Pocono Raceway, each new surface presents a wide range of variables.

“I think I can put it into pretty easy perspective,” Harvick said. “It’s just something that you just never know when you get to a new racetrack how fast everybody is going to run. That’s really the hardest thing that Goodyear has to deal with is when you come to a new racetrack and you come to test a couple of months before the race and you try to do the best job that you can to get the speeds where they need to be.

“I think (Thursday) we ran a second faster than what they ran at the test. I think when they tested it was 40 or 50 degrees up here. It’s going to be 90 (this weekend). You’re looking at, you know, a 40-degree swing of whatever the high was that day to what we are going to race in. That is virtually an impossible job until you get on the racetrack. A lot of times you see these problems and you get in the race and the pace slows down like it did last week. We ran a second slower than I really thought we would run and probably a second-and-a-half slower than what we ran in race trim in practice. That takes care of a lot of the problems.

“Now from (Thursday) the teams have on their minds that we need to take care of the tires, so it tends to be a little less aggressive set-up wise. That is probably good it happened and didn’t just pop-up on a day like today that you don’t have any more practice. There are going to be new problems, new challenges. You just go out and you will know where you are by the time practice is over.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 16 2012
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