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Tire Concerns Have Teams Zoned Out In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 4 2014

Tires are again a top topic this weekend in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Looking to avoid the possibility of a repeat of the blowout issues that factored into the outcome of NASCAR’s Auto Club 400 last month, Goodyear has mounted-and-aired-up its Zone Tread compound at Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Duck Commander 500.

And Sprint Cup regular Joey Logano says it couldn’t hurt.

“I don’t really want to blow out tires because it hurts, so I’d rather have something that’s a little tougher tire that can handle that stuff,” said Logano, one of several drivers to discuss Zone Tread rubber prior to Friday afternoon’s opening Cup practice around TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval.

“Yeah, we’re concerned this weekend for sure for when we get out there,” said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil/Hertz Ford Fusion fielded by Penske Racing. “This new package, with the added downforce and added load on these cars – we’re going faster – it puts a little more strain on these tires. And this is one of those racetracks that if you run on that white line (at the bottom of the track) you’re catching some of that apron, and we really think that’s what was blowing the tires out.

“It’s a concern this weekend for sure. We’re definitely concerned about it. Obviously, this is the first faster racetrack we’ve gone to since then (Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on March 23) and you’re going to have a concern.

“It would be kind of dumb if you didn’t have a concern coming into this.”

Goodyear announced Wednesday it would be hauling its Zone Tread rubber to TMS for the first time this weekend. The Zone Tread concept, combining two distinct rubber compounds on the same right-side tire, was run at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway last year. Both are similar high-banked, 1.5-mile layouts.

Specifically, the Zone Tread combines one compound run on the outside 10 inches of the tread designed for traction with another compound on the inside two inches designed for durability. The inside compound is “toughened-up” as the contact patch that endures the most heat and takes the most abuse.

“Coming to Texas this year we wanted to make sure we addressed what we knew was coming, which was higher speeds, higher downforce with the new (Gen-6) car. We wanted to make sure we were prepared for that,” Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, said during a news conference Friday afternoon. “At the same time we wanted to make sure we weren’t going to give up a lot of grip on this worn surface because that’s the easy thing to do, just go harder in the tire, but that’s not always the best solution.

“We thought the Zone Tread gave us a good solution like we had at Atlanta where we run the toughened compound on the inboard shoulder because that’s the part of the right-side tire that sees the most stress, sees the most heat. So we’re able to manage that part of the tire with that tougher compound and maintain the tractive compound on the outboard portion of the tire so we surrender very little grip.

“At the same time we’re able to maintain the same left-side tire that we’ve run at Texas actually since 2011, which has performed very well for us here.”

That wasn’t the case for Kurt Busch. Winner of last Sunday’s STP 500 at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, Busch suffered the only tire-related incident during the one-hour, 50-minute session when a separating left-rear sent his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS into the Turn 3 wall front-end first. The car suffered extensive right side damage, forcing Busch into his backup for Saturday’s final practice and knockout qualifying. Busch, who recorded 51 practice laps, posted a top speed of 190.590 mph.

Stucker confirmed that Busch’s incident occurred after a 19-lap run. “We eventually got the tire back, and while it was heavily damaged, our initial assessment is air-loss due to over-deflection of the sidewall area,” Stucker said. “We’ve spoken to the team and got some preliminary information, but we need to talk to them further to get more details to help make a final determination.”

At Fontana, six-time/reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson apparently was cruising to victory when a blown tire with seven laps remaining ended his day. When Clint Bowyer suffered a blowout with two laps to go, Kyle Busch hit pit road for four tires _ a decision he credited for his win under a green/white/checkered finish over rookie Kyle Larson.

Johnson, who lamented at Fontana that “something out of our control” cost him the victory – a veiled reference to tires – supported the decision to go Dual-Zone at TMS. Johnson won the most recent Cup race here, last November’s AAA Texas 500, en route to his latest championship.

“We’ve seen a lot of good things with that Dual-Zone tire,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Spring is Calling Chevrolet fielded by Hendrick Motorsports. “I think it has shown from a wear standpoint very good durability. This track is very porous and it takes all the Nationwide and Cup practice to kind of get the rubber on the track so the tire wear goes down.

“California, I think, was a different issue than tire wear. We’ve been on-edge, in my opinion, at a few tracks – especially the faster racetracks. And this car, how fast it goes, exploits that. I feel like we will have other issues – this track is known for high wear and I’m sure we’ll see some high-wear issues. I don’t think we’ll see any construction issue. But wear is going to be something to be concerned about and it will only get better as the race goes on.”

Johnson topped Friday’s lone session at 193.237 mph on the first of his 35 laps, with Greg Biffle second-fast at 192.055 mph in his No. 16 3M/Give Kids a Smile Ford Fusion fielded by Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle logged 44 laps. Ryan Newman was third-fast at 191.564 mph after 28 laps in the No. 39 Caterpillar Chevy fielded by Richard Childress Racing. Brian Vickers paced the Toyota camp at 190.934 mph in the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Camry fielded by Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers logged 31 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s HMS teammate, was fourth on the chart at 191.327 mph after 53 laps in his No. 88 National Guard Chevy. Junior said Goodyear’s compound decision would not change his approach to hot-lapping around TMS in either practice or qualifying.

“I want to be as aggressive as we can be because there’s speed in that,” said Junior, who scored his first Cup win here in April 2000. “We’re going to pay close attention it. I don’t think we’re going to have any problem this weekend. I think the bumps on the back straightaway at California were a big product of what we saw at California, and I had some issues at Bristol (Motor Speedway on March 16) that I understand and have no problem with.

“I don’t think we’ll have any issues. We may; I may be wrong. I hope I’m right. So we’ll go out there in practice and really pay close attention to what we’re seeing. And we’ll be as aggressive as we can be to produce as much speed out of the car as it can produce and just getting the car driving good, getting the car comfortable. I’m thinking that the pace is going to slow down as the tires fall off here and we won’t really have a tire issue. I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about myself.”

Goodyear is recommending minimum inflation pressures of 23 psi (front) and 21 psi (rear) on the left-side and 51 psi (front) and 47 psi (rear) on the right-side for the scheduled 334-lap/501-mile event set for 2 p.m. (CDT) on the Fox Network. TMS’ corners are banked at 24-degrees.

Stucker said he was not in favor of NASCAR regulating air pressure, as some teams suggested post-Fontana.

“I think we’re both in agreement that we’re going in a different direction,” Stucker said. “A lot of teams have asked for more flexibility and more control. We know at Goodyear that if we start to push towards more tractive tires, that puts everybody on the edge. That means everybody has to manage it. I think that makes for a good event, if you have to manage not only tires but manage other parts, manage your strategy. I think that’s what people want to see. I think that’s a contribution we can make.”

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition and racing development, said a “small group” in the garage area was seeking intervention from the sanctioning body. “We’re early in the process here this year in a lot of different areas,” Pemberton said, addressing rules. “Sometimes that question will be raised. But long-term, they would rather be in charge of their own destiny. “

Logano said he believes Cup teams were quite aggressive with recommended air pressures on Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile layout. “Yeah. I think it was field-wide,” said Logano, who finished a season-worst 39th at Fontana. “I think everybody was being pretty aggressive there. We were where we wanted to be because the advantage on the long haul was there, so we’re going to be aggressive there.

“In the race, I think everyone came up a little bit, everyone was trying to tune things down. And our car, unfortunately, broke a gear but we didn’t have an issue in the race, whereas in practice we couldn’t run a 15-lap run. In the race we ran some 30-lap runs or a 25-lap run and we didn’t have any issues that really frightened us. We thought maybe someone would have an issue before us. But when you blow out two tires in practice and your teammate (Brad Keselowski) blows out three, you look at what you’re doing first as a team and then try to fix it and hopefully that’s enough for the race.”

Logano admitted Goodyear’s engineers face an ever-evolving set of circumstances including suspension and aerodynamic changes, as well as the weathering of track surfaces in different climates.

“It’s such a hard thing,” Logano said. “I got to go through Goodyear’s factory over the offseason and see how they build these things and what goes into it and how they engineer them, and to build a tire for what we’re doing is very, very, very hard. Here we are as drivers, we want more grip, we want a softer tire, we want a tire that wears out and then we’re putting so much load on them with these heavy cars it’s almost impossible to do both. So it’s very, very difficult to make that happen.”

Stucker reiterated the events at Fontana certainly figured into Goodyear’s decision here. Meanwhile, Busch’s late afternoon wall-banger has ratcheted-up scrutiny.

“Really, I think on the heels of some of the issues we saw at Fontana people are asking the question, ‘Is there a possibility we could see the same thing?’^” Stucker said. “There’s always that possibility. People are always pushing the envelope, always trying to stress all parts of the race car. We understand and support that. That’s what makes racing great, right?”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 4 2014
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Sue Rarick says:

    You have a heavy car on relatively skinny tires. They have both front and rear tires cambered to the max with low air pressure. Add the fact that the tire now is the default suspension and oh yeah, we decided to increase downforce.

    And this is the tires fault because?

    Goodyear tests the tires and hands out a spec sheet for each race. Go outside those specs and the fault is on the teams not the tire.