Goodyear feverishly working on Indy tire
Don't blame Goodyear officials if things don't go well during the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard next month. Goodness knows they're trying, spending a small fortune and doing everything possible to avoid a repeat of the 2008 tire nightmare at the Brickyard.
But will it be enough? A sad truth about life is that some problems have no answer. Hopefully, this isn't one of those.
Failure is not an option. The Allstate 400, seven weeks away on July 26, is NASCAR's second-biggest event of the year. Only the Daytona 500 ranks higher in terms of prestige and importance.
That's why Goodyear's best and brightest are back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week with several Sprint Cup drivers and teams, conducting a sixth test since last year's tire meltdown at Indy.
How serious is it? Serious enough that Goodyear invited its biggest critic in the past -- Tony Stewart -- to make some laps on Monday at Indy.
As did David Stremme, who was pleased with the progress Goodyear has made.
"They brought a tire that has really even wear," Stremme said. "We got to a full fuel run [about 30 laps]. Goodyear has done their homework."
Twelve Cup teams will participate in a seventh test later this month. The three-day test this week is closed to the media.
Cynically speaking, that's not a good sign. If you fear bad news, you don't want reporters around to see it.
Goodyear and NASCAR officials are working desperately to find a solution to the tire-wear problems that occurred last year at Indy.
It's no exaggeration to say the race was a travesty. The tires were exploding or wearing to the cords after 15 laps. NASCAR was forced to throw a yellow flag every 10 to 12 laps to allow the teams to change tires.
Goodyear weathered most of the blame, but it was a little like blaming a tugboat skipper for capsizing his vessel in a tsunami.
Some things are beyond your control.
In this case, no tire known to man works well with the combination Goodyear faces at Indy -- the rough surface and flat, rectangle configuration of IMS coupled with the shape and weight distribution of the new Cup car.
If you have one of those things without the other, no problem. The diamond-grinding that was done to the surface at IMS made tire wear an issue for the heavy stock cars but was not unsolvable for the old car.
The teams had some problems in the Friday practice sessions in 2007, but the track got rubbered-in, as they say in racing when rubber from the tires starts adhering to the track, and everything worked out.
Tire wear wasn't a problem last year at Pocono with the new car. The 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped Pocono track is similar to Indy, but Pocono doesn't have the diamond-ground pavement.
Goodyear didn't have a problem using the same tire design for both tracks in the past. That changed with the new car on the rough IMS surface.
Some fans will claim that Firestone or Hoosier or some other tire company could do better. It's impossible to say, but logic would indicate that either a tire company as experienced as Goodyear could find an answer in seven tests or the answer doesn't exist.
One Goodyear official told me, "It's a challenge, to say the least. But the goal is to get to the end of a fuel run. That's the goal at every race."
A typical fuel run at Indy is 30 to 35 laps. The tires made it to 30 laps in tests at Indy this past fall, but drivers and teams weren't able to duplicate that number in tests earlier this spring.
One reason is that no track is as weather-sensitive as the giant, 2.5-mile rectangle at Indy. The sun can shine on Turns 1 and 2, but Turns 3 and 4 might be in the shade, dramatically throwing off the effectiveness of the setup on the car.
If the tests this month consistently fail to reach a full fuel run, one other option exists. NASCAR could do something it has never done with this car by allowing the teams to make changes to the body.
I asked Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of communications, whether tweaks to the car were a consideration for Indy.
"Not at this time," he said. "We have the test this week and another later to keep working on the tire."
Giving the car added downforce could decrease the tire-wear issue. Changes to the rear wing or the front splitter might help. Then again, they might not.
I know [NASCAR] is looking at a bunch of different scenarios," Stremme said. "I'm confident they will do whatever is best."
ESPN analyst and former crew chief Andy Petree told me, "Sometimes, changing one thing to fix a problem can cause a new problem elsewhere."
The long-range solution is a bigger and wider tire, an ongoing project that could help the racing at many tracks. But it can't be done without some significant changes to the car, mainly around the wheel wells. That will take months of research and development.
In the meantime, Indy is Goodyear's biggest headache.
If the contest next month produces a good race without tire woes, Goodyear and NASCAR officials deserve enormous praise for figuring out a complex problem.
If not, goodness knows they tried.
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
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