Different track, tire issues remain

Updated: April 3, 2011, 7:55 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- For the second time in three weeks, there are tire issues at a half-mile track hosting a Sprint Cup race.

Unlike three weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway, where tires wore out in 25 laps or less, Goodyear does not plan to bring in a different compound for Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway.

But there are concerns among the drivers and teams because the surface is not rubbering in and the tires are showing extreme wear after 25 to 35 laps, some sooner.

"The tire is really crappy," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "After 12 laps, everybody was falling off fast. There was no rubber buildup, a lot of marbles. You couldn't get out of the bottom groove. Once you got in the marbles, you ruined that set.

"There's no way to get them off; we don't go fast enough."

Kyle Busch said his tires were wearing out faster as well.

"They don't drive real good after 12 laps; they get real, real loose," he said. "[The teams] are just hoping that the track will do what it normally does and that will mean the track will come to our setup. Hopefully that happens. You've just got to take that gamble."

Goodyear officials said they switched compounds for Martinsville because the left-side on the old tire was "graining." To offset the tougher new left side, they made the right side softer to provide more grip.

What they didn't count on was cooler than normal temperatures -- in the mid-40s Friday -- that made it tough for heat to build up. They are confident, with warmer conditions expected Sunday, that there will be no issues.

Sprint Cup series director John Darby said there is no tire problem.

"Here's what we know: The tire is different than what it was last year. The tire's not failing," Darby said. "The tire has some different driveability characteristics that everybody is dealing with.

"But it's a combination of a tougher left side and softer ride side, so the cars feel different. It's hard to make a judgment either way right now. We'll see what 500 laps of racing does."

Seven-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon said there'll be a lot of guessing from crew chiefs on setups.

"This is the dilemma that I'm talking about that we're facing and that we're going to be facing going into [Sunday]," Gordon said. "You're trying to anticipate it, but you're anticipating it off of a different tire. But if we can find in the notes where we had a tire that didn't lay rubber down in practice that showed very loose in and off the corner, and then we can say but the track did this. Then we can make some really good calls in anticipating it.

"If we can't find those notes, then it's a total guess."

The good news, Gordon said, is the issue isn't like the one at Bristol, where tires created dust-like particles and were worn well before a full fuel run.

"That was extreme and they made a good decision to come in and change that tire," Gordon said. "The only thing that I say is similar to that is that the rubber is not laying down on the track. That's the only thing that's a little concerning, you know, why isn't that happening?"

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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