Goodyear working to solve tire problem

Updated: February 16, 2005, 7:06 PM ET
Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Goodyear officials spent the first day of Daytona 500 practice scrambling to solve the second tire problem of Speed Weeks.

Six drivers had problems with tread separating on their right side tires during practice Wednesday. When similar problems caused the tires to fall apart during practice for an exhibition race last week, Goodyear officials pulled about 300 tires out of their rotation as a precaution.

They pulled several more Wednesday, and Goodyear spokesman Greg Stucker said seven tires were being flown to the company's laboratory in Akron, Ohio, for testing.

"We haven't really determined that there's anything in common causing the particular problems,'' Stucker said.

He added that Goodyear will work closely with each team to ensure cars have the best setup for Thursday's qualifying races.

"I don't know what's going on now,'' car owner Ray Evernham said. "There's a problem right now. But one thing we usually see here at Daytona is problems crop up early and then they go away as the week goes on. They are usually forgotten by race day.''

Joe Nemechek's tire blistered and pulled apart last weekend, then again Wednesday. Also experiencing problems in Wednesday's practice sessions were Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, Hermie Sadler and Kenny Wallace.

"We have to be real smart and do our homework,'' said Ryan Pemberton, Nemechek's crew chief. "We've talked to Goodyear and they're crunching the information.''

No Indy double
A handful of NASCAR drivers took notice when the start of the Indianapolis 500 was moved back an hour, making it almost impossible for them to compete at the Brickyard and in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and John Andretti have all attempted "The Double'' in recent years. It was a tough task even when the Indy race began at 11 a.m. (ET) because it was still a scramble to make it back to North Carolina in time for the NASCAR event.

Now that the race will start at noon, Gordon said Indy will be hard-pressed to get any NASCAR drivers in the field.

"That's the dumbest decision they could have made,'' Gordon said. "One of the draws of that race these days is seeing what NASCAR stars try to run the double, and I just don't understand why they would take that element out of it by moving the start time.''

Indy officials want to attract a larger television audience with the later start.

Tony Stewart echoed Gordon's thoughts. Just him showing up last year on Bump Day drew significant attention as his mere presence at the track added excitement to an otherwise non-eventful day.

"I wasn't planning on doing it again, but it's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever seen Indianapolis Motor Speedway do since I've been around,'' Stewart said. "I don't know what their theory was on that. I thought it helped them to have guys doing both races.''

Gordon said Indy officials should have moved the race to Memorial Day instead of trying to draw viewers on the same day as a NASCAR race.

"That would be the better move for the Indy 500,'' said Gordon, a former IRL racer. "Not only would they be the only race on TV that day, but all the NASCAR drivers would have the day off and could consider entering the 500.

"I really think you'd get a lot more of us in the field if the race was run on Monday. You never know who might give it a try.''

Bourdais fears pole
Sebastian Bourdais didn't care what number he picked in the blind draw that set the field for the International Race of Champions, as long as he didn't choose the pole position.

So the Champ Car champion winced when he pulled No. 1, putting him in the top starting spot for the opening round of IROC competition.

"I'm very happy to be invited to represent Champ Car in the IROC series, it's all new to me and like everybody else I want to do well,'' the Frenchman said. "But the spotlight is now going to be on me and I don't want to look ridiculous.''

Friday's race at Daytona International Speedway will be the first high-banked oval that Bourdais has ever competed in. He'll also be in a full-bodied car for the first time in his career.

Kurt Busch will start second and Max Papis, representing the Grand American Road Racing Series, will line up behind Bourdais in the third starting position.

Bourdais is hoping he can get a little help from Papis to prevent Busch and the other stock-car regulars from overtaking him on the first lap.

"I'm going to see how many friends I've got fast because if I see a second row going by on the outside of me, it's going to be not very good, I guess,'' Bourdais said.

Papis said he was hoping to further his career in the four-round racing series, where the champion earns $1 million.

"I've been working the garages of NASCAR for the last three years,'' the Italian said. "It's no secret that I want to do it in my short future. Here in the IROC series, I will be in NASCAR territory.

"When I came to race in America, the first thing I did when I arrived at the Daytona track was sit in the grandstands and watch the stock cars practicing. I told myself that maybe one day I will do this and drive on ovals. I am achieving my American dream.''

Petty powers up
A switch in engines has the Petty family hoping for improvement after years of disappointing seasons.

Using engines made by car owner Ray Evernham, the Petty team has shown some punch at Daytona with strong practice runs. Kyle Petty was 12th in qualifying, and Jeff Green seemed headed to a strong run but blew a motor during his run and failed to complete his lap.

Although the Petty cars struggled in Wednesday's practice sessions, the organization feels better about its program.

"Petty has a good organization,'' Evernham said. "I'd love to tell you it's all Evernham engines, but it isn't. I think you're going to see good things out of them this year.''

Petty built its own engines for 50 years, and was still doing it when they signed on with Dodge in 2001. But Mike Ege was hired the next season to build the motors, and Petty blamed himself for letting the engines deteriorate to the point they weren't competitive.

"The (engine department) wasn't my favorite place in the shop, so I didn't go up there a lot,'' Petty said. "That's my fault for letting it fall through the cracks, but once it fell through the cracks I didn't feel like sinking more money into it to do anything else with it.''

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press