Teams scramble to adapt to new left-side tires at Michigan
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The speeds of NASCAR Sprint Cup cars on Thursday and Friday were blistering -- literally.
Rather than slow throughout the weekend, as most had predicted, the Cup cars actually got faster at repaved Michigan International Speedway, culminating in Greg Biffle's mock qualifying run late Friday at 204.708 mph at the two-mile track.
The record speeds created blistering issues with the tires Goodyear had provided for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400, predominantly on the left sides. Consequently, on Friday night -- after consulting with the race teams and looking at additional data -- Goodyear went to a contingency plan and began the process of shipping 1,200 new left-side tires from North Carolina.
Drivers qualified Saturday on the original left sides. Thereafter, teams will use the tire code last run at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2007. NASCAR scheduled an extra 75-minute practice session for 6 p.m. to give teams a chance to work with their setups for Sunday's race.
The Charlotte tire is a harder tire with less grip. Theoretically, that will slow the cars down and ameliorate the blistering issue. Originally, Goodyear had recommended that teams scuff the tires (run a couple of laps and then let them cool) to toughen them, but on Friday afternoon, Goodyear began to doubt that scuffing would be enough to counteract potential problems.
"After we got back, talked to more teams, pored over more data, understood more of the issues that were during that practice session, we just went back and started reevaluating all of our options and really tried to be honest and tried to figure out if scuffing was going to be enough," said Greg Stucker, Goodyear's manager of race tire sales.
"We could not say conclusively that that was going to be the right solution for everyone, and that's why we thought the prudent thing was to go ahead and get the back-ups here and make that our contingency plan and go ahead and make that switch. It seemed to be the right thing to do. We discussed it with NASCAR, debated it, walked through the mechanics of it and decided that's what we were going to do."
The Charlotte tires trucked to Michigan -- a tire code first run at that 1.5-mile speedway in 2006 after a repave -- were manufactured in 2008-2009 and warehoused near Charlotte as a contingency plan for that track.
Why the track didn't slow down as temperatures got hotter and other series began to lay rubber on the new asphalt is something of a mystery to NASCAR, Goodyear and the race teams alike.
"I think the teams are in the garage are making changes, and they just keep making better changes to the car," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "I do think that, when we come back here (for future races), the speeds will decrease. It's one of those situations where the track lends itself to increasing grip right now.
"These surfaces are great, and they give a lot of grip, and the tires were perfectly matched for a certain speed. I think, as the teams continued to work on it, it was a surprise to even the teams how the speeds increased from the morning to the afternoon sessions, and actually, they increased over six miles an hour from the (Goodyear) test (in April) to now. And the test was actually a lot better situation with the cooler weather on speed. It will decrease, but apparently it's not going to happen this weekend."
The right-side tires remain unchanged, and many teams already had scuffed in those tires on Goodyear's recommendation. With no time to scuff in the new left-side tires, many teams will run sticker tires on the left and scuffs on the right in Sunday's race.
"I don't think we'll have the option (to scuff tires)," Brian Pattie, crew chief for Clint Bowyer, said before qualifying. "Just trying to get tires here and mounted would be one thing . . . getting 'em in time for the tire guys to sort and put on the car and scuff would be another.
"I just see us getting our two sets allotted per team (on Saturday) and practicing and doing stickers (Sunday)."
Another major issue is mileage on the Cup engines that extra practice will entail. Team owner Jack Roush supports the tire change, but he's concerned about engine wear in his Fords.
"The engine will be a concern (on Sunday)," Roush said. "Based on the tire we had, Matt Kenseth, who tested . . . the telemetry said -- out of a 35-second, 36-second lap -- he was only off the throttle for seven seconds.
"That's close enough to being wide open all the way around that your engine doesn't have a chance to breathe. You get your pistons hot and your valves hot and your oil hot. There was a concern at Pocono (last week), and it's going to be hotter here than it was at Pocono -- and that's regardless of the tire change."
Roush said his cars would employ a taller gear for practice and make some fuel and timing changes to lower RPMs and protect the engines.
Roush also hoped the left-side change wouldn't migrate to the right side and cause problems there. So might the cure be worse than the disease?
"Well, there is that chance, but the disease that we had was terminal, I think," Roush told the NASCAR Wire Service. "When you're desperate, you'll reach for measures that in sobering times you wouldn't have even considered."