Blistering Speeds lead to Tire Change at Michigan

First read the press release from Goodyear, then read my commentary about this decision, offering key areas of interest for fans to watch over the weekend. 

Based on the higher than expected speeds NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams ran in pre-race practice on the newly repaved Michigan International Speedway, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has decided to change its left-side tire recommendation for Sunday’s race. 

In the final Sprint Cup practice on Friday afternoon, Greg Biffle ran an average speed in excess of 204-mph for his fastest lap. For comparison’s sake, when Goodyear tested at Michigan in preparation for this race on April 3-4, the fastest average lap speed topped out in the 198-mph range. The higher speeds caused significantly higher left-side tire temperatures, which caused Goodyear to take this step.

The tire code that teams will now run – D-4020 – features a tougher tread compound, a different construction and different mold shape than the tire teams ran in practice. The replacement tire was run at Charlotte Motor Speedway after that track was repaved at the end of the 2005 season. This code was run at both races at Charlotte in both 2006 and 2007. 

When Goodyear decided to bring a new tire to Charlotte for the 2008 season, a quantity of this code was built as part of the back-up plan that Goodyear has in place for every race track on the circuit.  Since this tire proved durable and provided an ample amount of grip for the repaved Charlotte surface, it made it a logical choice to be put in place for just this type of situation for the fresh asphalt at Michigan.

Goodyear will ship in enough tires for teams to have 10 sets of tires for the race, which is the original NASCAR set limit for this event. Teams will run their original allotment of right-side tires – D-4528 – in Sunday’s race. Teams will have additional tires available for a NASCAR-scheduled practice following the Nationwide Series race on Saturday.

“We decided this move was best to provide quality racing here on Sunday,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s Director of Race Tires. “In collecting data and speaking with drivers and crew chiefs throughout the practice days, we had two choices to make. Our first option was to make the team’s race sets available to them before practice on Friday and allow them the chance to ‘scuff’ them, in order to run them through a heat cycle to increase heat resistance. We did that, but after all the practice sessions ended on Friday, we concluded the safer option was to go to our contingency plan and bring in the 4020s.

“This code has been run before under similar track conditions and we have full confidence that it will give drivers and teams enough grip to run a great race on Sunday, while doing so in the safest possible manner. Safety is always our No. 1 concern, and  by bringing this tire here this weekend, we will accomplish that goal.”

Source – Goodyear press release

Fan4Racing Commentary – With two days of testing and two practice sessions already under their belt in the last three days, the Sprint Cup teams will be working with this new variable with only one practice session on Saturday evening.  Unfortunately, the race will be run during the early afternoon hours when the sun will have it’s fullest impact on the track.  Practicing in the early evening hours might not give teams the information they really need for the race on Sunday.  

Keeping in mind, Goodyear’s decision was made Friday evening with safety in mind, it is what it is and teams will deal with the situation, making the most of the evening practice session but will probably still be making more adjustments throughout the race on Sunday, especially if temps are sunny and hot.

Depending on how the weather pans out on Sunday, if – and that’s a big if –  temps are lower, the evening test session may end up being perfect practice conditions.  Although, there is a chance of showers on Sunday, if that happens, it will  remove the rubber build up on the track. That too, would be a bit of game changer for teams, causing an adjustment period early in the race. 

What we do know, is with the higher temps during practice sessions Friday, speeds increased to over 204-mph, which caused the tires to blister.  No driver wants to be traveling at these speeds and blow a left front tire. The tire change by Goodyear will address this issue, creating greater peace of mind for drivers.

The other point to take into consideration is just like your personal car, when you travel at higher speeds you use more fuel, more quickly.  At speeds in excess of 204-mph, fuel mileage is closely being monitored by teams with the test and practice sessions over the last three days.  Again, the tire change is a new variable in their equation and they’ll now only have the one practice session window to monitor fuel mileage with the new tire compound.  

Another interesting point to keep in mind, is that Sprint Cup qualifying will be taking place Saturday afternoon with the current tire code.  The new tires will be placed on all the Sprint Cup cars after they qualify in preparation for the evening practice session, which will take place after the Nationwide afternoon race.  So there will be even more disparity between the car’s qualifying and race setups than is typical. 

These points may or may not play as factors in the race on Sunday, but are brought up here only as areas to watch as potential factors that could impact the race.  As if the blistering speeds were not enough anticipation, this change does bring a new dimension for drivers, crews and fans as we watch the next couple of days unfold, up to and including the race on Sunday!
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