By Jenna Fryer
FORT WORTH, Texas: Tires remained the hot topic at Texas Motor Speedway, where NASCAR and Goodyear took the unprecedented step of discussing the compound selected for Sunday’s race before a single lap had been turned.
Goodyear’s multi-zone tread tire is making its season debut at Texas, where speeds inched toward 200 mph in Friday’s opening practice session.
There was one major incident, 100 minutes into practice, when Kurt Busch wrecked hard into the outside wall. Busch, winner of last week’s race at Martinsville, appeared to blow a left rear tire before losing control of his Chevrolet and crashing.
His car caught fire, and as his Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup, Busch said the left rear tire started to separate on the backstretch.
The left side tires being used at Texas are the same ones Goodyear has used at the last two races here.
The multi-zone tread tire combines two distinct rubber compounds on the right-side tire, with the outside 10 inches of tread designed for traction, and the compound on the inside 2 inches is designed for durability.
But a handful of drivers publicly expressed concern about tire wear and durability on Texas’ high banks. The concern comes two races after a flurry of left-side tire failures at California led many drivers to question Goodyear’s product and preparation.
Greg Stucker, Goodyear director of race tire sales, said the manufacturer is confident the selection for Texas will be just fine.
“Historically, Texas has not been a race track where we have a lot of left-side problems,” he said. “We addressed the right side because it is a high-speed race track, and that’s what gets stressed tremendously here. That’s why we came with the zone tread tire, because it was a good solution to that.
“I think on the heels of some of the issues we saw at Fontana, people are asking the question, ‘Is there a possibility we could see the same thing?’ There’s always that possibility.”
But both NASCAR and Goodyear are adamant that any issues that occurred at California were self-inflicted and that will again be the case at Texas.
“People are always pushing the envelope, always trying to stress all parts of the race car,” Stucker said. “We understand that and support that. That’s what makes racing great, right?”
Joey Logano blew two tires at California in practice and his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski blew three. He admitted Friday that the organization was aggressive with the minimum air pressure recommendations from Goodyear.
“I think it was field-wide. I think everybody was being pretty aggressive,” he said.
Although some teams have gone to NASCAR and asked the sanctioning body to monitor air pressure, NASCAR does not want to begin regulating. It would instead prefer teams to roll the dice on strategy.
“It’s a very competitive garage area out there. With as much pressure being put on teams to win and get in the Chase, I think teams will be more likely to push the envelopes in any way that they can,” said vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. “I’m proud of them to push the limits like that. But they also know they have to finish races.”
Logano admitted it’s a fine line.
“I don’t really want to blow out tires because it hurts,” he said. “I’d rather have something that’s a little tougher tire that can handle that stuff, but it’s such a hard thing. Here we are as drivers, we want more grip, we want a softer tire, we want a tire that wears out, and then we’re putting so much load on them with these heavy cars it’s almost impossible to do both.”
Kyle Busch wants NASCAR to stay out of it and credits letting teams manage their own tires to contributing to improved racing this season.
“It’s been more exciting, the racing we’ve had, with the rules being loosened up this year. So why do we need to add more rules to tighten it back up again?” Busch said. “I am against it. In California, there were people that abused the left-side air pressure. You saw them take off and have way more speed than others. Guys like myself that didn’t abuse that left-side air pressure were able to still salvage on and didn’t have problems with tires whatsoever. Ultimately we won the race.”
But three-time champion Tony Stewart thinks NASCAR regulation might be good for the drivers.
“If it keeps it from having failures and lets us race and worry about what we’re doing on the track, instead of a guessing game on whether we’re going to make it because the pressures are running too low, I’d rather them put a regulation on it,” Stewart said.