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NASCAR, Goodyear to swap tires after unusual wear at Bristol

March 18, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

This Goodyear tire shows wear from the track during practice for the Nationwide Series at Bristol. (Getty Images)

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Based on higher than expected right-side tire wear during Friday's practice sessions at Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR and Goodyear officials are taking the unusual but not unprecedented step of swapping out the current supply of right side tires with up to 1,300 replacements from the company's Charlotte warehouse.

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton and Nationwide series director Joe Balash called a meeting Friday afternoon with Nationwide crew chiefs and drivers to discuss the decision to swap tires, and then explained what will happen for the rest of the weekend.

"Generally, the track will darken, the track will rubber in, the wear improves. And we didn't see that normal improvement."

--RICK HEINRICH, Goodyear

"Based on the practice sessions [Friday] for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, [Friday night] we will making a tire compound change for the right-side tires for both series," Pemberton said. "[Saturday], the Nationwide Series will qualify on the tires they're on [Friday] and we'll change those tires during a competition yellow at roughly Lap 25.

"In the Cup Series, they will also make the tire change. [Saturday] morning, the Cup teams will receive one set of the right-side tires to practice on. And they will have an adequate amount for the Cup race on Sunday afternoon."

Goodyear brought a new right-side tire compound to Bristol that featured slight compound and construction changes, expecting to give cars more grip. But the track failed to "rubber in," a situation where the worn rubber begins to adhere to the track and provides both grip and improved tire wear.

Goodyear product manager Rick Heinrich said that's when the problems began,

"One of the things we see here at Bristol is we see early wear," Heinrich said. "Generally, the track will darken, the track will rubber in, the wear improves. And we didn't see that normal improvement."

Instead, the rubber turned into a powder and gathered high in the corners. In addition, the right side tire rubber was wearing down to the cords in less than 30 laps, according to Denny Hamlin. Goodyear NASCAR project manager Rick Campbell isn't sure exactly what contributed to the issues.

"That's what we're wondering as well," Campbell said. "Historically, we've seen high wear for the first practice sessions and it always gets better. That's why the decision was made as soon as it was. We did not see that happening, even after the sun came out and the track warmed up. That's a very good question."

According to Kurt Busch, that created a situation similar to what happened in the 2008 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"I'm not a tire expert, but you can just see that the race track is not rubbering in," Busch said. "It's not getting darker as cars make more and more laps. It's almost like the tires are turning more into powder when it's coming off the tire, which is very similar to what we had a few years back at Indianapolis.

"I think Goodyear's making the right change by going back to last fall's tire. I remember in the spring last year, we were right on the edge. Some teams had trouble, some teams didn't. So this ought to put us all back into a safer box and we'll go from there."

Campbell said the tires being shipped from Charlotte are the same compound used at Bristol last summer, and he believes they will last up to 135 laps, more than enough for a full fuel run.

"It's the same tire we ran for both series last August," Campbell said. "It's a known quantity with this track. With the Nationwide car -- the new car -- we felt like keeping a known quantity for these guys was important. The Cup tire is the same exact compound. That tire's been run previously in 2010 at Kansas and Fontana."

Pemberton said the decision to run the newer tire compound was an effort to placate teams and improve competition.

"When we came off of Bristol in August, even though the tires were perfect, the teams didn't like that the track rubbered in too much," Pemberton said. "The track got hot and greasy and slick. They lobbied for us to have more grip and maybe the potential of more tire wear and falloff.

"And you go after that to try to please the teams. I don't think anybody will deny that approach that we've had over the last couple of years has brought on some pretty good racing and great tires."

Pemberton said the key is to react quickly to any problems, and in this case, Goodyear had an alternative solution available.

"We aggressively work with Goodyear and the teams to bring the best tire that we can to create the best race," Pemberton said. "In doing so, we always have a backup plan. Like Rick said, there's tires in the barn that are ready to go, anywhere and everywhere we race.

"Everywhere you go, Goodyear continues to develop tires that are better for competition," Pemberton said. "Nine times out of 10, you hit a home run with it. The good news is, everybody's ready to react and react in a timely manner to put on good racing this weekend."

Busch said the complexity of building tires for the current chassis has been particularly difficult for Goodyear.

"We're either fine and sliding around or we're blowing out right side [tires]," Busch said. "To me, I still think the cars are just too heavy, too high a center of gravity. And we've put Goodyear in a box with this [new car chassis]. It's been like this since 2007."