News & Media


Teams use final practice to adjust to tire change

April 14, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- One hour. One set of tires. And one chance to get things right for Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Mark Martin turned the fastest lap in Saturday's final practice -- 124.108 mph -- but almost no one in the garage area glanced at the leaderboard. Instead, the focus was on making the correct adjustments to the cars after NASCAR and Goodyear decided to switch to a different right-side tire compound between Friday's qualifying and Saturday's final two practices, and teams were given one set each to use.

Bristol

Happy Hour
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. B. Vickers 123.52315.534
3. D. Hamlin 123.475 15.540
4. J. Logano 123.245 15.569
5. T. Stewart 123.237 15.570

Carl Edwards won the pole on the initial tire compound but said there was no guarantee the fastest cars on Friday would be the same in Sunday's race. Edwards' No. 99 Ford was no better than 33rd in Happy Hour.

"The potential is there to completely turn this field upside-down figuratively," Edwards said. "Guys that were struggling [Friday] could be dominant on Sunday. It's going to be very interesting."

Kevin Harvick, who qualified eighth, bolted on the new right-side rubber at the start of Happy Hour and after a few laps, brought his No. 29 Chevrolet onto pit road as the crew swarmed under the car to make major changes to the chassis and suspension.

"[The car] was driving great on the other set of tires," Harvick said. "We're anticipating a pace change. Basically you've got to change everything in the car and we've got one set of tires to figure it out. We were just making laps before, and now we're going to have to work on it to even make it drive on the other set of tires."

And tires, according to Edwards, are "hugely important" at Bristol.

"There's so much load on the car," Edwards said. "It's not really an aero race track. The tire and the way it deforms with this huge amount of load and the way it grips and twists and matches the left and right angles and all those things means the world.

"There are going to be some computers burning up tonight trying to come up with all the different possibilities, so we'll just see who can use that one set in practice the best and who can make this thing work."

According to Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler, trying to forecast how the new right-side tires would perform in Sunday's race was the theme of what turned into a 60-minute test session.

"All we can do is uses that one set of tires during Happy Hour to get a good feel for what we need," Geisler said. "It's only a 16-second lap, so everything is important. There's not much down time for anything to be not right."

Entering the corner and not abusing the brakes and tires could be the key to running well, Geisler said.

"Brakes are important, but not as important as they've been here in the past," he said. "I think we've seen guys backing off on how much they use the brakes. A lot of that is more discipline from the drivers to enter [the corners] easy, hard off.

"Everybody talks about over-driving the corner and you'll hear guys hitting the rev [limiter]. We heard it in qualifying. That's like a hammer to the head to tell them, 'Hey, lift the throttle because you're about to overdrive the car and have too much speed on entry.' "

Most of the teams in the garage area were in agreement: once they put on the new tires, there was no turning back.

"We're going to have one set," Biffle said. "It's going to drive different on that tire. It's gonna be tighter or looser or it's gonna hit the race track different. The splitter is going to be a different height, so, really, we might just warm the car up and then put that set on and see how the car drives. I think after we use up that set, I don't think we'll be doing anything else."

Kurt Busch said the idea was to learn as much as possible in 60 minutes.

"That will be an important set of tires," Busch said. "What we can do is turn it into more of a test session and just evaluate changes on the race car and not necessarily dial it in for track conditions. We'll just get the car close, get it in the ballpark.

"I think we'll use that set of tires in the latter stages of practice, just to see where we are. We'll make a 20-lap run, make an adjustment and go make another 20-lap run and see how it shakes out."