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Happy Hour: Blistering pace at a blistering place

June 15, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Practice speeds blistered tires and forced Goodyear to bring in new left-side tires for an extra Saturday practice. (Getty)

Result is blistering tires for some as heat and speeds continue to rise at Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Michigan International Speedway proved to be blisteringly fast Friday, which isn't necessarily a good thing. With practice speeds once again topping 200 mph, several drivers experienced issues with blistering tires on the recently repaved 2-mile oval.

It was so fast, indeed, that Goodyear will make a tire change for the race -- a decision that came after a significant number of cars ended up with blistered tires. To accommodate the switch -- a new, and "tougher" left-side tire from Charlotte, according to a NASCAR release -- NASCAR has added a fifth practice session, which will come not only after Saturday's qualifying run but also after the Nationwide Series race. The session is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. ET and go for approximately 75 minutes, using the new left-side rubber provided by Goodyear.

Goodyear's director of race-tire sales, Greg Stucker, said that "about a quarter" of the Cup teams in the garage complained about the left-side blistering.

Kevin Harvick was one of those who saw blistering issues on both left-side tires and his right-rear after attempting a longer run.

Friday's 200 mph speeds

Practice 3
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. Dale Jr. 201.061 35.810
3. T. Bayne 200.770 35.862
4. T. Stewart 200.736 35.868
5. M. Kenseth 200.574 35.897
6. J. Montoya 200.551 35.901
7. J. Gordon 200.540 35.903
8. K. Kahne 200.50735.909
9. P. Menard 200.289 35.948
10. M. Truex Jr. 200.056 35.990
Pos.DriverSpeedTime
2. M. Ambrose 203.551 35.372
3. K. Harvick 202.954 35.476
4.C. Edwards 202.943 35.478
5. P. Menard 201.737 35.690
6. T. Bayne 201.506 35.731
7.J. Johnson 201.247 35.777
8. J. Logano 201.078 35.807
9. Ku. Busch 201.027 35.816
10. M. Kenseth 200.798 35.857
11. D. Hamlin 200.775 35.861
12. Allmendinger 200.574 35.897
13. A. Dillon 200.106 35.981
14. J. Burton 200.072 35.987

"Our biggest concern right now is we've seen several of those situations through the garage," Harvick said. "I don't know that many people ran enough laps to really get to the blistering point. It's either going to come down to the race track getting more rubber on it and the speeds slowing down, or it's just going to come down to you slowing down and managing the pace to keep the tires on the car."

* Sound Off: Harvick, Goodyear discuss tires

Stucker said this weekend's speed increase was expected, although Greg Biffle's lap of 204.708 mph near the end of Friday's Happy Hour certainly raised some eyebrows.

"We ran about 36.4 [seconds] in our test [in April]," Stucker said. "That was the fastest lap, and obviously, we're running significantly faster than that now. We knew it would be faster but not quite as fast as it is.

"The blistering is definitely heat-related. It's aggravated by particular setups. That's why we're seeing it predominately on some people and not at all on others."

Because of that, Friday's Happy Hour turned into one-lappy hour, as many teams used much of the practice to scuff all of their race tires in preparation for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400. Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. both completed more than 45 laps each.

That didn't keep Biffle from ripping off the weekend's best lap to edge Marcos Ambrose. Harvick, Carl Edwards and Paul Menard rounded out the top five, as 14 drivers exceeded 200 mph.

"I wish I could tell you that lap, I was holding my breath and was on edge," Biffle said. "But it must be a lot of adrenaline because I really don't remember my lift points or when I got on the gas pedal. You get so in the moment, and we scuffed in so many sets of tires and everything, now I have to sit and think about how I did it -- because I have to do it again [Saturday].

"The car just really stuck to the ground really well. So it actually wasn't that hard to drive. It's actually a little bit harder to drive on low air and new tires."

The only incident came when Jamie McMurray scraped the right side of his car after contact with the outside wall. His crew spent most of the rest of the session repairing the sheet metal damage.

For a brand-new track, Denny Hamlin didn't notice any unusual or unexpected tire wear.

"We ran a complete fuel run on one set of tires," Hamlin said. "So we're analyzing that set right now. There was some decent right-side wear. But I think once the race gets going, the right-side wear will subside. It typically does."

Like Hamlin, Edwards hadn't seen any problems with his tires. But he wasn't surprised, based on the amount of stress placed on them, given the high speeds, increase in grip and rising temperatures.

"The cars are going so fast and they're making so much grip," Edwards said. "It's hard to imagine a little area about the size of this [6 inch by 16 inch] plastic placard, and those four little spots like that are making all that friction and somehow Goodyear has to make that work. That's a lot of force out there.

"I'm sure NASCAR will look at it, I'm sure Goodyear will look at it. I'm certainly going to go to [crew chief Bob Osborne] right after this and talk about it. We'll try to make a long run and then we'll watch the Nationwide cars."

They all looked at it and, obviously, a decision was made to switch tires and also add the practice.

So why didn't this issue show up during the tire test in April, or even last weekend at Pocono? Harvick said that's one of the variables for which you can't always plan. And that's no fault of the tire manufacturer.

For instance, the differences in temperature between the spring test and this weekend are significant.

"You just never know when you get to a new race track, how fast everybody is going to run," Harvick said. "That's really the hardest thing that Goodyear has to deal with.

"I think [Thursday] we ran a second faster than what they ran at the [April] test. [When] they tested, it was 40 or 50 degrees up here. It's going to be 90 [Sunday]."

The key, Harvick said, is trying not to get too aggressive with chassis setups, because long green-flag runs at Michigan are the norm rather than the exception.

And the prevailing opinion in the garage is that Sunday's race will play out much like Pocono, where times dropped as much as a second a lap as the tires began to wear.

Hamlin has had his criticisms about tire selection in the past, but not this weekend.

Greg Biffle thinks he got up to about 220 mph on the straightaway during practice at Michigan. (Autostock)

"As much as I give Goodyear a hard time about their hard tires and everything, when we've had these new-paved race tracks, they've done an awesome job matching the surface to the tire," Hamlin said. "It not only makes for very fast speeds but it gives us a car with grip. It's something we can tune on. I haven't seen those issues and the race will play out very similar to the way it did at Pocono."

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