News & Media

Gordon, others concerned about tires at Martinsville

April 02, 2011, Joe Menzer,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- As six hours of practice between the Camping World Truck Series and the Sprint Cup Series wound down Friday at Martinsville Speedway, drivers kept waiting for what they figured was inevitable.

But the more the rubber met the road, the less it seemed to stick to it.

That was a concern for the Sprint Cup teams trying to prepare for the Goody's Fast Relief 500 this Sunday at the .526-mile short track. The hope was that Saturday's Kroger 250 -- the Truck race -- would pave the way for a less slick track and better tire wear by finally getting some rubber from the tires to stick to the track's surface. But that didn't appear to happen, as Kyle Busch, among others, noted after the race.

"We're not seeing rubber laid down. That's what we're worried about," said Kyle Busch, who was running a No. 18 Toyota in both the Trucks and Cup. "If there was rubber laid down, we'd see better tire wear. I don't know why it's not. They said it's essentially the same tire, but what does that really mean? I think we've all heard that before"

Jeff Gordon, a seven-time winner at Martinsville, said that he kept expecting the track to "rubber up" like it normally does during Friday's marathon practice sessions. But it never did -- and with track officials at Martinsville having switched the race weekend schedule around, there were no additional practices on Saturday. There was only qualifying in both the Trucks and Cup cars, followed by the afternoon Truck race.

"It didn't seem like there was any rubber being thrown down on the track [Friday]. It was all being thrown in the outside groove," Gordon said. "We have seen that before here on this race track. I was just was surprised we never really laid any rubber, so we were wearing the tires really bad.

"Goodyear brought a little softer tire with great intentions. We all want more grip. But we're really struggling bad with some loose conditions, getting into the corners and off the corners. I was just glad we weren't alone in that, because we definitely were making me nervous with how loose the car was getting. That's something that's not typical for us here. So we really were challenged with that quite a bit."

It appeared that everyone was. But John Darby, series director for Cup, said tires are an ever-changing proposition and that dealing with new ones that have been adjusted from previous races at different venues is something to which race teams simply must learn to adjust.

"The tire is different than what it was last year. The tire's not failing. The tire has some different drivability characteristics that everybody is dealing with," Darby said. "But it's a combination of a tougher left side and softer ride side. So the cars feel different. It's hard to make a judgment either way right now. We'll see what 500 laps of racing does."

Darby said he didn't think a competition caution would be necessary in Sunday's race, as it was early in the Cup race at Bristol two weeks ago when NASCAR brought in a new tire from Goodyear at the last minute, following what he and even the drivers admitted was a more serious tire problem there. But he left the door open for that possibility.

"We're not having any wear issues at all. Typically a competition caution is so teams can understand a wear issue. We don't have them, so ... everybody got a lot of laps [Friday] to understand the difference," Darby said just before Cup qualifying on Saturday. "Not that a competition caution is a bad thing, because it lets everyone get that last-minute adjustment, and it's not always about tires. If it'll make a better race, it's hard to argue you shouldn't [have one]. So far, I don't know if this weekend warrants it."

But Busch said the tires on his truck went away after roughly 37 laps of practice, and that even though there was less wear on the Cup car tires, they "felt terrible" after a mere 25 laps of practice.

"We haven't seen horrible wear. We haven't seen the wear dots completely go with the Cup cars. But the tires just are gone; the grip in them is gone," Busch said. "You feel like you're running on cords, but you're not. We still have more rubber to wear off the tire, but the tires don't adhere well enough to the surface to give you any grip and you're not wearing 'em. You're just spinning 'em."

Gordon sounded hopeful that it will change with warmer temperatures and more cars on the track for longer runs during Sunday's race.

"This is not at all an issue like we had in Bristol. That was extreme, and they made a good decision to come in and change that tire," Gordon said. "The only thing I will say that is similar to that is that the rubber is not laying down on the track. That's the only thing that's a little concerning.

"And like I said, I think that could change. We've been through something similar to this in the past, on a race track that was really green. But when you come in and do all your practice on the first day, you would have thought you'd see something lay down. But sometimes it takes more cars, more trucks, all those things on the track, before you see it. I still anticipate us seeing rubber sticking to the groove on the race track [Sunday] when all 43 [Cup] cars are on the track and you're running a lot of laps."

Gordon also said he would like to see a Goodyear tire test at tracks where the decision is made to change a tire, however slightly, from race to race.

"The only concern I really have is that we're making tire changes without testing," Gordon said. "They keep coming back and saying they're minor tire changes -- but there are so many things that go along with tire changes these days that they're not just minor compound changes or construction changes. There are all kinds of different chemicals in the tires that we don't know about.

"I'm definitely a fan of a tire test if you're going to make a tire change from the last time we were there. That's the only thing I would add to it."

Busch, meanwhile, said he wasn't sure that would make all that much difference the way tire tests are conducted with a very limited number of teams invited to participate.

"It's so hard to do that. It takes a lot of money for the teams to go test," Busch said. "We would do it -- but the thing is, you come here with five teams [for a tire test] and six trucks, and you're not running that many vehicles around the track. It's going to take you six days to get rubber laid down. So you're almost wasting your time.

"You're almost better off just making an educated guess. But for all the educated guesses we've had that haven't worked out, I think maybe it's just time to leave well enough alone."