News & Media

Aumann: NASCAR, Goodyear make right call in tire change

June 16, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Rising speeds and blistered tires on repaved MIS called for last-minute switch

The decision as to why Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway will be run on a different set of left-side tires is as simple as the reasons are complex.

Nobody wants another Indianapolis.

"The heat blisters your skin if you get too much sun or you overdo it, and really the same thing kind of happens with tires."

--GREG STUCKER (Goodyear official)

Remember four years ago, when the reground Brickyard asphalt shredded the tires like lettuce? When Matt Kenseth's right rear exploded and tore off a huge hunk of the car's bodywork? When "competition cautions" every dozen laps had nothing to do with competition, since everyone was already in as-fast-as-I-dare-drive survival mode?

The lessons learned that day are why NASCAR is making this decision now. Not because it may be the right one, but it's the safest one for all parties involved.

Records will fall in qualifying -- because the original racy compound is still being usesd -- but once they switch to the harder, less-grippy lefts that Goodyear had trucked to the track overnight from North Carolina, there's no guarantee Sunday's race will be anywhere as good as we were originally led to expect.

Imagine thinking you're going to spend three hours in the car with your hot girlfriend, and you wind up stuck riding with your Aunt Gertrude instead? That's the feeling in the garage area right now.

Engineers brought components with the idea of matching a specific tire compound and now have to improvise. After nine hours of practice with the other tire, crew chiefs will now have to devise a new setup, using data from perhaps only a handful of laps. And drivers accustomed to the "feel" of the car will be learning as they go at the drop of the green flag on Sunday.

So how did we get from "it's the perfect tire" on Thursday to a frantic all-Goodyear-hands-on-deck scramble at a Cornelius, N.C., tire storage warehouse in the middle of the night Friday?

Blame the heat, not the speed. The increased grip from the new pavement creates more friction, and friction creates heat. And at the speeds the cars are running, the tires don't have a chance to cool down.

It's a connect-the-dots scenario that leads to a dangerous situation. Heat leads to blistered tires. Blistered tires lead to blowouts. And blowouts at 200 mph are unacceptable.

"The heat blisters your skin if you get too much sun or you overdo it, and really the same thing kind of happens with tires," said Goodyear's Director of Race Tires Greg Stucker. "If you get too much heat in it, typically what happens is the adhesion between components -- in this case, the tread and the body of the tire -- starts to break down. And you get a little piece of the tread that separates from the carcass, and it looks like a blister."

The drivers, almost to a man, raved about the tire Goodyear brought this weekend -- Greg Biffle threw down the gauntlet with a lap just a tick under 205 mph Friday afternoon -- even though there were some reservations about the speed.

Tires were blistering as early as the Thursday test, but both NASCAR and Goodyear believed the situation would get better with time. That's what we were told over and over, and we believed we were getting the correct answer.

But when a quarter of the field began to have blistering issues -- and after Goodyear engineers looked at the data -- the decision was made to go the conservative route.

Nobody wants another Indianapolis.

In this case, it was all about the heat. And the decision-makers weren't willing to take any more of it.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.