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Edwards-Biffle 1-2 for Jeff Byrd 500, but crews hot with Goodyear swapping out tires for Saturday and Sunday after excessive wear

  Goodyear is making a quick right-side tire swapout for the weekend's two NASCAR races at Bristol...but not without controversy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Goodyear is changing right-side tires for Saturday's Nationwide race and Sunday's Cup race, an unexpected but not unprecedented move, after problems developed during Friday practice for both divisions, for Saturday's Scotts 300 and Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500.
   The decision was made early Friday afternoon, after several hours of practice at this half-mile.
   Simply put, Goodyear came with a new right-side compound for both cars here, but the new compound did not lay down any rubber on the concrete track.
   And drivers complained about the right-rear tires wearing into the cords. Goodyear suggested air pressure changes to deal with the situation but that had "negligible" effect, engineers said.
   So Goodyear will be bringing back the right-side tires used here last summer. Those tires – only the right-sides are at issue – will arrive from North Carolina Friday night. Approximately 1200 tires will be changed out. Cup teams are also running the same left-side/right-side combination as Nationwide teams. That is also the right-side tire used last year at Kansas and California, Goodyear said.



  Carl Edwards: the hottest driver in NASCAR continues his charge (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, Jack Roush's 1-2 punch, will be at head of the field for Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500 (1 p.m. ET), after dominating a topsy-turvy Friday at Jerry Caldwell's Bristol Motor Speedway.
   And Biffle was clearly upset with Goodyear's decision to change out right-side tires here Friday evening for Sunday's race, after a full day of practice.
    "I haven't seen any indication this tire wouldn't work for the race,"  Biffle said.
    "We don't see any reason to practice (Saturday) because we won't have the right tire. We might just warm up the car, run a few laps and that's it.
   "Goodyear has its hands full. But it'd hard to play that game. We used to have to deal with tire management; we don't have that any more.
   "Back in 2004 and 2005, when I was breaking in, I knew that if you abused your tires, with too much camber or what, you would have to pay a penalty. You knew you had to manage your tires so you'd have something to work with 70 laps in.
   "We don't  have that anymore.
   "It would take a lot to explain how we all got to this point – the new car and all that. It's just the way things have evolved."
   Also preying on Biffle's mind: NASCAR's new points system, which has left him in a bad spot: "I'm only two spots away from having to qualifying with the go-or-go-homers. So yes I'm worried. We had one of the fastest cars at Las Vegas."
   A pit stop miscue cost Biffle; changes have been made to the crew, but Biffle said he didn't know how that might work until Sunday's race.

    Edwards not only had the fastest car in Nationwide practice, and the fastest car in Cup practice and in Cup qualifying. He'll probably win the Nationwide pole Saturday morning. A dream weekend? "Wow, why do you ask that – I'll go back and my motorhome will be on fire," Edwards said with a laugh.
   "I'm enjoying this, I'm having fun. Y'all have seen my up-and-down results over the years."
   And the planned tire swap? "The potential is there to turn this field upside down," Edwards conceded. "The tire is hugely important at a track like this, with the loads on it. There will be some computers burning up tonight to figure out the various possibilities."
    And? "In a way it will be a fun challenge," Edwards said. "I like to have to deal with challenges like that. It will be up to who has the best engineers. People, especially, in the Nationwide race, will really be scrambling."
   Is it the tires here, or the cars? Are the speeds too fast? Is there something more to this dynamic here than meets the eye?

  Team owner Richard Childress (R) and Jeff Burton: What's happened to RC's bunch? Hot at Daytona, they've lost footing....except for newcomer Paul Menard. All strange (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Cup teams will get one set of the new tires for Saturday morning practice; that practice is set to last one hour, 45 minutes. If the new tires do 'rubber in' the track as anticipated, then teams could easily run a 130 laps on the single set of new tires.
   Nationwide teams will start the 300 on the old tires and then switch over the new tires during a 'competition caution' early.
   One major issue teams are now discussing -- the 'old' Bristol right-sides have a softer sidewall than the 'new' tires now being 'recalled. That could significantly affect chassis setups, particularly the angle for the front bumper, which is aerodynamically crucial in the corner.
   Nationwide teams are running the new chassis car-of-tomorrow here, one reason perhaps for a new tire to begin with.
   The new Goodyears were not tested here, though track testing itself has become less an issue the past few years, because of increasingly sophisticated computer simulation programs.   
   "Historically we see high tire wear early here and then it gets better," Goodyear's Rick Campbell said. "We did not see that happening."
   So Campbell is bringing back a tire that he says "is a known quantity."
   "I'm not a tire expert, but the track isn't rubbering in," Kurt Busch said. "The new tire is powdering up. We were cording up the right-rear after 15 laps or so.
   "Goodyear is making the right move in going back to last year's tires."
   Why change tires to begin with?
   NASCAR's Robin Pemberton: "Even though the tires last August the tires were perfect, the teams didn't like the way the track rubbered in, that it was greasy and slick….and they lobbied for us to have more grip, and more fall off and more tire wear.
    "We worked with Goodyear to bring the best tire. And we always have a backup plan. There are tires in the barn anywhere and everywhere we go.
  "The good news is everyone is ready to react in a timely manner.
   "I support the call Goodyear is making. These guys have been watching tires all day. And we'll have (new) tires on the ground tonight to begin mounting."
     "Without the lack of improvement, it was naturally prudent for us to react," Goodyear's Rick Heinrich said. "Generally here at Bristol we see early wear and the track rubbers in."
   Cup teams will get one set of new tires for practice Saturday. "They will have enough tires for the race Sunday," Pemberton said.
   However crews and drivers are not pleased with the turn of events, because they have to practice on tires and setups that will be useless when the race starts. One Cup team -- pointing out that it will have only two 'real' right-side tires for the 1:45 pre-race final practice -- says it wanted NASCAR to reschedule 'Happy Hour' for the Jeff Byrd 500 to immediately following the Nationwide race, so its driver could run on more accurate race conditions. NASCAR, it said, rejected the offer.
    Another crew chief chief complained about Goodyear's tire data --  routinely supplied weekly for each race -- as too inaccurate: "What I am upset about is having to practice for Sunday's race on one tire and setup and then have to race with another tire."
    That anger is vivid in the Nationwide side too -- Nationwide teams had nearly five hours of practice Friday, but all of it on the wrong tires. Not only that, but those teams will have to qualify Saturday on the 'wrong' tire and then race the 'wrong' tire until the first competition yellow.
    It is unclear if Cup teams will get a similar competition yellow Sunday, but it seems likely.

                    Starting lineup for Sunday's Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway





  And how much is NASCAR's new Cup nose affecting tire wear and chassis setups? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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