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Goodyear's new 17-inch NASCAR tire looks good in debut runs, and more testing now planned this fall

  Goodyear racing boss Stu Grant (L), with three-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   Goodyear's Stu Grant, the veteran racing boss, says this week's first on-track test of the proposed new 17-inch NASCAR racing tire-and-wheel, at Richmond International Raceway, was a success, and he is planning a second test in later this fall, probably at Phoenix International Raceway (where the Sprint Cup tour races Nov. 15, providing a good baseline).
   "We got it on the ground for the first time, and we plan to put it on a short track, like Phoenix, sometime later this year, before January 1st," Grant said. "And then we will sit down with NASCAR and say 'Okay, here we are looking at 2010….and how aggressive do we want to be with this thing?'"
    Grant said "We don't have a firm timetable for implementation" of the new tire in NASCAR racing. "And obviously NASCAR is in step with us in this whole process."
   But Grant made very clear the 17-inch tire concept was a decided plus for Goodyear: "This helps us out everywhere. The durability is better, so it gives us more margin. The tires run cooler, and that gives us more margin too, from a heat standpoint. Tread-wear is going to be better, because you have the bigger footprint.
   "And from a handling standpoint, I think the drivers are going to like it."
    Paul Menard and Travis Kvapil tested the new, larger tires in Jack Roush Fords, against baseline runs on Goodyear's current 15-inch NASCAR tires.
   "Travis said the 17-inch was very similar to the 15-inch from a handling standpoint," Grant said. "Paul thought it was more forgiving and easier to drive; that you could get back in the throttle quicker.
   "The nice thing is it ran cooler. So with a bigger footprint on the ground, more rubber, that's nice, because that gives us some room to play with, from a compound standpoint.
    "There is no timetable (for using it on the Cup tour). We're just doing all the development work up-front, so when NASCAR wants to make some changes to the car, we'll be ready with the 17-inch tire.
   "Our lead time (for manufacturing) is so long, because of all the building-machine modifications we will have to do, in order to build these things and cure them, in the volume we need to support this.
   "So we'll go through 2010 working on that part of the manufacturing process, to give us the capability to get bigger and bigger and bigger volume."

   NASCAR's Robin Pemberton, head of competition for the sport, was at Richmond for the test of the new, larger tire (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Another issue here is the larger tire requires some chassis changes to make the tire fit under the fenders -- and keeping those changes to a minimum – economically as well as technically – may be the biggest challenge.
   "We've got to manage that piece of it," Grant conceded. "That's the huge piece of it. And we all recognize that's the huge piece of it, and certainly we don't want to deliver something that is difficult for these guys to swallow.
   "We're working with Roush to try to make it as easy as possible. Obviously it's everyone's concern that we avoid having something that is a big expense to change over to."
   Still, the key so far is that the test confirmed the theory that a larger tire would run cooler and offer more grip. The possibility of a new larger tire was raised two years ago before the introduction of the car-of-tomorrow (COT) in Sprint Cup racing. The COT does not handle as well as the long-standard NASCAR Cup car, because it has less downforce and a higher center-of-gravity.


    After a rocky 2008 season in NASCAR, Goodyear engineers are back on their A-game this season, proving the value of heavy testing (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



If this new tire allows them

If this new tire allows them to race far harder, it's good. If it helps more teams and drivers win, it's even better. I'm expecting this new tire to do both.

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