The world center of racing will have new asphalt for next season's Daytona 500...but what will Goodyear have for tires? Time may be critical. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
-- The just-announced Daytona 500 test in mid-January, on that new asphalt;
-- A pre-race test at Kentucky Speedway, which will be new to the Cup tour next summer;
-- and a possible test at Phoenix International Raceway, if that track is repaved following the Feb. 27th Cup race.
Goodyear would like to do a tire test on the new Daytona surface in December, but it's unclear when that new asphalt project will be completed. Daytona officials are still shooting for a Jan. 1st finish.
Team owners here say if Goodyear can't get a December test in, the tire maker will have to use some type or version of tires from its current inventory, because the volume of tires Goodyear will have to have for SpeedWeeks is enormous – 6,000 tires, each made by hand. So much of Goodyear's early-season inventory has to be in production starting this fall.
Stu Grant, Goodyear's racing boss, says "We know that we've got to be ready by the 20th of January and be there (at Daytona) with a lot of tires, and hopefully our race tire.
"Based on our Talladega tests (that track was just repaved in 2006 ), we're going to start building tires the last week of October. Hopefully that will be our race tire.
"If we run into any issues – which we don't expect -- we'll have time to react to that. Chances are it would be a right-side tire only situation, and we could rebuild rights if we need to.
Goodyear's Stu Grant: Would like a major mid-December tire test at Daytona, if the repaving project is finished in time....by the end of November (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
"We've done the imaging of the new Daytona surface, and compared it to Talladega, and Charlotte and Las Vegas, and it's very similar," Grant says, referring to other recent NASCAR tour repaving projects. "So I think we're on the right track, using Talladega as a baseline for Daytona.
"If we can get on the Daytona track earlier than Jan. 20th, if we can get on there in mid-December, we'll get that data point with a tire test."
Talladega of course has been a quite different track than Daytona: Talladega is wide, and it's been a no-lift-the-gas place, where Daytona – with it's old bumps and tighter corners – has been very much a handling track.
How much different the two tracks will be now, as the tires themselves see it, remains to be seen.
"We'll have (for Daytona) a couple different variations of the Talladega tire," Grant says. "But the Talladega tire (itself) is pretty darned close.
"We think we have it surrounded."
If Daytona's asphalt has cured well enough by mid-December for a Goodyear tire test, Grant says "We'll do what we've done at Indianapolis and other tracks – we'll invite every team.
"If we're able to get on the track in December.....
"Three weeks is about the right number (for asphalt curing prior to testing)....but we still can't get on the track until they get the Safer (soft wall) barrier in, and apron finished, all those little things you might not think about. We need for it to be safe enough to put cars out there."
Goodyear won't be the only tire company making tires for Daytona. The 24 Hours is Jan. 29th, and the tire supplier is Hoosier/Continental.
And the motorcycles have to test too, for March Bike Week.
When will the Daytona asphalt project be ready? It's been going on for 14 weeks now.
Daytona executives are being careful in what they say about that, for some reason. But Grant says, just moments after talking about just that with new Daytona boss Joie Chitwood, "they're telling us the first of January...but they also say they're ahead of schedule....so I'm like you, trying to read between the lines.
"So I told Joie 'If we can get on the track in mid-December, just make that phone call and we'll be ready for a tire test, to get that data point."
However to be ready for a tire test in mid-December, given the three-week curing time, would mean the paving needs to be finished by around Thanksgiving.
"That's right, exactly – they'd have to be through by the last week of November, or mid-November," Grant says.
New asphalt for Daytona 2011: how will it change the racing? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)