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Goodyear's Charlotte tire test: So where were Kurt and Kyle Busch?


In the car-of-tomorrow Carl Edwards is king (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   Bad news for any drivers and crew chiefs hoping for some technological relief from the engineering nightmare that is the increasingly infamous car-of-tomorrow – NASCAR officials, despite weak on-track competition at both California and Atlanta, and weak crowds and still sluggish TV ratings, are pressing on with their proposed car-of-tomorrow for the Nationwide series.
   And there appear to be no plans to make life any easier for Cup drivers.
   Why NASCAR is continuing down this road, in the face of fan resistance, is unclear.
   And any driver will tell you the more comfortable he is in a race car the harder he will race.
   This is the situation:
   -- NASCAR's Trucks are the easiest vehicles to race (perhaps because they have more front bumper clearance to the asphalt) and those drivers typically put on the best racing.
   -- NASCAR's Nationwide cars – of venerable design -- are similarly much easier to drive than the Sprint Cup cars-of-tomorrow, and Nationwide drivers also put on good races (in part perhaps because their engines only put out about 630 horsepower, some 200 horsepower less than Cup engines).
   -- NASCAR's Cup cars are the most difficult to drive (in part because the chassis' shock-spring combination goes to zero in the corners, when the car hits its 'bump-stops,' in order to improve aerodynamics). Even in their 'fourth generation' these cars typically draw complaints from drivers and crews…and privately from Goodyear engineers who have to deal with the technical issues.
   And attendance at Cup races has been going down, and TV ratings are not that impressive anymore, and email from fans points to the car itself as an issue for them – which promoter Bruton Smith agrees with.
   However NASCAR officials appear determined to promote their agenda of 'less downforce,' to make it more difficult for Cup drivers to race side by side.
   So teams are relying on Goodyear to come up with something to help them out. And what Goodyear did bring to Las Vegas three weeks ago was an excellent choice of tires.
   This week's testing with that tire design at Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway for the May All-star event and the 600 appeared to back up the race-worthiness of the Vegas tire design.
   Plus, Goodyear is continuing to study a move to larger tires and wheels: either 16-inch wheels or 17-inch wheels, slightly larger than the current 15-inch wheels, and perhaps a wider tread than the current 11 inches. That could make for better handling.
   The four men testing at Charlotte for Goodyear: rookie Marcos Ambrose (Toyota), Kasey Kahne (Dodge), Paul Menard (Ford), and Jimmie Johnson (Chevrolet).
   Johnson: "I'm very encouraged by this tire, and talking with engineers they plan to run this tire a lot more and start working it in.
   "It was new in Las Vegas, but hopefully this is a tire we can use at a lot of places, to bring some stability back.
    "There's a lot of speed out there right now (with the tire at Charlotte), and with comfort comes speed. That's really what it boils down to."
   Since the COT was introduced in 2007, the sport's intermediate tracks (1-1/2 to two miles) have been dominated by Jack Roush men, notable Carl Edwards (with seven wins last year). Kyle Busch has won three times at those tracks (not including Darlington, Dover or Phoenix). Johnson has won twice (in 2007). Kasey Kahne has won once, and so have Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (though Earnhardt's win at Michigan last summer was on a gas mileage gambit). This year Roush's Matt Kenseth won at California, Roger Penske's Kurt Busch has won at Atlanta, and Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas.
   There is clearly a pattern here: principally that Jeff Gordon – who has won more than twice as many Cup races over his career than anyone else on the tour today – is winless.
   Teammate Johnson's COT wins last season included mid-sized track victories at California and Kansas City, short-track victories at Phoenix (twice), Richmond and Martinsville, and at 2-1/2-mile-square Indianapolis.

Differences Between The Classes

While the Trucks and Nationwide (BGN) cars have generally been racier than the COT cars, the competitive level they need to reach - racing like we saw in the final eight or so laps at Atlanta but for the depth of the race, the kind of racing we see with the Modifieds at Loudon - simply isn't there. The ennui the COT cars have is obvious, but all of NASCAR's touring classes have been suffering through it for decades.

630 horsepower for the BGN cars is obviously lower than COT but is still nearly 200 too high; we've long seen that 450 horsepower (500 at the absolute peak) is enough for good racing.

The Trucks have the most downforce of the three classes so the racing, when they get at it, has been good, though still not enough to my liking. The gapped airdam the Trucks have (idential to what the COTs have) is a manifest contributor to aeropush and this hurts the racing.

As far as tires go, Goodyear won't get it right until they go through with this widening that's supposed to happen either next year or after that.

Ennui? Hey, bringing out the

Ennui? Hey, bringing out the big guns, aren't we? So why not plates everywhere? Or why not have a Monday test after some of these races and put plates on the cars? Why should all the pressure be on Goodyear? Why can't NASCAR simply concede it made a big mistake with the COT and start to fix it? Let's add two inches to the nose of the Cup cars, take off that silly snowplow bumper thing, let the cars travel, get rid of the bumpstops (what a stupid engineering idea), and put more downforce on these cars, and let the drivers race? why is that so hard for NASCAR to accept. Or maybe NASCAR is willing to accept empty grandstands and slumping TV ratings? Isn't Jim France checking out all this stuff? Isn't his desk where the buck stops?

The Guns Of Navarone

I like to bring out the big guns, Mike. I got them from a couple of guys named Gregory Peck and David Niven from some island near Greece.

Seriously, you're right that the onus shouldn't be entirely on Goodyear - I badmouth them a lot because they've screwed up quite a bit, but with the COT the tire issues we've seen over the years have been aggravated badly. The stubbornness of NASCAR here is mind-boggling, especially as we both remember how quickly Billy France would move if something really wrong was happening, such as with all those spoiler increases in the early 1990s that helped make the racing better.

Thank you again, Mike.

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