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Yes, Michigan is fast, extremely fast, but NASCAR's Robin Pemberton is confident the Michigan 400 will come off smoothly

Yes, Michigan is fast, extremely fast, but NASCAR's Robin Pemberton is confident the Michigan 400 will come off smoothly

NASCAR's Robin Pemberton: confident (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Yes, racing is the art of dealing very quickly with difficult situations, and then getting on down the road to the next track.
   And this tire deal here is a classic case.
   So Goodyear's Greg Stucker gets credit for his handling of the unusual, and unexpected tire situation here.
  NASCAR's Robin Pemberton was quick Saturday to back up Stucker's decision to withdraw the new Michigan left-side tires and haul in a new batch of left-sides for Sunday's Michigan 400.
    Despite this weekend's glitch – the rash of blistered left-sides at these extreme speeds – Pemberton and Stucker both seem extremely confident that this, the fastest race in NASCAR history, will come off well Sunday afternoon.
    "The weather (hot) has put us in a little bit of a box, but we feel comfortable with Goodyear that they're pulling the right tire out of the barn and we'll have good left-sides for the race," Pemberton says.
    In sport, confidence can be critical.


   Goodyear's Greg Stucker: the buck stops here. Will Goodyear's 'new' left-sides solve the problem? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Pemberton repeated NASCAR's plans of not making any engine or transmission changes or aerodynamic changes to accommodate the sensational speeds here.
    "It's about tires....and you can't make changes like that on the fly," Pemberton said. "We're here with a tire issue, and you have to work on the tire issue. If you make other changes, and stray off course, you are going into uncharted waters....and the chances of hitting a home run there are far and few between."


   Jimmie Johnson: carefully monitoring Saturday's Nationwide race. Tires and extreme speeds are a major concern (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    But there is a big picture to consider here....Monday, after the race.   
    And considering NASCAR's grueling summer run, just underway -- from Dover, Del., to Pocono, Pa., to Michigan, to Sonoma, Calif., to Kentucky, to Daytona, to New Hampshire, back-to-back-to-back  -- well, maybe someone should have spent a little more time thinking about just how to squeeze in enough testing and practice for, oh, the fastest race in NASCAR history....here this weekend.
   The Sprint Cup tour is a whirlwind, yes, with only two off-weekends. And you'd better have a fast plane and some fast truckers too.
   Still, this Sunday's Michigan 400 has been set up for months now as the fastest race in NASCAR history, with sizzling 215 mph speeds, and there is the feeling at the moment that a little more preparation, maybe an extra day or two of testing, would have been judicious.
   Trying to squeeze this momentous event, and all the anticipated angst of these speeds, sustained speed remember, with just an extra Thursday at the track....well, in hindsight, clearly more testing and practice was needed.
    Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick led Saturday's 200-plus mph qualifying parade, taking the front row for the 400.
    But all these guys practiced for two days on tires they won't be racing. And they got a brief 75-minute extra practice session Saturday evening on the new tires – about 18 hours before the green.
   Things probably could have been handled a lot better here.


   Kyle Busch: watching things very, very carefully. Straightaway speeds of 220 mph will keep your attention (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Pemberton says the tire change was Goodyear's call, though it was almost certainly a joint decision.
   On a cooler weekend Goodyear's original plan would likely have been spot-on, as it was at Pocono just days ago.
   But it's been nearly 90 degrees here, blazing sun, and things out on the track just haven't gone as expected. Speeds, instead of slowing down, have been getting much faster.
    Questions, questions....
    Will Sunday's race pace indeed be 200-mph, as Greg Biffle predicts?
    Are the tires really only 'good enough' for sustained speeds of about 192, as some crew chiefs suggest?


   Michigan's spiffy new asphalt: a great repaving job...but speeds are extreme. Did NASCAR and Goodyear get too complacent? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
   Pemberton and Goodyear's Greg Stucker have both been remarkably cool and calm in handling the situation.
   "Goodyear are the tire guys, they're the experts. We met with them several times over the course of Friday," Pemberton said.
    "There was a time when we felt that scuffing the tires, to harden them up, would be sufficient. But as the day went on, the grip level continued to increase, speeds continued to increase. And early Friday evening the trigger was pulled, to pull that left-side off, and put another left-side on for the race.
    "The new tire should have a little less grip, and that should decrease some of the speeds."
     With the (old) left-sides blistering, Pemberton said that would naturally cause the left-side tires to lose grip, and that in turn could overload the right-side tires....and then the right-sides could either lose air or blister.

  Regardless....there will be a winner Sunday. Just like Joey Logano winning Saturday's Nationwide 250 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Pemberton pointed out that in situations like this, teams don't go first to NASCAR, but rather they go straight to Goodyear.
"Goodyear circled up with a number of drivers and crew chiefs after Friday practice, and they decided to change the recommendation," Pemberton said.
    "The tire (the new left-side) we're bringing is a known to the crew chiefs; they've run this time in the past. Goodyear has sent out all the data on the tire, and many of the teams were running the simulation data last night and into the morning, to get ready for the Saturday test.
    "It's a little bit of everything – the speeds, the grip levels. Everyone was happy with the way the cars handled.
    "But as teams got 15 or 20 laps into a run, we would see some blistering."
    Greg Biffle's late Friday practice run at nearly 205 mph was amazing.
    How much speed, if any, the new, harder left-sides will show is unclear.
   "This is a little harder compound," Pemberton says. "Therefore it should reduce some of the speed, and it should be more durable."


  Greg Biffle (L) and crew chief Matt Puccia. "I'm not a tire specialist, but taking a tire from 2007, blowing the dust off it, and putting it on a car running 200 mph might not be the best," Biffle says of the new left-sides for Sunday's Michigan 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The decision to change tires was made after Goodyear talked at length with the various teams, to reach a consensus.
    "You couldn't do this without the cooperation of a lot of folks in here...when you start to discuss these things with the teams," Pemberton said. "The openness in the garage is unparalleled.
    "That helps us make very good decisions.
   "Goodyear came up here in April (for the big tire test). Doing repaves, it's very difficult to get a proper test in, and then get the tires developed, and then come back to run the race. It's all about timing....and you're looking at 60-day windows (on building the 3,000 or so tires needed for a particular race)
     "When they tested, it was cold, and speeds weren't nearly as fast as the last 48 hours. They built a great tire; but you can't battle what the weather will bring you from time to time.
     "Goodyear is doing the best job they've done in the history of the sport. They're bringing the tires with the most grip and the best and fastest tire they can every week....this is just a different situation that came up.
    "The tires were perfectly matched (to the track) for a particular speed.
     "It was a surprise even to the teams how much the speeds increased from the morning to the afternoon. Actually the speeds have increased six mph from the (April) test. And the testing conditions were actually better for speeds, with the cooler weather.
    "You would have to ask the Goodyear engineers about the phenomenon that just took place...."
     Goodyear is expected to have another major tire test here before the August 400; that test would of course be best run the day after this 400, to take advantage of the rubber already on the track and the baseline performance of the current setups.
      A lot of tires......(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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