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Another NASCAR race, another new Goodyear tire setup...and drivers are grumbling

   Goodyear's black magic (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern


    Once again, for the ninth straight week this season, NASCAR crew chiefs and drivers are facing a new tire set-up package, and that's kept them busy tweaking for Saturday night's Richmond 400.
    That's nine-for-nine since the opening Daytona 500, and some drivers and teams are grumbling, some quietly out in the garage, some more loudly.

    Kurt Busch says the frequent tire changes have made it "like Russian Roulette" every week.
    But Matt Kenseth says he goes with the flow: "We all have the same tire, so we all just have to adjust to it."
    One team manager says he wonders if Goodyear isn't simply trying to get rid of excess inventory with the frequent changes.
    Another team manager says he figures Goodyear is changing up things so frequently "just because they can."
    And one top car owner says Goodyear changes things, as something like preventive medicine, any time it gets complaints about a tire setup.
    Some wonder if Goodyear isn't making these changes simply to keep teams off-guard, to keep teams from using their high-tech computer simulation programs to 'cheat' on tires and chassis setups.

   Goodyear's Greg Stucker: cool under pressure. And why are these drivers complaining anyway? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Goodyear's Greg Stucker, however, says he's surprised to hear about the grumbling. He points out teams have had the tire setup handbook since February, so there should be no surprises.
   Here for example Goodyear is using the same tire setup, left-side and right-side, it used at Phoenix two months ago – the same tire setup it tested here last October (Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Regan Smith testing).
   But that's not the tire setup used here in last September's 400; hence team notes are no longer valid.
   However Goodyear, for years, has looked at Richmond, Phoenix and Loudon, N.H., as tracks so similar that it can use essentially the same tire setup at all three.
   Goodyear says this new tire setup, which includes 'softer' right-sides, is designed to give cars more grip. It says teams will race on the same tire set-up at Loudon, N.H., in July. "The left-side construction is a little different, a little more compliant, for more grip," Stucker says. "And the right-side is a different tread compound, for a little more grip."
    So why are teams complaining?
    One thing that may aggravate teams is that the previous Richmond tire setup was used successfully at this track in 2009 and 2010, and the setup was also used at St. Louis' Gateway and Loudon.
   Something new for this season is that teams no longer have to turn tires back in to Goodyear at the end of every race. Teams can take their unused tires home and test with them, at any non-NASCAR track at least. How that may be playing into all this is unclear.

  You want tires? Goodyear makes thousands for NASCAR teams (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Using up inventory? "How can we be using up inventory when we're running a new package?" Stucker ask rhetorically.
   "We tested this package here last fall, with the intention of running it here and Phoenix and Loudon. We were going to deviate with the compound slightly for Loudon (which has sharper corners), but this package seems to be a good marriage so we're going to run the same package all three."
   Goodyear, ever since the tire problems at Indianapolis in 2008, has been on a major tire development and testing program, extensively testing. Two weeks ago Goodyear tested at Dover, for next week's race. And next week Goodyear will test at Indianapolis.
   Of the Indianapolis test Stucker says "We're just trying to keep up with the race track. To see how the track has changed. We were very happy with what we had there last year. We had some encouraging things in last year's setup, but it unbalanced the race car; the lefts didn't match up with the rights."
   On race days this season there have been relatively few tire issues, except at Bristol and Martinsville, where issues were prominent.


  Kurt Busch (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   This is what teams have faced this season:
   At Talladega, the last tour stop two weeks ago, teams had a new right-side tire, but the same left-side used at that track since 2009. That new setup was the same setup used at Daytona in February; the setup was tested "extensively" at Talladega last August and twice at Daytona, in December and January. The new right-sides were also used at Las Vegas March 6th. Las Vegas is considered one of the toughest tracks on the tour on tires.
   At Texas teams had a new right-side, paired with the 2010 left-side; that combination was used at Homestead in last fall's season finale.
   At Martinsville teams had new left-sides and new right-sides; the left-side was "tougher," the right-side was "softer." Teams complained about those tires, but Sunday's race was relatively uneventful.
   At California teams ran the 2010 left-sides but had a new right-side; that setup will be used at Kansas in June.
   At Bristol Goodyear came with a tire setup that didn't work, that didn't 'rubber up' the track, so the tire company brought in last year's tires for the 500, which went off uneventfully.
   At Las Vegas drivers had a new left-side tire and a new right-side (the new Daytona 500 right-side); the new left-side was to give cars "more grip," while the new right-side featured "a minor construction change to bring it into line with what is run at other mile-and-a-half tracks."
   At Phoenix teams had a new left-side/right-side setup, developed at the October test at Richmond; the new setup, with a softer right-side, was designed to give cars more grip.
   At Daytona, on the new asphalt, Goodyear brought what it termed a "hybrid" setup, with the long-time Talladega left-sides (since 2009) paired with a new right-side, actually the Las Vegas right-side.

   Carl Edwards' take on it all:
  "I quit asking what tires were on the car, or if NASCAR changed them or not, because it seems like they change them every time we come to the race track.
  "It is easy to get lost when you focus on stuff like that too much.
   "As a driver I focus on getting my car set up and working the best it can. I know it is a challenge…when you come back to a track and the tires are different and what you had before (for a setup) isn't even close.
    "There is a lot that goes into trying to predict how things are going to be with new tires. As a driver I just go drive the thing as fast as it will go and try not to focus too much on that other stuff. I used to pay a little bit more attention and it just didn't seem to help me.
    "It is important to understand it…but if you get mad about it, it doesn't help."
    And, heck, Goodyear brought a new tire package to Nashville Speedway for last weekend's Nationwide race…and Edwards was the winner.


  Carl Edwards didn't have any problems with the new tire package at Nashville last weekend. OBTW, if you want this victory guitar, Edwards is auctioning it off for charity. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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