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After all the angst and blistered tires and worried drivers, all in all Goodyear came out of Sunday's Michigan 400 in pretty decent shape

After all the angst and blistered tires and worried drivers, all in all Goodyear came out of Sunday's Michigan 400 in pretty decent shape

Clint Bowyer's crew checking tires during Sunday's Michigan 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   BROOKLYN, Mich.
   Yes, there were blistered tires, and on the toughest tire Goodyear carries in its arsenal. But no tire failures.
   And Goodyear's Greg Stucker was somewhat relieved that, all in all, Sunday's Michigan 400 came off without any serious tire incidents, considering all the pre-race angst and limited practice on race setups at these record-breaking speeds at newly repaved Michigan International Raceway.
    To put the scene here in perspective:
   The old track qualifying record at this two-mile oval, before the repave, was a 194 mph average, 37-second laps. Sunday's leaders were running sustained 37.3-second laps for 30 and 40 laps at a stretch.
    To put it bluntly, these guys were flying. And at these speeds – sustained speeds never seen on a two-mile track before – generated tremendous heat in the tires, causing the blisters.
    At one point Tony Stewart hit 215 mph at the fastest part of the straight, even on the more conservative tire setup Goodyear went with for the 400 after two days of blistering tires. And that's not far off the fastest mark of the weekend, 220 mph by Greg Biffle late Friday afternoon on the straight.


   A little morning rain.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    When Goodyear's original left-side tire here began blistering on several cars after 15 or 20 laps in Thursday and Friday afternoon heat (nearly 90 degrees), Stucker decided to bring in a more conservative left-side, the code 4020s from the 2006 Charlotte repave.
    Goodyear's right-sides are the toughest tires the company makes, the Talladega-Las Vegas right-sides. And they had shown no particular issues in the days leading up to the 400.
    However the more conservative left-sides used Sunday had much less grip, and that in effect made the right-sides have to work even harder (although overall lap speeds fell by some five to six mph in the race itself). And those right-sides proved troublesome in the 400. Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson were among the drivers blistering right-sides.
   Marcos Ambrose, one of the day's most aggressive drivers, once wore his left-front tire down to the cords, but that tire had 91 laps – 180 miles – on it.


  A little too much excitement for Denny Hamlin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "No tire failures, just a lot of blistered right-side tires," Stucker said. "We think a lot of that was aggravated by high air pressures that some teams were running. We talked with teams all week about running elevated pressures....and you could see that it was the centerlines that were blistered on the right-side tires.
   "But we didn't get any indication of blisters among guys who were running in the lower range of air pressures."
   Some teams looked at the new left-sides, as hard as they were, and tried to run two stops without changing them. Ambrose was one of those, and Stucker said that particular tire "just wore out.
    "That was the only one we saw like that."
    Drivers were screaming "Loose, loose!' throughout the race. And that of course works the right-rear particularly hard.
    With the original left-right combination drivers had expressed no such problems, even praising the feel of the tire and the car at these extreme speeds.
    For the August 19th Sprint Cup race here Stucker says he will have a new left-side tire, but probably the same right-sides. And testing has to be held here in the next few weeks, because  production of the 3,000 or so tires NASCAR requires each race weekend, takes a long time, because each tire is made by hand.


   After the rain....a great day at the track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "It will be tight, getting it all turned around," Stucker says of testing and preparation for the August race.
    All in all, Stucker says, for the speeds involved here, things went rather well: "Running sustained speeds right at the old track record....
   "That's pretty fast.
   "Obviously we'll have to come back and test. We were happy with the original left-side; this one is probably a little too conservative, more conservative than we want.
   "The right-sides are about the toughest we've got, so there is a good chance that's the tire we'll come back with...and try to give it a little bit of help with the left-sides.
   "We'll go back and pore over the data."
   It was not only the speeds but also the higher ambient temps that created the difficult situation.
   Thursday, Friday and Saturday temperatures here were close to 90 degrees. The temperatures for the early April test were in the high 60s. Sunday's race high was 82 degrees, after morning showers.


   Uh, guys, it's fast and slick. You're not supposed to be three-wide (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Stucker said he had no second-guessing about not sticking with the original left-sides. "When you're blistering tires in 10 to 15 laps, and scuffing didn't get it to where it needed to be, so it was absolutely the right call we made...and gave us that more margin to race."
     Winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Goodyear's changing the left-sides made the race cars "a real handful, especially around other cars. When they changed the tire, it took away a ton of mechanical grip.
    "So the car really relies a lot on the aero grip from that point on, and when you get around other people, you lose that.  
    "When you have no mechanical and no aero, the car is a real tricky thing to get through the corner.
    "You've got to be careful whenever cars are around you, because that changes how the air is displaced from your car. You've got to know where if a guy is on your right-rear quarter panel, and how that's going to change the aerodynamics on your car, versus a guy being out in front of your car.


   Got to hand it to Kurt Busch: he wasn't backing off (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "I was really disappointed -- not that they changed the tire, but that we were going through the process.  I know everybody was.  I know NASCAR was... and Goodyear was probably disappointed.  
   "We worked a couple of days getting the thing to work with what we brought here.  Then we were thrown into a deal where we had about an hour to figure it out.
    "But our motor tuner would not let us run more than 25 laps (in Saturday final practice). I told Steve "What if my car is junk?"
    "He just said "We can't practice no more."  That's how strict a deal it is.  
      "I was desperate in that last practice to get something to work... and when it ended I still wasn't really sure if we were where we needed to be. And I woke up this morning just antsy not knowing how this was going to play out.
    "I felt we might be getting ready to have a difficult race.
     "It turned out to be the exact opposite... for whatever reason.  
     "We got to put on a race without any problems, without any tire problems.
      "But we'll probably have to tire test here again and figure out something a little bit better than this -- because this definitely ain't the answer."

  Tires. Scuffs here, in Kyle Busch's pits. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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