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Jeff Gordon puts his seal of approval on Goodyear's new Indy 400 tires

Jeff Gordon says this summer's Indy 400 will be a great one: 'I guarantee it.' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   NASCAR's car-of-tomorrow/today has created numerous problems, for drivers, crews and Goodyear engineers, in the year or so since its introduction, and that may be part of the reason for last summer's 'perfect storm' at Indianapolis' Brickyard 400.
   The new car handles very awkwardly, and it puts a lot of pressure on the right-side tires, which has made things troublesome to say the least.
   NASCAR has steadfastly refused to make any changes to the car to make it work better, and crews say that NASCAR has been putting the heat on Goodyear to solve all the problems with the new car.
    Ford's Doug Yates, for one, says NASCAR could help solve some of the problems by taking horsepower out of the cars and slowing speeds. Yates called the 215 mph corner entry speeds last weekend at Michigan International Speedway "ridiculous."
   Whatever NASCAR may eventually do may depend in large part on how well the upcoming Brickyard 400 comes off.
   Last summer's 400 – one of this sport's biggest races – was a fiasco, with tires wearing to the cords in just 10 laps.
   "This is an incredibly important race to motorsports in general, and to all the companies involved, especially Goodyear," Jeff Gordon says.
  "Last year was something that none of us wanted to see.
   "I just really hate that Goodyear took so much of the blame, because this track is extremely abrasive. This (new) car we've seen wears tires more.
    "There are a lot of things that contributed to what happened.
    "Unfortunately Goodyear took the brunt of it. And because none of the other things changed (NASCAR has made no changes to the car itself, and Tony George has made no change to the track surface), Goodyear had to really work hard to come up with the compound and this tire. 
    "I give them a lot of credit for taking that on head-on and resolving it.
    "It is important to have a good race. A lot of fans travel from all over to come to this race, and we know how many people are watching at home.
    "This is an important event. And we want to go out there and put the race on the best race we possibly can.
    "I'm confident this year we're going to be able to do that."
   This time, after extensive testing, and multi-car testing, Goodyear says it expects its tires to go a normal fuel stop at Indianapolis, which is about 32 laps.
   Gordon is positive about the results that he's seen in the Goodyear tests.
   And Goodyear's Greg Stucker says the whole thing – an 11-month project – has taught Goodyear a lot about the new race car and the quirky Indy track.
   "When we left last year, we said it's kind of a little bit of everything," Stucker said of that disaster.
   "We needed to understand exactly how the car acts on this racetrack. 
    "That's kind of really what it was -- the new car runs at a little bit different attitude (including yaw in the corners, and even yaw on the straights), it wore the tires a little bit differently….created that fine, dusty particle that we've talked about.
    "Once we had an understanding of that, we went to work on how we make the tire package right for the car and the racetrack."

Tires were a major issue at last year's Indy NASCAR 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Gordon, after two days of testing this week, says "I'm very pleased with the results. 
    "I was very surprised to see how much rubber was (still) on the track yesterday (Monday) when I arrived….and to see how the tires are reacting, from a grip level, with the car, as well as how it's wearing the tire, and the heat in the tire. 
   "Everything looks great for the Brickyard 400 to go out there and run hard…and tire wear is not even going to be in the back of our minds."
    Well, take that with a grain of salt.
   Drivers went to Indy last summer confident too. 
   Still Gordon was effusive in his praise that Goodyear has done "an excellent job.
    "All the hard work, effort, time, money that's been spent to make it right…
    "A lot of teams have put in a lot of laps to get it to where it is today."
    Tire fall-off in speed over a run will probably be an issue, Gordon says, even though fall-off hasn't been seen much this season, for whatever reason.
    "I like to see falloff," Gordon says. "And even with as great as this tire is, this track is so abrasive that you're going to have fall-off.
    "I saw fall-off. And I like the grip level from the beginning, and I liked how it does gradually fall off. 
    "It's not a huge drop. But I felt it was enough to make the racing really, really good."

Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, won the pit road battle each time last summer to win the Brickyard 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Why Believe Goodyear Now?

They've never gotten it right - last year's fiasco was extreme, but it was also typical of Goodyear ineptitude over the years they've had the exclusive contract, an exclusive contract that isn't supposed to be there at all but stays in large part because of the myths about tire wars that get perpetuated.

The last time I saw a race where Goodyear got it right was the National 500 at Charlotte in 2000 - that was the weekend where Goodyear nearly ran out of tires, yet the tires they had held up so well there was an actual thriller of a race - 46 lead changes, a number not seen at Charlotte since May 1988. And it was in every way the exception that proved the rule about Goodyear.

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