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Is there rain in the Glen forecast? Goodyear and NASCAR may secretly hope so....for Saturday's Nationwide race

  Remember last summer's rain-soaked NASCAR race at Montreal? Well everybody learned something...(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Let it rain!
   Let it pour!
   Okay, don't let it pour, but rain – on Saturday, not Sunday – would be quite interesting here…because Goodyear has a brand new, high-tech stock car rain tire for the NASCAR Nationwide teams.
   After last summer's almost bizarre rainy Nationwide race at Montreal, where virtually no one was prepared to race in the rain, NASCAR teams and Goodyear are both better prepared for Saturday's possibility of rain here in the Finger Lakes.
   In fact the new-generation NASCAR rain tire that Goodyear unloaded here – 600 of them for Nationwide teams, none for Cup – even looks quite high-tech, with carbon-fiber in the sidewalls, and a new tread design.
    And these new-generation rain tires were tested by Juan Pablo Montoya no less at Goodyear's test track, with him offering specific improvements, which Goodyear has added.
   When NASCAR first had Goodyear build rain tires for the Cup teams, it was in the mid-1990s when NASCAR took all the Cup teams to Japan for some exhibition races, and it was important for those events to be run without postponement. And qualifying for one of the events was held in the rain, on rain tires, thought that race itself was run in the dry.
    For years NASCAR required Cup teams to haul a set of rain tires to both Sonoma and the Glen, though they were only used briefly during one practice session here. The past several years rain tires vanished from the NASCAR Cup scene. And there are no plans for Cup teams to race in the rain.
    However last summer's Montreal Nationwide race was run in the rain, albeit with more than a little controversy.
    But the rain tires used at Montreal were Goodyear's original rain tires, eight-year-old models, certainly not fresh rubber like these new ones.
   That wasn't the only problem for NASCAR's Montreal teams; most didn't really have their cars rain-ready, and moisture on the interior of the windshield was a major problem.
   "We're all much better prepared now," Mark Reno, crew chief for Ryan Newman on the Nationwide side this weekend, says.
   "And that's good, because the forecast Saturday is for rain."
   Well, maybe 30 percent chance for rain. But then up here storms can crop up any time.
   Newman isn't the only Sprint Cup driver also in a Nationwide car here. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, David Ragan, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards, Joe Nemechek, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Dave Blaney and Scott Speed are also entered in Saturday's Zippo 200.
   "Montreal obviously trained us all to what we need to do," Reno said. "It won't be a pretty deal to do, but having a new rain tire will be huge, because those Montreal rain tires were hard as rocks.
   "You need windshield wipers and tail lights, and you can put a film on the inside of the windshield so you can run blowers up there. It was pretty hard to keep the inside of the windows clean.
   "You'd like some real soft shocks and springs, and take the swaybar off, and then ride.
   "At Montreal we were absolutely not prepared. Our rain tires were on our backup, in the truck, so we had to unload that and get them. And our windshield wipers didn't work.
   "If we run in the rain here, I imagine Ron Fellows (the veteran road racer and occasional NASCAR racer) will whip on 'em pretty good, because he knows how to run in the rain. Most of these other guys don't know how to run in the rain. For example, you don't want to race in the groove – you run out of the groove, because there's no oil there. You go to the best part of the track to get grip."
   What NASCAR might do, if it does rain, is still up in the air, because there are various degrees of rain – slightly wet, more wet, downpour. Each has its own demands.
   "NASCAR didn't have any trouble calling for us to race in the rain at Montreal," Reno noted. "Now here they may double-think it, because this place is pretty high-speed.
   "And Montreal didn't go all that well…
   "But these tires will probably make a huge difference.
    "Of course we have a better opportunity to come back on Monday and race (if Saturday has rain); at Montreal nobody wanted to have to come back."
   Goodyear's star NASCAR engineer, veteran Rick Campbell, says the call to run in the rain or not is up to NASCAR, but he says this new rain tire is race-ready…for either Cup or     Nationwide.
   "I'm not aware of any aggressive plan for using them on the Cup side," Campbell says. "But for the Nationwide guys the precedent (Montreal) has been set."
   Goodyear's Rick Heinrich says "the tires are available for use at NASCAR's discretion. But it's only for the Nationwide series, not Cup."
   These rain tires of course could easily be bolted on Cup cars too.
   These NASCAR rain tires are based on Goodyear's Eagle F1 tread pattern, "with our latest 'wet' technology," Campbell says.
   "We feel this is an upgraded tire design and construction package, which will be an improvement, if they use them.
   "We used our 'predictive' tools to design the tire, and then we took Juan Pablo Montoya over to our San Angelo, Texas, test track, with controlled water depth. And he did a very productive test for us…and showed us a few things we needed to adjust and tune, and we did.
   "And here it is."
   So are Campbell and Heinrich hoping for rain Saturday? They both laughed. "I'm not sure we're 'hoping' for rain,  but it would  be interesting," Heinrich said.
   So if it's okay for NASCAR's Nationwide tour drivers to race in the rain, why isn't it also okay for Cup drivers to race in the rain. "I think it's more about the fans," Newman says. "Racing in the rain isn't as good as racing when it's dry."
    And Newman concedes rain Saturday would put him at a disadvantage in the Nationwide race, "because I've never raced in the rain."

   Rain tires. Goodyear has a new design and new compounds....and the new-generation is ready here at Watkins Glen this weekend. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Scott Pruett, the well-known road racer vying for the Grand American title this season, has raced both NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Nationwide events, and he was on the pole last summer at NASCAR's Montreal stop.
   Pruett says there's no reason NASCAR's Cup series couldn't race Watkins Glen or any road course in the rain on rain tires: "Yes, absolutely.
  "There is no reason they couldn't do that. And I know they originally looked at that.
  "The biggest question, from the drivers' standpoint, is the fact that only a very few Cup drivers have any experience racing in the rain.
  "And it just makes for a horrible weekend, running in the rain – for the drivers and the fans.
   "It was terrible for me last year at Montreal, because my windshield wiper fell off the third lap.
   "But Montreal was reasonable to run on in the rain, as long as you could see. And that's typically the problem – either keeping the windshield from fogging up, or the windshield wiper not working.
   "It is a little different style of racing, in the rain. It depends on how much it is raining. And some tracks are better than others.
   "But the actual driving part of it – now you've got to slow down and use your head – but it's okay, as long as you can see."

   However Jeff Gordon, who has won more NASCAR road course races than anyone in the sport, says thanks but no thanks:
   "We have enough challenges trying to stay on the track when it's dry…and I can't imagine what it would be like in a Cup race if it was wet.  
    "I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it rain up there in Montreal last year. That was highly entertaining. But I was very glad that I wasn't inside the car.  
    "I think it would be fun to actually drive the cars in the rain -- if you get a consistent rain and you can feel the grip level.
     "But as you saw (in the Montreal NASCAR race), the windshield wipers don't work, the defog doesn't work….
    "When you have a guy with a Swifter (Carl Edwards) trying to clean the windshield off, there's something wrong.  That car should not be out there in the rain.  'We're not going to come in and fix that. You're going to keep going.'
    "I'm not sure why they do it in Nationwide and they don't on Sunday.  
    "I know we used to have them (rain tires for Cup races) here.  I went down into turn one once, and my windshield wiper went off into the kitty litter down there.
    "I'm not going to go over there and stand in line and beg them to put rain tires on us, I can tell you that."





Goodyear seems to use Montoya

Goodyear seems to use Montoya frequently to test tires.

If I had an F1 driver like

If I had an F1 driver like Montoya at my command, I'd have him test anything I could....uh, you're not subtly suggesting anything here, are you?

This is not a subtle dig. It

This is not a subtle dig. It would seem Goodyear tries to play the testing evenhanded, but gets better feedback from a handful of drivers.

i agree; i've said before,

i agree; i've said before, let tony stewart - the wild child -- do every goodyear tire test. that way no way can he complain. the only better tire tester goodyear could find would be greg biffle. so put 'em both out there on the track. nascar needs to rethink their overengineering thing.

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