Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tire management in the Wild Asphalt Circus

Scuffs during Nationwide race, Texas Motor Speedway
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
"Tires are really the most important thing that we have. Some people say fuel, but we’ll figure that one out. Without tires you just don’t go anywhere. That’s what puts the power down to the ground and how they connect is really everything for us as a sport, so any small little change is gonna be amplified simply because of how important they are to us." ~ Brad Keselowski

Tire management.

Pit strategy that doesn't just involve fuel mileage.

If the media played a drinking game with the word "tires" as the keyword to take a shot, everyone would have had alcohol poisoning by the end of the day Thursday.

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
By the end of the night Friday, the stills would have run dry. Not that I'm saying there are stills in North Texas. I have no knowledge of such operations currently active.
 
When I look back at the past three, four, maybe even five years of racing, one factor stands out. As Goodyear's products became more durable, the dynamics of racing have changed. Granted, that's not the only factor, but it's a big one in my opinion. I believe the changes in the tire compounds used this season have produced some of the most exciting non-Chase racing in recent memory.

1995 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year and ESPN analyst Ricky Craven agreed that while no one factor can be credited with the overall race product, in his world, he likes to see tires that wear.

"The challenge for Goodyear is to make a tire that falls off but doesn't explode," Craven said. He explained that  having a tire that wears adds another dimension of skill: tire management. The ability to drive fast, yet still take care of the tires.

Why the big emphasis on tires? On Thursday, NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton explained. "Everyone likes for the tires to wear and fall off, across the board, and it's not something that is easy to do and you can achieve. The high tech surfaces today take high tech solutions to get that to happen, and it doesn't always happen."

With regard to racing at Texas Motor Speedway, a track that hasn't been fully resurfaced in more than a decade, Pemberton said, "As tracks age, they take on a little different character as everyone knows. You know, we had seen excessive tire wear on the right sides here, and in particular the trucks, and so the tire that we have for the Cup cars this race is something that had already been run here and proved out in the trucks. We ran it on the test here when we were here last October. It's a little bit tougher compound. But as this track continues to get time on it, it tends to eat tires a little bit more aggressively than it had, which is a good thing."

Like Craven, Pemberton said, "It's another element of tire management by the drivers and the crews and strategies and that I think, it's quite -- it's a thing that people like. They like that different element of strategy as it relates to tire wear and your management."

What does that mean for the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway? 

Two-time Texas winner Greg Biffle said, "This is one of the old school race tracks, one of the few that are left, where the tire is super fast for the first lap and then falls off almost a tenth on the second lap. Two-tenths on the third and fourth lap. You will see that really fast one lap speed but that is not really a big concern on if we are going too fast or with track records because it slows down so quick." 

Aric Almirola, who rolls off third tonight said, “In race practice from the beginning of a run to lap 20 it was about a second, so the times are gonna fall of quite a bit and it’s gonna be important to have a good handling car. The track is gonna change a lot. We practiced all in the heat of the day and then we’re gonna go race tomorrow night, so the track is gonna be drastically different than what we had for practice."

In last night's Nationwide O'Reilly Auto Parts 300, tire management and tire strategy added excitement to what would have otherwise been just another Kyle Busch-JGR NNS showcase. Although the Cup teams don't have the same limits on the number of tires they take, it's almost a given that tire wear and tire management will be a major factor in the Sprint Cup race.

How much will it affect the quality of racing? That's to be seen, but this fan enjoys seeing a race where four fresh tires are better than two, and staying out to gain track position is the gamble.


Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track.

She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.

1 comments :

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