Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Houston, We Have a Tire Problem — Or Do We?

Much has been said about tires in the last month in the NASCAR Cup Series, and it all points toward one thing: NASCAR has a tire problem.

Or does it?

The great debate surrounding tire wear this season began at Bristol, where the track ate through rubber like that one cousin at the family reunion who didn’t even bring anything to the potluck, but still tried to get to-go plates. Plenty of drivers went on record with their displeasure of how things played out, including the reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney.

“What’s fun about riding around, creeping around there?” Blaney said. “(We) can’t run 50 laps unless you blow a tire. You’ve got guys with blown stuff creeping around the race track. I can’t believe there wasn’t an accident.”

See also
Stock Car Scoop: How Did Wet-Weather Tires Fare at Richmond?

However, other drivers disagreed with Blaney, namely Brad Keselowski.

“I had a lot of fun,” said Keselowski. “I felt like you had to be really smart. It reminded me of one of Matt Weaver’s short track late model races for a while, and you know what? It’s good to have something different every once in a while.”

That debate quieted down and passed through the news cycle during Circuit of the Americas weekend, but another tire conversation sparked rubberized debate after this past weekend’s race at Richmond.

The first 30 laps of competition was completed with wet weather treading, a relatively new concept for stock car racing and NASCAR as a whole, that enables the race to continue even if conditions aren’t exactly what drivers and teams would prefer. Those 30 laps were some of the best of the race, and led to the first big success of the wet weather tread pattern on ovals the series has seen up to this point at the Cup level. Prior to this, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ran them at Martinsville, and the Cup Series ran them at North Wilkesboro for heat races.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s VP of Competition, spoke about the performance of the tires after the race.

“First of all, credit to Jim France,” Sawyer said. “This was his vision a couple of years ago. He tasked the R&D center and Goodyear to come up with a a tire that we could run in the damp and tonight was a success. We were able to get the race started pretty much on time. The guys did a great job with the tire. Goodyear did a phenomenal job.”

The debate, though, came when NASCAR put out the competition caution at lap 30 to change back to slick tires, as they felt that the track had returned to optimal standards. Sawyer said that at this point, unlike the rule on road courses, NASCAR is not comfortable with letting teams decide whether or not to resort back to slick tires on oval tracks, and the company still makes that decision internally.

Should teams have the right make that decision themselves on oval and road courses? Should it be entirely controlled by NASCAR? Are drivers just pissed to be pissed? Bingo.

Skip Flores, the co-host of Stacking Pennies with Corey LaJoie, said it best on the podcast this week.

“Everybody that’s Cup racing is prepared for everything,” Flores said. “Everything is calculated, everybody is prepared, everybody knows exactly what’s going to happen … Everybody’s got a game plan. Then you throw this in the mix, and everybody’s game plan goes out the window. That’s why everybody’s so pissed off and nervous.”

There is no tire problem. There is no real issue in whether or not NASCAR decides when to take the wet weather compounds off or on, and there is no problem with tires actually wearing out on a race car. Newsflash: That’s what is supposed to happen. No other successful motorsport series has found success in letting drivers run around all day wide open with no tire fall-off, but no motorsport has had great success in letting every tire explode under the slightest hint of pressure, either.

NASCAR knows this. Goodyear knows this. Drivers know this. Nobody is out to get NASCAR racing or make the overall product worse, and certainly not a company like Goodyear who profits the most when the sport is at its best. There are also plenty of drivers who need to worry less about how their right-front is wearing and more about figuring out how to race in a pack, that much can be assured.

As for the fans, they need to ask themselves one question: Is everyone running the same tires? If the answer is yes, then maybe grab another one out of the fridge, sit back and enjoy the best in the sport battling week in and week out. There is no tire problem. That is, unless Goodyear takes a page out of Nike’s book and starts letting Fanatics deal with tires, too.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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Like the tire fiasco at Indy compare the tire test temperature with the event they are used.

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