Race Weekend Central

The New Option Tire Leaves Many Drivers Cautiously Optimistic For Improvements

NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — It’s no secret that NASCAR’s short track package with the Next Gen car has had its struggles. Lackluster racing at NASCAR’s short tracks, including North Wilkesboro Speedway has been the headline.

One of the biggest reasons for the lack of on track action on short tracks was the tire, and the lack of wear the tire showed to allow for fall off and passing later in a run. 

Insert the 2024 NASCAR All-Star Race, and NASCAR is working with Goodyear to try something new while looking at potential changes for the future. NASCAR brought the usual short track tire, known as the “Prime” tire with traditional yellow lettering for the weekend, along with the white lettering wet weather tires. 

This week however, teams have the option of a third compound known as the “Option” tire. The option tire is a slick, red-sidewall tire made of softer rubber typically used to make the wet weather tire. The goal of the tire is to allow for more grip on a short run, while seeing increased tire fall off on the long run. 

Long story short, NASCAR is trying to recreate what we saw at Bristol Motor Speedway back in March. This time, that’s the plan heading into the weekend rather than a surprise.

Despite the ridiculous amounts of rain that have been dumped from the sky onto North Wilkesboro all week long, the NASCAR Cup Series cars were able to get on track Friday afternoon for their one hour practice session. Teams from both the Open and the All-Star race took to the track, and tried out the Option tire for the first time in the process. 

Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain and William Byron among others all spoke about the new Option tire following the Friday practice session, and the overall sentiment around the tires seems to be positive, certainly something the sport can build on going forward. 

“I think qualifying is still going to be a big deal, track position will definitely still be a big deal,” Hamlin said. “But it looks like we’ve got tires that have good fall off, definitely a difference in speed between the two sets. Certainly some options there where you should see some cars move around and hopefully some overtaking.”

Hamlin clocked in sixth fastest in the combined practice for the Open and All-Star cars, while Chastain found himself down in 17th. 

“We did quite a few straight run on the reds,” Chastain said. “We were better balanced on the reds than the yellows as we were catching up with never being here, so I felt better on the reds. The fall off, I haven’t looked at other people, but I felt good about the balance trend of my car, just from inside the car.”

Byron and Ryan Blaney were on the other end of the feedback, as they seemed to think that the tire didn’t have as much fall off but certainly helped the racetrack widen out throughout the practice session.

“I’ve got to talk to my teammates a little bit, but I didn’t really feel much different,” Byron said. “I just thought that the red tire had a couple tenths of pace on the short run, and then it seemed like, at least for us, once the rubber started to lay down the track just kept getting faster, so it’s a bit confusing.”

“I didn’t think so,” Byron said in regards to if the red tire had a lot of wear. “It would fall off with heat, and then we got them back cooled off and they went fast again. I think more credit to the racetrack, they built a really good progressive banking short track so hopefully that’s what the fans want to see.”

Byron timed in 11th overall in the session, while Blaney was the fastest among cars locked into the All-Star Race, laying down the second fastest lap. Blaney was asked whether or not he felt teams could run the full 100 laps of the opening segment on the Option tire, and seemed unsure of what answer to give.

“I don’t know,” Blaney said. “The No. 22 made like 65 [laps] and his tires looked alright, some other guy’s didn’t look as good. So I don’t know, they might go the full 100, we’ll see if it goes green like that. I was happy it made the track move around. I feel like the Primary, we weren’t really moving around that much and then everyone started throwing the reds on it, and there was a lot of cars on the track.”

“I think that kind of helped because people were getting passed, moving around and kind of forced to run the middle. But I feel like once we put the red down the track got a bunch of rubber and people were able to move around, so that was another good thing about it, it widened it out a good bit.”

As we head towards All-Star Sunday night, the Option tire will certainly be one of the biggest storylines behind the million-dollar top prize. Should the tire add an element to the race that promotes more side-by-side action, passing and strategy to the race, we may see the Option tire become the new normal in the future.

About the author

Chase_folsom_ROVAL_2022

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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