Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Do Drivers Who Participate in Tire Tests Have an Advantage at Road Courses?

Each year, Goodyear performs tire tests at different NASCAR tracks to optimize tire performance and get a better handle on what type of tire to bring to any given race.

One of these tests occurred at Sonoma Raceway, where this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 is being held for the NASCAR Cup Series. Repaves seem to be a hot topic of conversation recently, with last week’s column focusing on Iowa’s recent repaving of the track’s famed corners.

It’s a bit of the same sandwich this week with much more cheese, so to speak. Whereas Iowa repaved only the corners, Sonoma Raceway underwent its first full repave in almost 25 years.

When repaves of any reasonable size happen at any track, Goodyear makes sure it has the data and research in place to bring a competitive tire on race day (or at least that’s the plan).

The question of the day, though, is not whether or not repaving is a good or bad thing, as any track official or race fan in Sonoma’s situation would side with the former. The question is whether or not Cup drivers who participate in the tire tests have an unfair advantage over their peers.

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NASCAR always sends one driver from each manufacturer to test out the new surfaces for Goodyear. At Sonoma, that was Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Josh Berry and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. The test was closed to the public.

The big sticking point with this weekend’s tire test/race scenario — and any of them, really — is the amount of time that is typically taken in-between the two events. For instance, this round of testing was completed on March 26, while the race itself is taking place in the heat of summer.

Hot asphalt always changes how a tire handles, degrades and holds together on track. It also changes affects how well drivers can regulate tire temperature to avoid things like blowouts and failures. Therefore, the tires will not race the same as they did on the track in June as they did in March.

The tire Goodyear brings on race day could be completely different than what the drivers deal with during the tire test, as they would have been given several different compounds to shake down across the full length of the circuit.

The difference isn’t in the tires, then, surprisingly. What about the laps?

Yes and no. Sure, the three drivers have a few more laps on the other guys, but the layout of the track isn’t what’s different. Plus, with the advancement of simulators, every driver will be pulling up to the track this weekend with plenty of knowledge of the twists and turns. A few extra laps shouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Tuned-in fans will note, though, that the drivers who competed in Sonoma’s test said that they were achieving record speeds at the track on the new surface. They should also note that this isn’t a baffling concept. Multiple track records were set this year at Circuit of the Americas after the track repaved numerous braking and acceleration zones.

The end all, be all of the tire test question, then, has to be where the drivers finished in that weekend’s race. The last road course in which Goodyear tire testing was conducted before a race was in 2023 at Circuit of the Americas. Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Austin Cindric participated in that particular test.

Who finished first and second in that race? Reddick and Busch. Cindric wound up still inside the top 10 in sixth.

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They remain the only three drivers to compete in a road course test and the subsequent race as well since the inception of the Next Gen car. This weekend, though, they’ll be joined by the Sonoma group in that category.

It also warrants mentioning that Truex won Sonoma last year. Perhaps, then, instead of inviting the year’s previous winner for even more practice laps, NASCAR should invite a certain writer or two to conduct tire tests instead. You know, for parity’s sake. I’ll keep my schedule open.

Fans should keep their eyes out for Truex, Chastain and Berry. None are exactly road course ringers, but with laps on track under their belt and a short history of success behind them, the three could be primed for a big weekend out west.

About the author


Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for Sports Illustrated’s Cowbell Corner, 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 Mass Media Studies. Tanner began working with Frontstretch as an Xfinity Series columnist in 2022.

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