The Frontstretch: Goodyear Mounting An Increasingly Poor Reputation by Kurt Smith -- Friday October 10, 2008

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Goodyear Mounting An Increasingly Poor Reputation

Kurt Smith · Friday October 10, 2008

 

After the tire explosions at Talladega and with the Cup Series coming to Charlotte, a track that has had its own share of tire problems, it’s an opportunity to expound on what has become an all too well known problem with NASCAR races: inadequate tires.

That said, I’m going to tell the story of my first trip to Lowe’s Motor Speedway. My involvement with NASCAR at the time wasn’t official as such…I watched every week, rooted for my fantasy team drivers, and sent a lengthy missive about the race that week to other members of the Fairgrounds Racing League. So back then, I saw things more through the eyes of a fan with a journalistic eye, as opposed to the other way around.

In October of 2005, this columnist was in the middle of a brief stint living in Fredericksburg, Virginia. My girlfriend Suzanne (now my wife) was still living in New Jersey, and one of the two of us would make the trip to visit the other most weekends. That weekend, the two of us headed to Charlotte, a six-hour ride, after she had made the four-hour trip to Fredericksburg. Needless to say, local hotels were a bit more expensive that weekend, so we were fortunate to have tickets through the largesse of one Kevin Foley, a producer at “NASCAR Images”.

It was my first night race. I was blown away by how sharp the cars looked under the lights. Suzanne was even more awestruck when the race started, grabbing my arm and shouting above the din: “They’re going so FAST!”

Sixty-five laps later, the two most popular drivers in NASCAR were repairing their cars in the garage. Jeff Gordon hit the wall about 50 laps in, followed briefly by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. smacking the wall himself. Both incidents were met with crowd approval, but no one would be cheering by the end.

Goodyear’s failure to correct the tire issues that occured at Charlotte in the fall of 2005 has led to many disasterous events since.

The race trudged on. More tires blew. More cars hit the wall. Everyone who led, it seemed, had a tire problem. Elliott Sadler, blam. Michael Waltrip, blam. Kasey Kahne, blam. Other drivers having great runs went into the wall: Kyle Busch, Sterling Marlin, even David Stremme, who at the time was having the run of his life (including since) driving the 39 car for Chip Ganassi, running in the Top 5 for much of the evening before his early departure. And even points leader Tony Stewart hit the wall, distorting the standings, although he would recover to win the title.

The race was red-flagged while NASCAR tried to figure out what to do. Apparently nothing was figured out, since they started the race up again with no real changes (at least none I can remember). It became a matter of survival. Greg Biffle said after the race that he was driving at 60 percent, simply trying to finish. Finally, mercifully, this lemon concluded with Jimmie Johnson taking the checkered flag at about 40 MPH (I’m exaggerating, but not by very much).

At my desk, I have a picture of Suzanne and myself at Lowe’s Motor Speedway before the race started. In the photo, I have a big grin on my face. It was gone for good that evening after about 200 miles. And she heard a lot of profanity that night that she had never heard from me before. (“This sucks !”)

The biggest culprit in all of this was Humpy Wheeler’s well intentioned but disastrous re-surfacing of the Charlotte oval. The Coca-Cola 600 that ran previously that year wasn’t much better, but for some reason NASCAR and Goodyear didn’t work out the issues. (I don’t know if they tried or not. I’m just saying they didn’t.)

The main point here is that this was before the new car design, which suggests that NASCAR and Goodyear have had increasing tire problems—long before mandating a car with a higher center of gravity, making it much harder on outside tires. The time to say “never again” about a disastrous race happened long before it was obvious that not every issue about the new car was addressed. I won’t argue the point if you disagree, but Charlotte in October 2005 was the worst race I had ever witnessed, not this year’s Brickyard mess.

Since then, we have had Atlanta where Tony Stewart very publicly lambasted Goodyear and many drivers quietly agreed, Indianapolis where a 160-lap race was cut into 10-lap segments out of fear of blown tires, and Talladega where exploding tires effectively ended Jeff Gordon’s title hopes and cost about 10 other teams hundreds of thousands of dollars in totaled racecars.

Heading into Charlotte, I haven’t heard much about tire issues that need to be addressed, other than Robin Pemberton’s claim that Goodyear now can make a tire that goes 20 laps at Indianapolis. The obvious response is, if NASCAR and Goodyear are capable of improving the tire, where were they before the race?

Instead NASCAR is now promoting Lowe’s as the “Beast of the Southeast”, trying to turn obvious problems that Goodyear has had building a tire for this surface into a positive by giving the track a nickname…you know, like Darlington. But drivers expect a rough ride at Darlington. No one knows what to expect at Charlotte.

In the seven years of research that supposedly went into the design of the new car, it is almost incredible, especially in light of already growing tire problems, that neither NASCAR nor Goodyear put every ounce of effort imaginable into making sure that the only thing separating the car from the asphalt was of the highest possible quality. Teams are using too much camber? NASCAR and Goodyear really have no business being surprised that teams push the envelope.

No doubt Goodyear understands this, but this is a serious issue. The reason NASCAR made Indy a series of 10-lap sprints was for safety reasons. We’ve just seen what can happen when tires are insufficient at Talladega. This has to be addressed now. Both entities need to get together and work on an acceptable tire for every racetrack. There aren’t any excuses anymore.

The booth announcers on every round of pit stops remind everyone watching that drivers are coming in “for four Goodyear tires and to fill up the tank with Sunoco race fuel”. Then Denny Hamlin got his bell rung hard enough at Talladega to send him to the hospital. By the time that the tire on the No. 11 exploded Sunday, the viewers all knew who manufactured it, even if Jerry Punch doesn’t say “looks like he had a Goodyear tire problem” when that happens. That scene didn’t exactly make me rush out to a Goodyear dealer for a set of new ones.

Surely Goodyear especially should be prioritizing this, even if they aren’t entirely at fault. They have spent a lot of money to be the official tire supplier of NASCAR, and for all of the mishaps and outright disasters that have happened this year especially, they are cultivating a reputation so damaging that they might be better off not being in NASCAR at all.

The lesson was there to be learned in October of 2005. Take the time and spend the money. Get the tires right, gentlemen.

Kurt’s Shorts Special Edition –The Talladega Finish

  • It is with a heavy heart that I have to admit this, but NASCAR made the right call at Talladega. Either you’re allowed to pass under the yellow line or you’re not, and there shouldn’t be any last-lap exceptions. Forced down there or not, you’re not supposed to improve your position, whether that has been enforced consistently or not in the past. There probably would have been just as much controversy had Smith been given the win. Trust me on this my friends, you all know that I will hold NASCAR accountable when it is called for.
  • That said, if drivers believed, as Regan Smith and Jimmie Johnson and many fans did, that anything goes when the checkered flag is in sight, then shame on NASCAR for creating or even allowing that impression. The rules should be black and white when possible, they should be enforced fairly, and they should be the same from lap 1 to lap 200. When NASCAR deliberately allows for “gray area”, they open themselves up to the type of criticism that they have received this week. While I’m at it, it’s a “gray area” to decide if a driver is “forced” below the yellow line, as we’ve certainly heard this week. As we know, NASCAR does not operate well in gray area.
  • Put a wall where the yellow line is and be done with it already.
  • It’s surprising that this type of disputed finish doesn’t happen more often at plate tracks. Finishes are always close, and the yellow line and bump drafting rules seem to be entirely at NASCAR’s discretion…not to mention the timing of yellow flags. Can we just ditch the plates already?

Don’t forget; Frontstretch is live at the track this weekend! Click here for Bryan Davis Keith’s blog for the latest news, information, and commentary from Lowe’s Motor Speedway! It’s a new idea we’re trying out this weekend, and we’d love your feedback — don’t be afraid to read up and tell us what you think!

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Brian
10/10/2008 07:03 AM
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Well said, Kurt… glad to know I’m not the only one who would like to see some tire competition. Oh, and maybe make the cars look like real cars again.

Douglas
10/10/2008 07:54 AM
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Well stated & summed up!

But after reflecting on this entire tire issue, and I mean not just this year, but in previous years (I still remember, I think at Daytona, one Robby Gordon had his tire simply explode on the pace lap) that GOODYEAR really does not know what they are doing?

In my estimation plenty of time has lapsed over the years, right folks, I said years, to figure out how to build a true “stock car tire”!

I mean, look, if it is the tracks, if it is the cars, if it is the set-ups, who cares? GOODYEARS total responsibility is to build a suitable tire! PERIOD!

OR! And here comes the big one!!!

TELL US YOU CANNOT DO IT & BAIL OUT!

marshall
10/10/2008 08:00 AM
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Its all about money . Goodyear wants to concentrate on maximizing race tire profit instead of constantly striving to make giant leaps in race tire technology . They can afford to . The teams are forced to use whatever Goodyear brings to the track .
If NASCAR okayed Goodyear to charge $1000 or even $2000 per tire , i bet there would be some excellent race tires available in no time . Could the teams afford tires that expensive . Well , they might have to put off buying a new half a million dollar transporter for another year , or maybe continue using the million dollar motor home instead of buying a new one , but they would manage . And for the sake of putting on a decent show for a change , NASCAR could help subsidize the tire bill . Its not like THEY can’t afford it .

Peter DiVergilio
10/10/2008 09:51 AM
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If Goodyear ( or NASCAR )wants the tires to last, all they have to do is make them with a different compound. Of course, that particular mix will probably not have any “grip” and the cars will skate around at high speed, causing a dangerous condition. Take your pick!!

marshall
10/10/2008 10:00 AM
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The problems with Goodyear race tires
are far deeper than which compound they use .
It has much more to do with antiquated designs , low tech cord materials , outdated testing and R&D proceedures , no incentive to make great tires , and ignoring engineering advances by other race tire manfacturers .

Douglas
10/10/2008 11:29 AM
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Hey Peter Divergilio,

HUH?

I think the definition of a “race tire” is a tire that sticks, provided handling, and survives!

Anything less IS NOT A RACE TIRE!

And me thinks you have your facts backwards, they used a very hard tire at Indy, and they only lasted 10 laps, if you were lucky that is!

Then they changed to a “softer” tire for the tire test, and low and behold they doubled the life of the tire, 20 laps! (how exciting huh)?

Nope, has nothing to do with hard or soft! (viagra anyone)!

It has to do with lack of preparation, (preparation h may be required) lack of engineering, and it seems total lack of desire for GOODYEAR to step up to the plate and get the tire situation under control!

And as I have stated so very many times, GOODYEAR, if you can’t do it!

TELL US!

dawg
10/10/2008 11:46 AM
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NOT, being a tire engineer, I can’t give pat answers like some of the above. What is obvious to me, is that Goodyear haven’t really got a handle on the new car. This car has been around for well over a year. We know the car is heavier & harder to make turn. With very limited adjustments that CC’s can make(NA$CAR mandated) some are probably trying things with tire pressures, camber, etc. that might not be optimal for tire life. Were I in charge of the Goodyear program. I think my answer would be, to have a fleet of the new cars, & do an insane amount of testing. I think that enough tracks would make track time available, at minimal, or no cost. After All, what track owner, or manager would want another Indy fiasco at their facility? To my knowledge no such testing has been done. Were I on the NA$CAR side of this. I know that Goodyear has a contract, one they have laid out a large amount of payola for. Most any contract has a performance out. If they were to open it up, I don’t think Hoosier, has the resources to compete. I would look for either Bridgestone, or Michelin to be the players. I personally have no problem with a single tire supplier. They just need to prove they can supply an acceptable tire.

Shayne Flaherty
10/10/2008 12:38 PM
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I learned years ago, Goodyear makes some of the absolute worst tires on the market. How long will it take NASCAR to figure that out?

Doug Scholl
10/10/2008 02:25 PM
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I can remember when NASCAR allowed both Hoosier and Goodyear and a “tire war” ensued. Boy did we see some great racing and cars turning fast speeds. We saw the two manufacturers bringing the most comptetive tire to the track and teams had to set thier strategy based on tire performance during practice. We saw a Geoff Bodine back in victory lane dancing on the roof of his car hoosier neck band and kissing exide batteries. And we saw drivers start to complain, not about speed not about money but about safety both companies were pushing the edge and it was the drivers who would take that tire to the edge becasue a NASCAR driver doesn’t know how to lift. Nascar listened and looked at it’s self and said safety is thier repsonsibility and they wouldn’t allow the tire war to injure a driver and then made an arbitray decision an awarded Goodyear with it’s nascar contract.

Since that day goodyear hasn’t had to compete, it just has to get by and as long as they’re good with nascar, nascar’s money and marketing is good with them.

Jeff G
10/10/2008 03:05 PM
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So what would be wrong with NASCAR allowing tire manufactuers (Goodyear, Hoosier, Firestone, ect) to compete with safety as the priority allowing them to stay?

It would be up to the teams to choose. Wouldn’t it be cool to see (just an example, i don’t care who it is) a Firestone commerical saying we were the winning tire at the Datonya 500??

That would get the competition going!!

Douglas
10/10/2008 06:40 PM
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Hey Jeff G.,(and others) guess my first question would be:

What constitutes a “safe” tire, and how is that measured?

Jeff G
10/10/2008 08:07 PM
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Good question Douglas,
I guess I was a little too broad in my post.

I think I would say safe means the teams can feel comfortable, as in no unexpected failures (beyond what is deemed “normal”, and I know that needs to be defined)

I just know that in a free society competition ALWAYS produces a superior product that the comsumer can choose.

If the customer does not like or accept the product, then the product goes away.

In the NASCAR way of doing things there is never a choice.

That is if you choose to be a part of their dictatorship……

thomas dalfonzo
10/10/2008 08:08 PM
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Much like how a bad worker who always screws up gets fired from his/her job, NASCAR should terminate Goodyear’s contract because Goodyear screws up race after race after race after…

You get my point. NASCAR has had more tires issues in the last three years then any other racing series had in their entire history.

That’s because the tire manufacturers in other racing series know how to make great, durable racing tires, which is more than I can say for Goodyear. NASCAR needs to sit down and seriously think about taking on a new “official tire of NASCAR”. Until then, the great fans of this sport will continue to suffer at the hands of both Goodyear’s and NASCAR’s stupidity.

Shayne Flaherty
10/14/2008 02:40 PM
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Goodyear and “safe tire” is an oxymoron. Bring on the competition.

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