The Frontstretch: What Will the Tires Do At Lowe's? Nextel Cup Teams Explore Their Options by Mike Neff -- Thursday May 4, 2006

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Two days of testing at Charlotte are complete. There were a few on track incidents, but luckily, no one was injured. As the test came to a conclusion late Wednesday night and the drivers and teams had a chance to digest information, they came away with one predominant opinions: The tire that Goodyear has produced is EXTREMELY hard.

Both Chad Knaus and Greg Zippadelli observed that their tires only wore off .004 of an inch of rubber on a run of 60 laps or more. With wear like that, there is a very distinct chance that the 600 is going to turn out to be a fuel mileage race. Teams will have the option to take no tires on two or even three consecutive pit stops. On the down side, if a caution flies after only five laps of competition, everyone will still have to come in to top off on fuel because the maximum distance 13 gallons of fuel will only be able to allow cars to run for 30-35 laps.

A second positive of the limited wear is that the tires are not shredding; the minimal amount of rubber coming off of the tires is basically dust. Since there are not a lot of "marbles" being shed from the tires, the second groove on the track is going to be an option for drivers if they choose to venture up there.

Several drivers made comments to the Frontstretch about the tire that Goodyear brought to the test that were overwhelmingly positive. Carl Edwards noted: "The tire wear on the short run is extremely good." Matt Kenseth chimed in that "There is no potential for tire problems. The tire is extremely hard. It could possibly last the entire 600 miles."

When it came to the feelings on the hardness of the tire, though, opinions were more varied. Michael Waltrip was the most positive claiming, “Goodyear did an awesome job with the tire. As the rubber has worked, in the grip has increased. The race should be great.”

Others were a little more conservative. "Goodyear did the right thing bringing the tire they did. It is better to be too conservative than risk having blowouts," according to Jeff Burton.

“Goodyear is backed into a corner. They had to bring a tire that they knew was overly safe,” said a more skeptical Jeff Gordon.

Scott Riggs added, "The biggest change was the left side tires. They are really not getting any grip. The right sides changed, too, but not as drastically as the left." Riggs wrapped up by noting, "It is amazing how well people have worked around the tire hardness. The speeds are really quite good."

As for how teams achieved during the test itself, one of the notable drivers who struggled was Jimmie Johnson. In a statement that can’t give Johnson fans too much comfort, crew chief Chad Knaus responded with disappointment on the results of the #48 team’s test.

“Terrible,” Knaus said to describe the car’s handling. “We are pushing really bad. We can’t get a handle on the tire or the surface." When asked if he’d like to see Goodyear bring a different tire compound for the 600, Knaus replied, “I sure hope not. We just spent $25,000 on this test.”

Coming out of the test, teams are obviously going to have a lot of work to do to get a handle on how to make their cars work with a tire that is not wearing out and is not providing the grip that they are accustomed to on a newly paved track. The other thing teams will have to concentrate on between now and the 600 is pit stops. With the small fuel cell, there is a very real possibility that teams will make 20-25 pit stops during the 600. The already heightened pressure on the crews is going to be excruciating during Memorial Day weekend.

Certainly, this year’s 600 will not be lacking for entertainment.

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