There were over 40 Busch teams in attendance at Charlotte for this week’s round of testing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Goodyear brought the same tire that they brought for the Cup test, and while setups proved to be different, drivers were in agreement that the new tire will produce a much better performance than last year’s debacle.
Some drivers, like Kenny Wallace, felt that the harder tires were sliding around quite a bit, but they were in no way dangerous. Kenny’s PPC team was harkening back to notes from 2002 and 2003 when the series used a much harder tire. Obviously, some things have changed…different cars and better aerodynamics, at the very least. Still, it appears the basic setup from those earlier years has proven quite helpful with the new tire that Goodyear has constructed.
“The last few years, the tires were super grippy,” said Wallace when interviewed following his test. “Now, we are racing much more like that old Charlotte used to race.”
Jon Wood, Johnny Sauter, and Paul Menard shed some more light on the issues after holding a press conference during the dinner break on Tuesday. Wood feels that the new track surface is helping the cars go quickly even though the tire compound is much harder than anything he has raced before. All three drivers noted that the tires pick up speed as they gain heat. None of them ran their fastest lap before their eighth lap of a run. Sauter and Wood also pointed out that the data acquired during the Charlotte test is not going to have any benefit for any other track. Because of the new surface and the extremely hard tire, the setups that are working at Charlotte will not work anywhere else.
As for their car’s individual performance, Sauter said his car was not very good at the test, but they are gaining on it. Menard, on the other hand, felt that his car was handling quite nicely right off the truck. His experimental car was not as good, but of course, that’s the purpose of bringing two cars to the test, to see which one works better.
The setups the Cup teams were using during their test also did not seem to translate to their Busch cars. According to the drivers, spring rates and tire pressures were similar, but the rest of their setups were completely different from what was run on their sister Cup cars. Sauter and Menard had firsthand knowledge of the differences, because both of them participated in the Cup and Busch tests.
Mike Wallace also sat down with Frontstretch to review his test with James Finch’s #1 car. His team had thrown a lot of different things at their car, and none of them seemed to be working. The car’s handling seemed to be fine, but there just was no speed to go with it. Their focus for the rest of the test was simply going to be finding a few extra tenths out on the track.
Everyone agreed that the tire is going to make for some very interesting strategy during the race. With the bigger spoiler on the Busch car, the track is going to produce a one groove race. Unlike the Cup cars, the Busch cars will stay on the bottom of the track once the tires build up some heat. The second groove is an option to pass slower cars, but for cars that are relatively equal, there will not be any benefit in moving up into the second groove. On the plus side, the tire wear is so minimal, there are no “marbles” created from the tires. So, if a driver needs to move up to the second groove, there is not a lot of trash in that groove and it won’t send the car all of the way to the wall.
It appears as though the Busch race is going to boil down to pit strategy. The hard tire is so durable that it is a distinct possibility that teams could run the entire race on a single set of tires. Based on the information gathered at the test, it’s a safe bet that the winner of the race will be the driver whose team can get him out in front on the last fuel stop.
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