Editor’s Note: The following is a special edition of Frontstretch‘s Side-By-Side. Occasionally throughout the season, two of your favorite Frontstretch writers will duke it out in a debate concerning one of NASCAR’s biggest stories. Don’t let us be the only ones to speak our minds, though… be sure to read both sides and let us know what you think about the situation in the comment section below!
Today’s Question: In light of complaints leveled by several NASCAR drivers this week, Goodyear is on the hot seat following the race at Atlanta. This isn’t the first time the tire company has come under fire in recent years; with that in mind, is it time for another manufacturer to be allowed to supply tires within NASCAR? Or has Goodyear proven they deserve to continue on as the sole supplier for the sport?
Goodyear Not Worthy of Exclusivity
Tony Stewart called it “the most pathetic racing tire” that he’d ever raced on. Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted that he gave positions to drivers that got beside him, because he was unable to “run side by side, or we’d wreck.” Kyle Busch said it was the worst he’d ever felt in a racecar. And these drivers all scored top fives in Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500.
A nearly unanimous barrage of criticism and subpar product on the track Sunday made a very clear statement; there is a tire problem in the Sprint Cup Series. The problem is Goodyear. And it’s not a problem that’s going to be corrected as long as Goodyear is the exclusive tire provider of NASCAR.
Why are drivers being so vocal about this? Why did Stewart reduce himself to self-described “whining” over this issue, both after the race Sunday and on his radio show later in the week? “We’re trying to get someone’s attention,” Stewart said. Stewart’s comments suggest that Goodyear maybe isn’t listening to the drivers as much as they should be when it comes to the rubber meeting the road. Dale Jarrett agreed, backing Stewart’s comments and noting “somebody needs to wake up right now and listen to these guys [drivers].” Earnhardt Jr. shared similar sentiments. Three stars of the sport feeling the need to publicly decry Goodyear for not considering driver input does not speak well for an exclusive tire provider.
Nor does Goodyear’s decision to bring a harder, untested tire combination to Atlanta this past weekend. Goodyear staged multiple tire tests at Atlanta over the past year, accumulating data from numerous teams only to scrap that tire package and bring the ultra-hard compound they did. Why run tire tests if you’re just going to scrap them? Goodyear’s decision rendered all of its testing a waste of the teams’ time and effort. On a larger level, it reflects a concerning dismissal of teams’ perspectives and input regarding the race tires, a seeming disregard for what was learned on the track. Actions like these only add credence to the notion that Goodyear was reactionary this weekend following its troubles on-track at Las Vegas, seeking to ensure at all costs that blown Goodyear Eagles weren’t seen on national TV.
The new car is no excuse for its struggles either. Goodyear has been around NASCAR long enough that they’ve known just as long as the teams that the new car was coming. And yet, their testing is way behind the new car.
Add all this up, and Goodyear seems to be both lackadaisical and showing blatant disregard for both the input of drivers and their teams. Yet, this company can officially proclaim itself the officially-endorsed tire provider of NASCAR? This is a luxury they’re allowed only because they happen to have an exclusivity contract. And both drivers and fans have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result.
Goodyear has proven its ability to build a safe tire. But, as Jeff Gordon said, “tires are supposed to wear.” As radio host Dennis Michelsen noted, “race tires with no grip are almost as defective as those that blow out.” Goodyear has lost its competitive edge, and it’s going to take pressure from other tire manufacturers to bring it back.
By allowing competition in NASCAR’s tire market, gone is Goodyear’s ability to take the safe and easy route of bringing ultra-hard tires and of not testing adequately. Being lackadaisical and dismissive as a provider would no longer be a passable business model. Drivers would not find themselves spending their interview times ranting, for they’d have a choice in tires to make. Performance would matter. And while this may bring many to recall the Hoosier/Goodyear struggle of decades past, which saw driver safety take a total backseat to performance on the track, it is important to remember that NASCAR has changed since then. Driver safety is far more of a concern then in those times. The cars are safer. The tracks are safer. And one has to believe given the advances seen in the sport that there are few teams out there that are going to throw unsafe tires on their cars in the name of performance.
The discontent of so many race teams with their current tires makes it very clear that there is a market for an alternative should the door open, and in this situation Goodyear would be faced with the same dilemma as every team in the garage, perform or go home. That mantra is good enough for the teams, why not for their tire providers? – Bryan Davis Keith
One Tire Supplier is the Safest Bet for the Series
NASCAR, by its very nature, is all about competition. The teams compete to see who can win every weekend. The manufacturers compete to make their teams the best so that they have bragging rights. However, when it comes to the tires used by the series, it is best to have one manufacturer and not allow competition to enter into the equation.
In 1994, NASCAR opened up the series to Hoosier tires to allow them to compete against Goodyear for the tires that the teams used during the season. That is the last time there was more than one tire manufacturer in the series, and the results were not only worse than what we see today in the series, they were downright dangerous to the competitors.
When two manufacturers compete to furnish tires, they inherently do their level best to make their tires adhere to the surface of the track better than their competition. While that sounds like a great idea and a benefit to the teams, the result is actually tires that wear out more quickly and ultimately fail. As we have seen this season, tire failure can cause some horrific collisions and in the past has led to injuries and even death.
With one manufacturer, NASCAR and the teams work together to make the best decision they can to provide the best racing for everyone involved, while still insuring that the competitors are safe. Granted, the decisions that have been made in recent history have not always appeared to have that desired result, but it is much easier and more cost effective to work with one manufacturer rather than two or more.
Does NASCAR need to rethink the process of what tire is used during a given race weekend? Probably so. Personally, I’d like to see them offer multiple tire compound options and let the teams decide which tires they wanted to use during a given weekend. That would add an additional element of strategy into the weekend, while not making Goodyear the scapegoat when tires fail because of the set up that a team chooses to utilize.
Competition in racing is good, but when it comes to the tires, safety is paramount, and allowing more than one manufacturer into the series would open up more safety issues than we currently have. Let’s just work on making the process and the options better with the one manufacturer we have. – Mike Neff