NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Give Goodyear Credit For Turning It Around

As everyone remembers, last year’s Indianapolis race was such an unmitigated debacle that for once, NASCAR dropped their guard and apologized for the show. The Internet was afire with finger-pointing, some at NASCAR, some at Goodyear… but all of them were attached to fans furious at the low the sport had sunk to.

It was somewhat baffling that, despite ample warning from the earlier tests last year at Indianapolis, Goodyear and NASCAR were both confident – indeed, overconfident – that once they were in race conditions, everything would be fine. And we all know what happens when we assume… clearly, it wasn’t wise to accept the possibility of tire trouble at a storied venue with a hyped race and shrug it off.

It all literally blew up in their faces.

The jury is still out on how the whole mess affected NASCAR, but it sure as heck seems to have woken up the execs at Goodyear.

It wasn’t just Indianapolis, of course. There had been several races severely affected by tire wear, like after the “levigation” at Charlotte in 2005. Tony Stewart was unashamedly vocal after the first Atlanta race in 2008 about the pathetic racing tires. Several cars were taken out at Talladega because of tire troubles long before they should have given out. More and more, it was appearing as though NASCAR’s Official And Only Tire Provider was simply not up to the job. Brickyard 2008 was the breaking point, with fans and competitors alike ready to hold a march on Akron if that’s what it was going to take for a change.

So granted, it’s not like Goodyear had much choice but fix their problems. No matter how confounding the new NASCARmobile is to drivers, crew chiefs and tire manufacturers, it’s not as though Goodyear could have bailed out of their sponsorship deal either – especially not when their motorsports reputation was at an all-time low. So if Goodyear even overdid it for Indianapolis 2009, it’s understandable.

But unlike in the aftermath of bad races caused by inadequate tires in the past, like at Charlotte, by all accounts Goodyear has spent an entire year on damage control. Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, was quoted as saying, “there was a lot to be learned over the last 11 months.” The teaching came over seven sessions, with 31 drivers logging over 13,000 miles… that’s 5,200 laps at Indy, or 13 Brickyard 400s. Even Stewart, the longtime nemesis of the manufacturer, lauded Goodyear’s effort after Sunday’s race – if that doesn’t speak volumes to their commitment to fix the problem, I don’t know what does.

Critics could say that making a tire that holds at top speed is simply what they are supposed to be doing. It’s true that what they did to prepare for Indianapolis is their responsibility as a tire provider… no argument there. Few things are more important to driver safety. But it’s not so easy to rise from complacency as people might think. We see it all the time with drivers and teams, losing their footing and falling apart before they even knew what hit them.

Richard Childress Racing currently is a great example of that. They have fallen ever so slightly more off the pace every year for some time now, reaching a point where the idea of them contending for a title is laughable. Is this due to a lack of effort? I can’t say; but I know there’s plenty of people there giving all they can. At the top level of any sport or business, it is harder than it looks. In any organization, a lot of people need to pull the load.

So even if the fix overkill was out of genuine embarrassment, it doesn’t matter. It would have been one thing if three or four tires couldn’t withstand the Indy surface and crumbled this time around. That would still have been a vast improvement over the previous year’s race. Instead, drivers were testing on tires for up to 27 laps with no problems, and to my knowledge, no one lost a tire in the race to premature wear. There were few stories Monday about their durability, though. Instead, NASCAR fans read about Juan Pablo Montoya’s costly gaffe – or the man keeping him down, depending on who was writing the column – Mark Martin’s near win and Jimmie Johnson’s second straight victory. Nowhere did you see Goodyear in the headlines; surely, they were happy not to even be noticed this year.

It would be easy to say, why did it take so long? It’s moot. Goodyear deserves credit for absolutely ensuring that there would be zero tire troubles, baring their own responsibility in last year’s disaster… and then some. To be honest, I didn’t believe all of it fell on Goodyear to begin with… I still am of the opinion that the new car presents a dastardly paradox for right side tires.

In fact, NASCAR too owes Goodyear a debt of gratitude for making them look good, or at least temporarily preventing things from getting worse. Robin Pemberton agrees with me on that, calling Goodyear’s Senior Vice President Jean-Claude Kihn his “new best friend.” Pemberton, in particular, took quite a PR thumping last year.

All of this isn’t to say Indy 2009 was a great race. It wasn’t. There still isn’t enough passing at Indianapolis on a track where open-wheel reigns as king. And while I respect Formula 1 and the IRL for their niche in motorsports, I have trouble watching races that will have maybe three lead changes all day. If I were making the NASCAR schedule, the Brickyard would be on it for its historic value, but I would hope there would be a way to make the racing a little more competitive.

With that said, now should be a time to put all criticism aside. Many of us have a list of beefs with the goings-on in the sport. So let’s applaud when something is done right. (And no, that isn’t the newly-christened “citizen journalist” speaking. I’ll test NASCAR’s commitment to that when the Chase comes around.) It may have taken longer than it should have, but Goodyear has shown a commitment to turn their battered racing reputation around.

And if they keep up the good work at some other tracks… I may someday put Eagle GTs on my Mustang again.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • So everyone has an opinion on whether Kyle Busch will make the Chase. My feeling is… I don’t really know. He needs only to finish more than anything else, and he is having an awful time of doing just that. But if Busch does finish most or all of the races, in his equipment he should make it.
  • It looks like Jamie McMurray will be moving to fledgling Yates Racing in 2010, as Jack Roush complies with NASCAR’s new Jack Roush Rule. It’s about time, too, since McMurray was really stomping on those Hendrick and Hendrick-affiliated guys…
  • The Frontstretch newsletter reported this morning that Jeremy Mayfield’s stepmother is now suing Mayfield for defamation following his comments about her being a money-grubber. She is looking for at least $20,000. Hmmm….
  • I will be joining the well-mannered Vince Bonfigli on his radio show this Monday night, 8:00 p.m., at WNJC 1360 in the Philadelphia area. Vince is trying to get ahold of a Ford exec and talk about Mustangs in the Nationwide series. As a happy Mustang owner, I’m looking forward to it. Outside of Philly, you can listen online at the station’s website.

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