On Friday, ESPN’s David Newton went into detail about Goodyear’s “change of philosophy” with regard to tires in the Sprint Cup Series. Describing how Goodyear’s extensive tire testing following the 2008 Indianapolis race led to the discovery of compounds that managed to make more durable rubber that didn’t have to be rock hard, Newton tells a tale of how Goodyear’s global manager of race tires can now walk down pit road without a huge target on his back.
After reading Newton’s account of Goodyear’s progress, that they’ve put a more competitive product on the track and how a number of drivers are happy about how their rubber is meeting the road, I have only one reaction.
What conclusion is supposed to be drawn here? That it only took perhaps the worst race ever run in the long history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to get NASCAR’s exclusive tire provider to actually do its job and get a grip? That’s it’s a surprise worthy of commendation that a company, which is among a very select few entities at any level of racing that doesn’t have to compete with its product, is actually doing their job – giving their customers and clients what they need to do theirs?
Give me a break.
It’s no secret that better tires means better racing. A good tire means drivers get to race and fans go home happy. Fortunately, so far in 2010 Goodyear has seen a number of solid showings, with their tires at both Daytona and Fontana the best provided at those venues in some time. Amazing how this whole testing the tires on the actual race cars leads to the discovery of products that can handle, well, being run on them.
But this tale of discovery, changed business practices and, as Sprint Cup director John Darby coined it, “out of every black cloud comes a silver lining” in the form of Goodyear conquering a learning curve about tires through their exhaustive, repeated tire testing at Indy to ensure that the 2008 debacle would never be repeated, glosses over two facts:
1.) Putting good tires on track isn’t a tale of accomplishment – it’s Goodyear doing their job as exclusive tire provider of NASCAR.
2.) For all the improvement Goodyear has shown, NASCAR is on the precipice of a change to its cars that threatens to send Goodyear back to 2008. Because let’s face it, the last time a change came calling (read, the CoT), it took Goodyear until the next decade to finally start getting it right. And they obviously haven’t perfected their trade even in this decade – lost in the Keselowski/Edwards shuffle was the fact that at least 12 tires went down during last Sunday’s 500 miles at Atlanta.
According to Newton’s piece, Goodyear officials will be keeping a very close eye on the upcoming NASCAR spoiler test at Talladega. Said Grant, “If we need to react, we’ll react.”
That remark, that attitude, when coupled with the sugar high Goodyear appears to be on right now because they’ve gotten off to a good start four races into the season – all because they started putting in the work they should have before their greatest corporate embarrassment took place at the Brickyard – has potential to spell bad news for everyone in the NASCAR community.
Why? Because as the exclusive tire provider, they need to be proactive, not reacting, when they find out that major changes to the race cars are coming.
That reactive attitude was the school of thought Goodyear took when the CoT was announced, and the racing product seen often in 2008 and 2009 suffered as a result. It wasn’t just Indianapolis that suffered from tire problems that led to poor racing (or in Indy’s case, no racing). The tires at Atlanta were too hard and slipped all over the place. They were no good at Fontana.
Newton writes that Goodyear “was put behind the eight ball… when the new car came out.” That’s inaccurate. Goodyear fell behind when the new car debuted. Where were the 17-car tests at Indianapolis and Daytona then? Hell, where were the tire tests at every single track on the circuit? If an entirely new racecar isn’t incentive enough to test tires everywhere, what is?
And given this history, it’s tremendously disconcerting to read that the company is still taking the “react” approach with the new spoiler coming.
Goodyear needs to face the facts. They’ve got a cushy deal as a protected exclusive tire provider. They have no one to compete with – the job is theirs. Now, they just need to go do it – and doing the job right means making sure the tires are right before the cars hit the track for race weekend.
It also means testing at every single track that a change (read: the spoiler) is going to impact. It means creating incentives for teams to come out and test more, if necessary… though given the asinine ban on testing is still in effect, I doubt it’d be a hard sell to get teams to come out for more tire tests. And it may well even mean creating their own test teams in addition to bringing actual Cup organizations to the track. Sure, test drivers may well not hit the nail on the head, but it’s hard to imagine that even a test driver wouldn’t pick up on something like, say, a tire lasting only 10 laps before chunking to pieces.
Newton is right to call attention to the fact that NASCAR has seen better tires on the track so far in 2010, and that racing has been better as a result. But this improvement is not something that should be told as a story of vindication and triumph for Stu Grant and his winged officials. Having good race tires never should be a work in progress. It should be taken for granted. At $1,700 a set, I can’t think of any product, sporting good or otherwise, that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Again, there’s no question Goodyear is actually doing their job at this point. Where they tested hard and with lots of cars, the tires were on the money. But that attitude needs to carry over to more than Indianapolis and Daytona – and with the cars about to be altered again, that diligence that helped them avoid Brickyard Massacre II needs to come to the front proactively, now.
Because NASCAR is still teetering close to a dangerous edge. The start to 2010 has had much of what the sport needs to get back on its feet, but one more Brickyard debacle, and the fragile recovery they’re trying to sell fans on simply goes out the window.
And then who’s going to be left to care that Goodyear Eagles are the exclusive tires of NASCAR?