NASCAR Race Weekend Central

News & Notes – Bristol

*Goodyear Changes Right Side Compound For Both Series*

Goodyear officials, along with NASCAR, decided to change the right side tire compound for both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series for this weekend’s events at the Bristol Motor Speedway. During Friday’s practice sessions, teams on both sides of the garage experienced tires that showed excessive wear and cords after only 15 laps, according to one tire engineer in the garage. Understanding the risks and wanting to get a leg up on the problem, Goodyear decided to make the change Friday afternoon following Sprint Cup Series

Goodyear is bringing roughly 1,200-1,300 tires from a center in Charlotte, N.C. for teams to use starting Saturday. Nationwide teams will qualify on the tires currently on the cars, but will change to the new tire compound during a competition caution that will take place on Lap 25.

“Historically we’ve seen high wear in the first practice sessions and it always gets better, that’s why this decision was made as soon as it was because we did not see that happen,” Rick Campbell of Goodyear explained.

The primary of the tire wear was on the shoulder of the right side tires, but in addition, the rubber was not layering into the track as it should. Instead, the tires were coming apart like powder, similar to the way the tires wore nearly three years ago at Indianapolis.

“The mood of the car is just changing quicker,” explained Kurt Busch. “Your car is dialed in for seven or eight laps. Your car is fine and then once you get past Lap 10 the right rear or right front just seems to be over-worked and the car is going through a bigger mood swing and getting looser and looser. I feel safe in the car; it’s just a matter of balancing out the setup a little bit better.”

For Greg Biffle, it was not necessarily a problem with the tire, but instead an evolution of the car to the point where the driver is no longer able to manage his tires.

“I haven’t seen any indication that this tire wouldn’t work for the race, but some guys ran longer than we did, so that may be part of it,” he said. “Part of our sport is tire management by the driver and we don’t have that anymore.”

Nationwide Series driver Jason Leffler saw things the same as Biffle, saying he did not understand why they could not run Saturday’s entire 300-lap race on the current compound, saying it would be like an old race at Darlington or Rockingham.

“The racing would be good,” he said, “but the owners would hate it.”

*Roush Fenway Sweeps Bristol Front Row*

Continuing to show their dominance over the first four weekends of the 2011 season, Carl Edwards and his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing crew took the pole for Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol. His second pole of the year and third-straight top-3 start, Edwards is enjoying every moment of his success.

“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “I’m having fun and I think, in a way, you guys have seen how my results have gone up and down, and I’m just enjoying this. I’m hoping it lasts. I’m gonna keep driving the way I’m driving until we win a championship or this car won’t go this fast, so that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m not gonna take anything for granted, that’s for sure. We might run 30th in this race. We might struggle, but we’re just gonna keep moving forward.”

Lining up to his outside on Sunday will be teammate Greg Biffle. Mired in 31st after the first three races, Biffle hopes for better luck come Sunday and knows track position is key to his success.

“Track position at these places here, Martinsville and a lot of these short tracks, is just super, super important,” he said. “Pit stall selection is important too, having an opening out. This is a really tight pit road, even though there is a front and back you can still gain some spots on pit road.”

Biffle had issues on pit road in Las Vegas, running out of fuel and being caught a lap down. Problems with the gas man led to changes at that position over the off-week.

In addition to sweeping the front row, all of the Roush Fenway Fords qualified in the top 11, with David Ragan in fifth and Matt Kenseth qualifying 11th.

*Smith, Menard and Ragan Continue Strong Early-Season Showing*

Three of the early-season surprises, Regan Smith, Paul Menard and David Ragan continued their strong showings Friday in Bristol. The trio qualified third, fourth and fifth, respectively, for Sunday’s Jeff Byrd 500, besting former Bristol winners Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and others.

While Menard has had the best start of the season, currently sixth in points, all three have shown great improvement over previous years.

“We’ve have three solid races and in each race I feel like we could have finished better so something Slugger [Labbe, crew chief] and I have been talking about is how do we close these races,” Menard said. “We ran better in all three races than where we finished. Knock on wood we haven’t had any trouble. With the new points system that is such a big deal. If you stay out of trouble you can gain some points. The guys that have trouble, finish 30th on back, they don’t pay a lot of points back there. So that’s our goal, to be smart. Obviously we have fast race cars we’ve just got to capitalize a little better at the end and keep our nose clean.”

For Smith and Ragan, however, promising runs have only led to poor finishes and further frustration. Both had legitimate shots at winning the season-opening Daytona 500, while Smith was caught up in a late-race caution and Ragan was black-flagged while leading with only a handful of laps to go.

In Phoenix, Smith was collected in that track’s version of the ‘Big One’ and one week later lost an engine early in Las Vegas.

For Ragan, it seems his window of opportunity at Roush Fenway Racing is closing and luck is not helping his cause. After being black-flagged in Daytona, the No. 6 cut a tire in Phoenix resulting in a hard hit that ended his day early.

“We’ve had great cars the first three or four races and circumstances have kind of gotten us, but we’ve got a lot of momentum on our side,” he said. “I feel like our cars are fast and Bristol is so much fun. When we can come here, unload and have a decent car on Friday, that certainly makes for a lot more fun weekend.”

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