NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Holding a Pretty Wheel: Is It Time for NASCAR to Change Tires?

A lot has changed in NASCAR over the past couple of decades. Next year will mark the fourth incarnation of a Cup car since 2000, and today’s schedule is a far cry from the slate of races in the 1990s. Just two of today’s regular Cup drivers raced against Dale Earnhardt in the top series. There are playoffs.

But what hasn’t changed?

Tires.

I mean, teams have changed thousands of tires on race weekends over the last 25 years or so, but the tires themselves? Not so much.

Is it time for something new?

The last time NASCAR allowed anyone other than Goodyear to make tires for its national series was 1994 when the so-called “tire wars” between Goodyear and Hoosier saw their final skirmish.

That 1994 season was competitive, but it was also costly. Two fatal crashes happened at Daytona on Hoosier rubber; at least one, the crash that killed Rodney Orr, was proven later to have been the result of a mechanical failure, not a tire issue. It’s highly probable that the crash that claimed Neil Bonnett was caused by the same faulty part, though not a certainty. There were other crashes that season, some due to tire failures, most notably the one that nearly killed Ernie Irvan at Michigan (Irvan was on Goodyears).

Many blamed the competing tire manufacturers and their rush to attract teams to their stable, and NASCAR returned exclusively to Goodyear in 1995, a deal that’s gone uncontested since.

What that’s led to is a race tire that’s safe and durable (hooray!) and also generally wears out about as fast as those bad boys on Fred Flintstone’s ride. There are some softer tires that wear a little more, but not enough to really force teams’ hands on pit strategy.

Let me be clear here: the most important thing is driver safety. We cannot exchange fun racing for injured drivers.

But it’s also unfair to pin it all on the tire companies.

It’s of note here that NASCAR’s regional series don’t race with Goodyear tires; they run either the General Tire or Hoosier labels (both fall under the Continental brand).

Should the tire wars make a comeback?

It’s past time for a change in race tires. Whether it means Goodyear making more than one compound for each track and making teams choose one (fast but wears faster, slower but lasts longer) each week or allowing teams to select a tire manufacturer on a yearly basis, much the same as with other parts manufacturers or another option can certainly be up for discussion.

Regardless, NASCAR needs a tire that wears out before the end of a fuel run. That’s wears out and negatively affects handling, not blows and puts drivers in the wall. With years and years of racing and advances in technology since 1994, it’s hard to believe that Goodyear and/or Continental can’t come up with a tire that wears out.

This doesn’t have to be an overnight thing, and NASCAR should be involved every step of the way, with extensive testing before any tire is approved and strict standards about the way tires wear.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday is, at least according to Goodyear, alive and well, so don’t expect a radical departure from radials, like the return of the bias-ply tire, or anything completely wild anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have better tires.

A different tire approach would require teams to manage tire wear a bit more. Teams will always push the envelope, but they have to keep their drivers safe. That could mean pitting before they wanted to when the tires wear out. They might not like that, but it would make the racing more interesting for fans. To help the cause, NASCAR could allow the development of technology that alerts teams (and NASCAR) when treads wear to a dangerous point.

So, while there needs to be extensive testing involved no matter what direction a change takes, it’s past time to start thinking about making that change. Give teams a choice but make them police themselves. It’s been almost 30 years since tire wars. Surely the tire companies have learned something over that time that could be applied to making where the rubber meets the road a bigger part of strategy.

NASCAR, it’s time to change the tires.

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John Barrick

An incredibly naive article. (I have no affiliation with Goodyear or any other tire company) The tire company works at the direction of the sanctioning body. They attempt to bring the best fit of tires without engineering a specific tire for every corner of the car for each individual track. To do that requires more money than its worth to any tire company. Formula 1 was faced a couple of years ago with no tire manufacturer…they had to work with the existing tire supplier to get them back. Add an expensive variable like tire choice while organizationally trying to cut costs to teams? The premise of this piece is ignorant and superficial. CNN needs good people like you.

BillyBobRaceFan

Excellent response, my hat is off to you sir.
.
Can anyone tell me what part failed on Neil Bonnet’s car?
I have read it was a $3.00 item but have never been able
to discern what item caused the crash. Tks

gbvette62

I’m all for giving the teams more options for things like tires, set up, etc. but I don’t want to see more rules that artificially effect the race. To me, requiring tires that wear out before the end of a fuel run, would be just more manufactured racing, and just another gimmick like stage racing.

I rather see teams given a choice of a two compounds for each race. Teams would have the choice of gambling on a faster soft tire, that didn’t last a fuel run, in hopes of an early caution, or play it safe with a harder, long run tire. To limit the number of tires that Goodyear would need to bring each week, NASCAR could adopt something similar to what Formula 1 does, require teams order their compound choices ahead of time. If teams are allowed 10 sets of tires for a race, maybe every team would get 3 sets of soft and 3 set of hard compound tires, and then be free to chose which compound the last 4 sets were. Goodyear wouldn’t have to bring anymore tires than they do now, teams would have some options during a race, and strategy and tire management would become a more important part of how a team and driver run a race. At an abrasive track like Darlington, you’d probably want the extra 4 sets to be the hard compound, but at a short track where cautions are common, you might want extra short run soft compound tires.

Al Torney

If it ain’t broken don’t fix it. The tires are obviously wearing or the teams wouldn’t be changing them on every pit stop. And Joy tells you damn near every race that new tires are faster for a few laps then worn tires. This was a dumb article. And the reason for this is that the folks writing these inanr articles are newcomers and have no history in the sport so have to come up with stories like these.
For those who weren’t around during the Hoosier-Goodyear tussle. Hosier showed up with a tire that was fast and sat in sone poles. How every it didn’t last worth a damn. Sone teams qualified on them but had to change to Goodyear’s on the first pit stop or pit under green. NASCAR had us rules you hade to start the race on the tires you qualified on. When Bonnett got killed at Daytona it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Dale Earnhardt was very vocal about getting rid of those other guys. I don’t believes they ever determined it was tire failure, or not. But Hoosier was gone.
It’s a simple game. Soft tires mean higher speed but faster wear.

DoninAjax

Let’s have two lap tires that the teams can put on for the GWCs. And pray there is only one or else they have to go back to the usual tire.

Calvin Slaughter

There should be 3 compounds of tires . Soft , semi and hard let the teams decide what they want to run and figure out what works for them and use the same 3 compounds every week. This will lead to better racing. When Geoff Bodine was running the Hoosiers they were fast.

DoninAjax

When Geoff Bodine was running Hoosiers they were fast, and so were anyone else on them, for five laps and then they came apart. The Goodyears were fast too and lasted just as long because the rubber was so soft to get the speed to out qualify each other. Let’s give the teams 10 sets of soft, 10 sets of semis and 10 sets of hard. At $2000 per set. All the teams could afford that. That’ll keep the costs under control. The same cars will be out front no matter what the tire spec is. If you saw Geoff on Hoosiers you know why Hoosier left.

David Hoffman

Whatever would get us more 100% green flag races is what I desire to see.The fewer yellow flag laps the better.

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