Building a tire that is capable of the demands and the diversity of the NASCAR Cup Series is a very difficult project. For the majority of the past five decades, Goodyear has been the premier tire company in NASCAR.
However, this past weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway saw an array of tire issues that have many in the industry concerned. There was also some chatter about the tire after both short track races in 2022 have resulted in lackluster events with little passing.
With that said, is it time for NASCAR to look to add a different tire manufacturer? Bryan Davis Keith and Vito Pugliese debate whether or not it’s time.
Change is Needed
History has a funny way of repeating itself. Take this column. We at Frontstretch tackled this exact question 14 years ago.
14 years later, my opinion has not changed, even if the circumstances surrounding Goodyear’s latest issues are different. No, the tire woes that impacted Sunday’s Cup Series race at Kansas did not incur wrath like they did in 2008, when Tony Stewart called the Eagles he raced on at Atlanta Motor Speedway “the most pathetic racing tire.” But there’s no doubting that the tires were an issue at Kansas, rather than an asset or even something that just needed to work.
It’s hardly surprising. Goodyear is still, 14 years later, playing with itself when it comes to making NASCAR’s national touring series tires. It has no competition and therefore no motivation to get better, innovate, etc.
When you can rightly say you’re the official tire of NASCAR, it’s not like tire failures and incidents resulting from them are going to be a problem. After all, they’re the official tire of a sport whose own advertising can’t go more than a few seconds without replaying a spectacular crash.
The funny thing is when I wrote about this 14 years ago, NASCAR racing was a in similar situation, as that was the first full season campaigning the “Car of Tomorrow.” And just like today with the Next Gen, tires were a work in progress through all of 2008. Truthfully, the situation here in 2022 is not as dire as it was in 2008, a season whose rubber issues climaxed with the 2008 Brickyard 400, which will go down in history as the worst stock car race ever run that didn’t kill a driver.
That doesn’t mean that the rationale for forcing them to endure some competition as a tire provider has changed or diminished. Giving competitors a choice means a manufacturer can’t play it safe with compounds or get lackadaisical with testing and research.
If anything, the need to give competitors a choice of tire is more acute here in 2022 because in this new era of kit car racing, there’s really not a lot of places for teams to actually make a choice and differentiate themselves.
Besides, after all the effort that went into making the Next Gen Mustangs and Camaros look stock (not touching that Frankenstein Camry with a 10-foot pole), why not give those teams the same options those of us that own the stock cars have? Yes, I replaced my Mustang’s tires this spring with the exact same Pirellis that came on it the day I bought it, but that was a choice I made because I was happy with how the first set performed, not a mandate.
And there’s one more wrinkle to the 2022 marketplace that NASCAR has been immune from, at least so far. Supply chain. The same supply chain issues that reportedly have had Cup teams racing skittish, even as late as Martinsville, owing to a short supply of mandatory-use replacement parts on their kit hot rods, have proven to be an inescapable thorn in the side of both asphalt and dirt short track racing so far this year.
Tire shortages have gone as far as to cancel national touring races in the Dakotas and forced many tracks to either cancel races, mandate the use of harder, longer life compounds and open tire rules to allow any rubber that can be gotten to be raced.
Now granted, NASCAR’s top national tours are a higher priority than the local bullring, and will command first fulfillment of orders if things ever get that dire in the asphalt tire market. But being complete single-threaded in a supply chain seems every bit as antiquated as the 2008 splitter on the CoT. NASCAR manufacturer partner General Motors learned that the hard way after the Japanese tsunami in 2011 led to months-long droughts of paint pigments that affected hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle orders.
Fast forward to today, and outside of NASCAR’s Goodyear Eagles it’s hard to think of any commodity where a lack of supply isn’t biting consumers and distributors alike. Though maybe that’s just an indictment on the quality of those tires?
In a 2022 where American mothers are struggling to find literal basics like baby formula (who had that on their 2022 bingo cards?), anything is possible. And NASCAR would do well to learn from a dirt racing industry that for all its success in weathering the COVID-19 pandemic has been caught utterly flat-footed by the inability of Hoosier and American Racer to maintain raw materials and manufacturing ability to meet the tire demands of the industry. And what tires they are producing haven’t been without quality issues.
Here is your high quality $300.00 Hoosier racing tire. Split right down the seam. Hope your proud to send this to your customers!! Bring back tire competion!! pic.twitter.com/PlBZgyyyzH
— Jerry McClure (@McClureRacing) May 15, 2022
It runs completely contrary to a sanctioning body that has embraced protectionism in everything it has done, from expanded postseason to the charter system. But for a sport that’s embraced diversity in so many forms, diversifying the tire supply actually could do something good for it. –Bryan Davis Keith
Pushing The Envelope Past The Sticky Part
This past race weekend at Kansas certainly wasn’t without some eyebrow-raising moments. I’m not talking about the absolute dissection of each corner in the closing laps run down of Kyle Larson by Kurt Busch, but rather the festival of blown tires by teams starting Friday afternoon (May 13). When there are tire failures, fans are quick to point the finger at the tire manufacturer; usually because it’s their driver who is spinning around. If it’s Chase Elliott, well, they’re probably used to it this year, but if there is a tire down, then Goodyear is going to get the blame. With the amount of left rear tires specifically that failed this weekend, then the situation requires a bit more forensic activity.
Usually when there are a series of tire failures in NASCAR, we’ve become accustomed to seeing the right-front tires let go. After all, that’s the corner that’s seeing the most load in the corner and bearing the most weight and heat, from both g-load, friction and heat from the brakes. This weekend, the left rear tires were the ones having issues. This was probably the first time since the ill-fated CoT Brickyard fiasco in 2008 where we saw all of the tires involved in perpetual blowouts after less than 10 laps. What would cause the left rears to suddenly be an issue?
The Next Gen car has not only an independent rear suspension for the first time in NASCAR competition, there is also a new, larger wheel and tire combination. While the tire is physically larger, the sidewall of the tire is dramatically shorter. Increased camber in the rear end coupled with less sidewall to lean on, likely conspired to produce the number of radical decompression events (i.e., blowouts…I just made up that term) with the Cup Series. There weren’t any such issues in the Camping World Truck Series race the day before either, so it’s not like it was an issue with the tire supplier. It looks like the typical issue of teams pushing the envelope with air pressures or suspension aggressiveness, looking for any sort of advantage.
When there’s talk of looking for a new tire supplier, that always strikes me as incredibly short sighted. What manufacturer has been as consistently invested as Goodyear has for the last 50 years, in any racing series? During a point in history not seen since World War II, with supply chains as strained, stretched, knotted, and absolutely broken as they have been the last two years, Goodyear hasn’t had hardly a hiccup supplying tires for ALL of the NASCAR touring series that they support.
When you have multi-car dynasties in NASCAR coming to the track with “a” backup for ALL of the teams to use because of parts shortages, things aren’t going very well with parts procurement or available labor.
The one supplier that hasn’t been an issue: Goodyear.
As one of the more elderly members of the Frontstretch staff, I vividly remember the tire wars of the late 1980s and early 90s.
What resulted were some absolutely devastating crashes into non-SAFER Barrier laden concrete walls, resulting in injured drivers in part because of the rudimentary of seat and restraints of the era, but because of compromises made in the interest of pure speed at some tracks. Having multiple tire supplier did not work in NASCAR, nor did it ultimately work in Formula 1 either in the subsequent decades.
Beyond the sponsorship support and brand equity that Goodyear has built along the way, they are absolutely committed to ensuring the product succeeds and performs as needed. The fact that such a wildly different car has had decidedly few tire issues this year, why assume that they are to fault for inside rear tires at Kansas of all places? Wouldn’t that have showed up last week at the cheese grater that is Darlington, with guys bouncing off the wall every lap?
NASCAR should also shoulder a bit of the criticism here as well. There was a huge thunderstorm that swept through the area Sunday morning, bringing torrential rains and even hail. Usually when there is a green racetrack, NASCAR will throw a competition caution after 20-25 laps to check tire wear. For whatever reason Sunday (despite having some issues on Friday on a green track), they elected not to. What resulted was a stuck tow truck in turn 3, and tire issues that coincidentally started emerging after about 20-25 laps. Perhaps some of these issues could have been avoided had teams been able to get an early read on any further tire related issues.
With a new generation racecar, comes new challenges. We saw this with the CoT and the Gen 6 during their formative years. With the Next Gen car there is not only a new car, but a new wheel and tire configuration, aerodynamic enhancements, and very little off-throttle time in the corners on intermediate tracks. To say that this coupled with extremely limited testing could have set the stage for a major disaster is putting it mildly; what has resulted so far this season could be deemed nothing but a success. It’s one race, with one issue on one corner of the car; if there’s an issue at Texas and Charlotte, then there may be something to crow about.
Until then, I would be willing to surmise that this was simply a set up issue we won’t see repeated. – Vito Pugliese
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