BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Fans in the stands may not see a difference, and drivers on the track may not be able to feel it in the seat of their pants.
Nevertheless, the new tire Goodyear is providing for upcoming races at Atlanta Motor Speedway represents one of the most significant advancements in the construction of racing tires in the company's history.
The right-side tire that NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will run Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, respectively, isn't just a new tire. It's a new concept for NASCAR racing, using a process Goodyear calls "zone tread" technology.
The inboard shoulder of the tire -- roughly the inner third, and the area that receives the most stress at an oval such as Atlanta -- features a firmer, more heat-tolerant compound. The outer portion of the tire features a softer tread designed to provide more grip.
The two compounds are melded seamlessly during the extrusion process.
Results of a 13-team test Aug. 6 at Atlanta were positive, encouraging Goodyear to use the new tire, married with more traditional left sides, for the upcoming races at the 1.54-mile speedway.
In 2004, Goodyear introduced its Assurance TripleTred tire for street cars. That tire combined three tread zones for different weather conditions: wet, icy and dry.
Race tires, of course, don't have tread patterns, and wet and icy conditions don't apply; hence, the tire for Atlanta features two zones instead of three -- the inboard to provide durability and the outer portion to provide grip.
The introduction of NASCAR's lighter Gen-6 race car this year, along with new rules that allow latitude in rear camber, facilitated the introduction of the NASCAR racing application of the zone tread technology, a concept that's been in the works from a racing standpoint for roughly two years.
"It makes a little more sense for us to do now, because they do have the flexibility in the rear," Greg Stucker, Goodyear's manager of race tire sales, told the NASCAR Wire Service on Saturday at Michigan. "If we would have been doing it in the past, obviously we'd have been focusing more on the right front, but it would have been a little bit more of a compromise for the tire on the right rear.
"Now, with their ability to run that camber, it's really more matched for both front and rear. I think the fact that they can run that has made the car handle better. The fact that the car's lighter has manifested itself in a faster race car, and we're just trying to deal with that. We're seeing the speeds come up everywhere, and Atlanta was one of those that was on our radar that was going to be a tough race track."
The pavement at Atlanta is old and abrasive, but that doesn't mean there aren't applications for the zone tread technology at recently repaved speedways.
"We think this technology really opens the door for a lot of new things, a lot of new ways to approach things from a compounding perspective," Stucker said. "We're going to move slowly on it, but you're certainly going to see more of it. We've tested it at a number of different places.
"We tested it at Kansas. We're talking about it as a potential there. We tested it at Las Vegas. We tested up here (at Michigan), actually. … Everything has been very positive in testing so far, but until you make a huge volume and get them out there in race conditions -- that's always the ultimate test."
The harder inboard shoulder may give crew chiefs a broader range of possibilities when it comes to tire pressures.
"It's probably going to open the window for them to do a whole lot more stuff," Stucker said with a smile. "Pressures -- and everything. So we've got to watch that as well. Obviously, if we give them something that's a little more robust, they'll start to push that, too."
By Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service