While the next stop in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Talladega, five Cup drivers made the voyage to the Irish Hills this week for a Goodyear tire test at Michigan International Speedway.
Reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman all took part in the test in preparation for the June and August races at MIS. Almirola, however, was the only Cup driver to not partake in the second day of testing on Wednesday.
The two-day test consisted of a combination of different sets of tires with the purpose to ensure the best possible racing when the series stops at the two-mile track.
“So far it looks pretty good,” Keselowski said Wednesday. “The tires are all pretty good. There’s a couple different option tires, and they’re all pretty strong, and our car seems to have pretty decent speed. We found some things that we liked.”
Part of the process
Keselowski, a Michigan native, has yet to win this season but enters this Sunday’s race at Talladega fifth in the points standings.
“We’re just kind of solid – good, not great right now – but that’s partially why we’re here (this week) – try to go from good to great and learn a few things,” he said. “So far I think that’s going pretty well. Tire tests, in general, are a little monotonous, but it’s all part of a process to, really, achieve two things for the sport: ensure there is a quality race here come June and August race weekends and for the teams to try to leverage their engineering resources to learn and bring back the best possible iteration of their cars.”
Goodyear, Keselowski said, is using the Cup drivers to test out a new tri-zone tire.
“So, essentially, if you think of the tire as having one compound that grips the asphalt here at Michigan International Speedway, this particular tire has three separate compounds within them, which gives them the ability to tune in the durability and performance at the same time,” he said. “With this kind of formulation, hopefully they can work the two together. … I thought it was a slight improvement. The durability wasn’t a concern, so there’s some promise there. It’s not perfect, but that’s why we have testing.”
Of the speed at MIS, Truex said, “Just the speed. This place is so fast, it is crazy. I like the bigger, faster race tracks. It has been such a great track for us over the years, especially since I have been at Furniture Row.”
Battling the weather
On Tuesday, the drivers were faced with unfavorable conditions as rain fell upon the track. Fortunately, the rain let up and the sun came out on Wednesday.
“You hope that the sun’s out and it’s similar conditions to what we will race here,” Truex said. "Typically at tire testing, if the weather is cooler than what you’ll race in, usually it’s a good thing. You’ll see more wear.”
Since the 2012 repave at MIS, the fourth in the track’s history, Bowman said there’s a “fine line” between a lot of grip and no grip.
“Michigan, since they’ve repaved it, has always been real edgy and hard to feel the race car,” he said. “It’s a narrow groove. … Some of the tires (this week) took feeling away. Some of the tires gave us more feeling, so that was a big difference for me in some of the tires I felt. One set was quite a bit faster than even the controls were, so that was interesting. While a faster set of tires, obviously, feels better, it would probably create worse racing.”
Story by Colton Wood