Goodyear faces uncharted territory

Goodyear: Treading uncharted territory in 2001 By Marty Smith AKRON, Ohio (Jan. 19, 2001) -- Blown right-front tires determined the outcome of several races in the 2000 Winston Cup season. Even more than Dale Earnhardt's front bumper.

Goodyear: Treading uncharted territory in 2001
By Marty Smith

AKRON, Ohio (Jan. 19, 2001) -- Blown right-front tires determined the outcome of several races in the 2000 Winston Cup season.

Even more than Dale Earnhardt's front bumper.

Thus, few issues in the sport garnered more controversy than tires throughout the year.

The main reason for all the hubbub? Tire codes and camber angles differed week after week -- even at the same racetrack during the same year. A team that thoroughly dominated an event during the spring would return to the same track in the fall with a completely different tire and thus an entirely different setup, stripping any advantage they may have had. A fifth-place run in the spring turned into a 30th-place effort in the fall.

"Say you've gone to Bristol and led 494 laps and you come back the next race and can't use a damn bit of that information because you have a completely different tire," said Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Ford. "Now, that's as frustrating as it gets."

Last season, Goodyear issued 36 different tire codes -- numeric descriptions of the tire's makeup -- in the three major divisions, meaning that teams were given 36 completely different tires. Winston Cup had 25 different codes alone. Once again, each tire required an entirely different setup.

Teams that ran four and a half degrees of camber -- the angle that the tire hits the racetrack -- in the spring, were recommended by Goodyear to run two and half degrees in the fall. Some didn't listen, resulting in blown right front tires galore.

"Last year, there was such a change in the racecars, and how they performed, from the season-opener at Daytona to season-finale at Atlanta and the affect on the tires was unbelievable," said Phil Holmer, Goodyear's manager of NASCAR racing. "Those were not the same race cars by any means.

"They had so much more aerodynamic changes, so much front end and chassis changes, spring and shock changes. I've never seen anything like that in the 25 years I've been doing this. And, of course, we had to adjust accordingly."

This year, the number of varying codes will drop to 15, which will be broken up into eight categories, depending on the track they'll be used at.

For example, Goodyear grouped North Carolina Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway together, meaning that identical left-side and right-side tires will be run at the those five tracks.

That allows teams to take leftover tires from one track to another, rather than having an entirely new tire at every race. Several positives should stem from this, including reduced costs for team owners, consistent setups for teams and, most importantly, more races should be determined by who is the best driver, not who has the best equipment.

"That really favors Bobby Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin -- the guys that have a feel for their car and that can come into the garage area and say, 'Here's what the car is doing, and here's what we have to do to fix it,'" said Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Jack Roush-owned Ford. "It's not so much driving ability, but the ability to feel what, when and how your car is doing something so it can be fixed."

Burton knows all too well the pain that a blown tire can inflict. He dominated the fall event at Dover Downs International Speedway, but blew a right-front tire while leading. Later, it was discovered the No. 99 team didn't adhere to Goodyear's instructions on air pressure and/or camber.

"I think a lot of guys just didn't listen to what Goodyear told them," Wallace said. "For example, we went to Dover and I qualified great, ran great all day long and Goodyear's telling everyone not to run more than 2 ½ degrees of camber. But in the first race, everybody ran 4 ½, so to tell a guy he's got to change that by two solid degrees with the same car, that's tough to take. So some guys didn't believe them. That's the guys that blew up tires."

This year, that shouldn't be an issue. The uniform tire coding will enable teams to maintain consistency throughout an entire race. At times last season, a car would be dominant early, but after a tire change would fade to the rear.

Also, the new tire has been described as harder by some drivers, which they say will produce less grip and thus reduce speeds at nearly every venue. This is a welcome development, as three drivers were fatally injured during on-track accidents in 2000.

"The harder, more round tire won't drop as much rubber on the track," Burton said, "so what that will do is take the tire out of the racetrack, which takes the car out of the racetrack, making it harder to drive. I predict, at Las Vegas for example, speeds will be down a second from what we've had here in the past.

"That puts more emphasis on the driver, and the ability of the driver and his team to work together and get the car the way it needs to be. I think taking some of the grip from the tire is the right thing to do, even though it's Goodyear's job to make great tires, they're turning around and making a tire that's not so great to enhance competition. I support that a lot."

Although some drivers are concerned that the uniform tire will make it more difficult for lesser-funded teams to survive due to setup changes, in the end the racing should improve overall. That's the idea, of course.

"A harder tire means less grip, so we'll have to slow down getting into the corner and drive the car more conservative and it's harder to get off the corner," said Tony Stewart, one of the most audible Goodyear-bashers in 2000. "I think what will happen is the racing will be more competitive, and that's what everyone wants."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jack Roush , Mark Martin