NASCAR’s new low-downforce aerodynamic package debuts this weekend at Atlanta and it comes with a “significant change” in the tires Goodyear will bring for the Sprint Cup Series each week.
The low-downforce package was used twice last season with great success – at Kentucky and Darlington, S.C. Only the Darlington race, however, had a tire specifically designed for the package.
You can definitely tell the difference in downforce. The car is definitely a lot freer, on top of the race track a lot more
Greg Biffle, Roush-Fenway Racing driver
The adaption of the package to all tracks except the superspeedways meant extra work for Goodyear. The tires NASCAR and Cup drivers most wanted to use with the aero package provide more fall-off (increased wear).
“It’s a significant change when you talk about the amount of downforce that has come off the race cars so it’s a pretty significant change in what we’ve done from the grip perspective,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing.
“In general we’re landing with softer compounds, at least on one side of the car if not both. The other things we’re trying to integrate on these mile-and-a-halves is a couple of new constructions we’ve been working on, which are actually a little bit more robust.
“The left-side tire used this weekend at Atlanta is really what we debuted at Fontana, Calif., a year ago. It enabled the teams to run lower air pressure. As the car loses aero grip, teams are going to be looking for mechanical grip anywhere they can.”
Better quality of racing
In theory, NASCAR believes the changes should help produce a better quality of racing, which was the case in last season’s races at Kentucky and Darlington.
With just one practice session in the books on Friday, Cup series driver were already lauding the changes.
“After a lap, the tire feels different. After five laps, it’s way different. I think that the lower downforce package lets you – gives Goodyear a little more leeway,” said Carl Edwards. “I know I had a lot of fun at Kentucky last year. Darlington was a lot of fun.
“This race, I think it’s going to be all over the place. Like Kyle Busch says, ‘It’s going to be nuts,’ and you’re just going to be sliding all over.”
Said Greg Biffle: “You can definitely tell the difference in downforce. The car is definitely a lot freer, on top of the race track a lot more. … Every time I was leaving (pit road) I could see guys loose running across the bottom, so I think it’s going to be a great race.”
On the lookout for unintended consequences
Still, NASCAR and Goodyear will keep a close eye on the racing each week. Unintended consequences are always a possibility.
For instance, a January tire test at Las Vegas resulted in higher than expected speeds with the new aero package.
At least part of the problem was the colder weather for the test, but Goodyear took a conservative approach on the tire selection just to be on the safe side.
“We know it’s going to be warmer when we go back there for the race (next week). We didn’t want to overreact to the speeds that we saw,” Stucker said. “Everybody expressed the same concern, at the same time you don’t want make a decision based on conditions you know will be different.
“We didn’t take the faster package we had at the test. We kind of made the compromise with something all the drivers thought had plenty of grip and was actually a more comfortable package.”
Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth took part in the January test at Las Vegas.