|Tires the talk of Texas ahead of Sunday’s race|
|Friday, April 04, 2014 8:19 PM|
By JENNA FRYER
FORT WORTH, Texas — Tires remained the hot topic at Texas Motor Speedway, where NASCAR and Goodyear took the unprecedented step of discussing the compound selected for Sunday’s race before a single lap had been turned.
Goodyear’s multi-zone tread tire is making its season debut at Texas, where speeds inched toward 200 mph in today’s opening practice session.
There was one major incident, 100 minutes into practice, when Kurt Busch wrecked hard into the outside wall. Busch, winner of last week’s race at Martinsville, appeared to blow a left rear tire before losing control of his Chevrolet and crashing.
His car caught fire and as his Stewart-Haas Racing team pulled out the backup, Busch said the left rear tire started to separate on the backstretch.
The left side tires being used at Texas are the same ones Goodyear has used at the last two races here.
The multi-zone tread tire combines two distinct rubber compounds on right-side tire, with the outside 10 inches of tread designed for traction, and the compound on the inside two inches is designed for durability.
But a handful of drivers publicly expressed concern about tire wear and durability on Texas’ high banks. The concern comes two races after a flurry of left-side tire failures at California led many drivers to question Goodyear’s product and preparation.
Greg Stucker, Goodyear director of race tire sales, said the manufacturer is confident the selection for Texas will be just fine.
“Historically, Texas has not been a race track where we have a lot of left-side problems,” he said. “We addressed the right side because it is a high-speed race track and that’s what gets stressed tremendously here. That’s why we came with the zone tread tire, because it was a good solution to that.
“I think on the heels of some of the issues we saw at Fontana, people are asking the question, ‘Is there a possibility we could see the same thing?’ There’s always that possibility.”
But both NASCAR and Goodyear are adamant that any issues that occurred at California were self-inflicted and that will again be the case at Texas.
“People are always pushing the envelope, always trying to stress all parts of the race car,” Stucker added. “We understand that and support that. That’s what makes racing great, right?”
Joey Logano blew two tires at California in practice and his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski blew three. He admitted Friday that the organization was aggressive with the minimum air pressure recommendations from Goodyear.
“I think it was field-wide. I think everybody was being pretty aggressive,” he said.
Although some teams have gone to NASCAR and asked the sanctioning body to monitor air pressure, NASCAR does not want to begin regulating. It would instead prefer teams to roll the dice on strategy.
“It’s a very competitive garage area out there. With as much pressure being put on teams to win and get in the Chase, I think teams will be more likely to push the envelopes in any way that they can,” said vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. “I’m proud of them to push the limits like that. But they also know they have to finish races. They know better than we do. We’re just the governing body. They’re the competitors.
“They’ve got a lot on the line. They’re the best at pushing it to the limit. They’ll adjust accordingly.”
Logano admitted it’s a fine line.
“I don’t really want to blow out tires because it hurts,” he said. “I’d rather have something that’s a little tougher tire that can handle that stuff but it’s such a hard thing. Here we are as drivers, we want more grip, we want a softer tire, we want a tire that wears out, and then we’re putting so much load on them with these heavy cars it’s almost impossible to do both, so it’s very, very difficult to make that happen.”
Kyle Busch wants NASCAR to stay out of it and credits letting teams manage their own tires to contributing to improved racing this season.
“It’s been more exciting, the racing we’ve had, with the rules being loosened up this year. So why do we need to add more rules to tighten it back up again?” Busch asked. “I am against it. In California, there were people that abused the left-side air pressure. You saw them take off and have way more speed than others. Guys like myself that didn’t abuse that left-side air pressure were able to still salvage on and didn’t have problems with tires whatsoever. Ultimately we won the race.”
But 3-time champion Tony Stewart thinks NASCAR regulation might be good for the drivers.
“If it keeps it from having failures and lets us race and worry about what we’re doing on the track, instead of a guessing game on whether we’re going to make it because the pressures are running too low, I’d rather them put a regulation on it,” Stewart added.
Earnhardt reminisces on JV basketball career: With his favorite team eliminated long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will root for Florida in the Final Four.
NASCAR’s most popular driver loves basketball but not because he excelled on the court. Although he tweeted a photo of himself Thursday with the junior varsity team from Oak Ridge (N.C.) Military School, Earnhardt said he was the weak link on the squad.
“I sat on the bench a lot being the smallest guy,” Earnhardt said Friday before practice at Texas Motor Speedway. “I didn’t have any skill. I only played because you got to leave campus for road games.
“Being able to leave even for a day in military school was an amazing vacation to be able to leave for a few hours. You’d go after the game and get the pizza or whatever. You didn’t have those kind of luxuries being on campus. I had fun.”
Earnhardt said he scored a whopping two points in his playing career.
“Some guy was jumping at me and I just closed my eyes and threw it up,” said Earnhardt, who only knew the basket was good because older sister Kelley and his 10 or so family members in attendance began screaming.
“It was rough back then, but a lot of good memories and a lot of fun practicing and being on a team,” he said. “I hadn’t played much organized sports at that point in my life so that was pretty fun. Plus, like I said, being able to get out of military school for a day was great, being able to see the outside world.”
His favorite team, North Carolina, was eliminated in the third round by Iowa State, leaving Earnhardt to pull for the Gators, who face Connecticut. Earnhardt said he had plans to attend the Final Four games Saturday in nearby Arlington, but instead will watch on TV.
Earnhardt added he has continued playing basketball since his high school days.
Johnson returns to track mourning brother-in-law: Jimmie Johnson returned to the race track Friday still mourning the loss of his brother-in-law in a California skydiving accident.
Jordan Janway died Sunday in San Diego County after apparently colliding with another parachutist during freefall, then failing to open his parachute.
Janway was the 27-year-old brother of Johnson’s wife, Chandra.
“This week has been very difficult for the Janway family. It’s been so tough for myself to sit back and watch the people I love deal with so much pain,” Johnson said at Texas Motor Speedway. “Things are progressing and everybody is as good as you can hope. Last night, the family spent a lot of time telling stories about Jordan and smiling a little bit, smiling instead of tears. The healing process has definitely started.”
The 6-time champion opened his weekly media availability by thanking those who have reached out via various means to offer support since Monday, when Janway’s death was confirmed.
“I just wanted to come in and make a brief comment before we got busy racing, then try to switch my mind into this racing reality and focus the next couple days on going racing and just go try to win a race,” he said.
Johnson had not had any time to consider running a tribute decal on his No. 48 Chevrolet or helmet but figured now that’s he’s at the track, he can consider a proper way to honor the free-spirited Janway.
“He was a very adventurous guy — base-jumping and parachuting and wearing the squirrel suits, like you see the guys flying along the cliff sides, that’s what he did,” Johnson added. “He’s in a lot of those videos shooting that footage. Tragic death, for sure. But he was doing something he loved. He was very passionate about it. Never met a stranger, very warm, caring young man.”