Keep your eyes on the tires this Sunday in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Why will they be so important in Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (live on FOX with pre-race coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET)? Let Greg Stucker, director of racing for Goodyear, lay it out for you in seven easy steps.
In short, he points out: “There are some format changes, some tire-allotment changes, and some starting-on-qualifying tire changes. … So it’s all three pieces molded together to change some of the strategy plays throughout the course of the race. "
Nigel Kinrade/LAT Photo USA
What specifically is different about Atlanta?
Stucker: “Atlanta is a big, fast racetrack with long corners, very abrasive so tire wear is always an issue there. Now we’ve got a little bit lower downforce, so that’s going to aggravate that situation a little bit. I think the cars are going to be sliding around a little bit more, obviously depending on what the weather ends up being.”
Stucker: "You’ve got the whole set allotment change. NASCAR has reduced the number of tires that teams have at their disposal week in and week out. Atlanta is actually a two-set reduction from what they had last year. If you look at the rules, it’s actually a one-set reduction – but they were given an additional set on Sunday morning last year. So they have two sets less at their disposal to manage the race.”
Getty ImagesRob Carr
Mis-managing tires can lead to trouble?
Stucker: "Now you throw the format change on top of that and it’s going to be a strategy issue. How do you manage them so you have fresh tires on at the right spot? You want to take four as often as you can – but I think guys are going to have to be very cognizant of when they come down and take tires.”
Nigel Kinrade/LAT Photo USA
Why reduce the number of tires per team?
Stucker: "If you look at the numbers of sets of tires teams are able to save over the course of the year, it’s like 42 sets (per team). It’s not the same for every racetrack. … What really drove the whole thing was, ‘How do we control costs?’ Obviously tires are an expensive piece of that. We do go through a lot of them. There are long races, and drivers like new tires all the time.
“NASCAR really looked at the data. … This isn’t really a rule to reduce the number of tires used. It’s really kind of to right-size their inventory, so you don’t have four sets of tires left over at the end of a race. They looked at the data and made reductions for each individual race, based on the number of tires that were left over at the end (of previous races). Their goal was to have one set or maybe a little bit more left over at the end of every race.”
Getty ImagesJared C. Tilton
Crew chiefs will really earn their pay, right?
Stucker: "It adds another element of strategy, and I think it will be interesting to see. I think it will play out based on how the cautions fall in that first segment. It’s just going to be something they have to manage.
“It seems like it all came at different times: the set allotment change came first, then the format change, and then the starting on qualifiers. So it’s all three pieces molded together to change some of the strategy plays throughout the course of the race. It’s going to be more critical. More than just coming down and getting four tires every time you can, it’s going to be more managing tire usage and tire wear in the format.”
How does starting a race on qualifying tires change things?
Stucker: "The guys who go through three rounds of qualifying are going to have a number of laps greater on their tires at the start of the race than guys who maybe only went through the first round.
“So I think there are a lot of different elements. The tire itself is the same that we’ve raced on there the last couple of years. But all the rules changes, I think, are going to have a pretty significant impact on how people manage that inventory and what type of strategy they play.”
Getty ImagesDaniel Shirey
How dramatic is the tire fall-off at Atlanta?
Stucker: "At Atlanta, if you only ran two laps in qualifying, and then another guy ran six laps, it could be as much as a second difference. They fall off tremendously.
“So if you’ve got the top 12 guys there at the start of the race with maybe seven laps on their tires, and then you’ve got the guys starting from 24th on back who have only a couple of laps on their tires, it’s going to be a big difference. It’ll be pretty significant, particularly if it’s a sunny day and the track is going to be pretty slick. It’s going to change things up.
“Then when you get to the end of the stages, what’s the strategy going to be there? Do you come in to get tires early? I don’t know, because they fall off pretty quick.”