NASCAR met with crew chiefs Saturday morning at Michigan International Speedway to discuss changes for the left-side tires for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400.
With the 2-mile track newly repaved in the offseason, teams discovered blistering on the tires as speeds increased more than 6 mph from the laps turned during Goodyear’s test in April. Drivers reached 220 mph entering the corners on Friday, and Greg Biffle topped the speed chart Saturday at 204.708 mph for full laps during what was scheduled as Happy Hour.
When NASCAR and Goodyear discussed the situation with teams after final practice, it was decided that a new, harder compound (code D-4020) would be trucked to MIS on Saturday. The tire, used at Charlotte Motor Speedway after that track was repaved in 2005, has been sitting in Goodyear’s Cornelius, NC, warehouse as a potential backup since 2008.
"It’s new pavement on a very fast configuration and the speed leads to performance that we’d rather see better (with the tires)," said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tires. "I don’t think you can say it’s one or the other. It’s the condition we’re in and we want to make sure we have the right tire for the conditions. And right now, collectively, we don’t think we had the (proper) left-side tire here."
Teams will receive 10 sets of tires — the original limit set — for Sunday’s race. The new tire has proved to be durable while offering enough grip for the rate of speed the cars are expected to run on Sunday.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, believes teams' ingenuity and the newly paved surface have led to the increasing speeds that caught everyone off guard.
"The teams are in the garage area making changes," Pemberton said. "They keep making better changes to the car. I do think when we come back here the speeds will decrease, but it’s one of those situations where the track lends itself to increasing grip right now. The surfaces are great. They give a lot of grip. The tires were perfectly matched for a certain speed.
"As the teams continued to work on it, it was even a surprise for the teams on how the speeds increased from the morning to the afternoon session. . . . Speeds will decrease, but it won’t happen this weekend."
Although afternoon practice speeds were more than 3 mph faster than Friday morning’s numbers, Pemberton said rising speed is not the issue. While he complimented Goodyear for “doing the best job they’ve done in the history of the sport,” Pemberton said the tire company missed the mark when the left-side control tire was selected for the event.
And at this late stage, Pemberton doesn’t believe that tweaking the cars aerodynamically or installing a restrictor plate would solve the situation.
“It’s about tires,” Pemberton said. “And if the issue is tires, we’re going to work on the tire part of it. If you make other changes and stray off course, you’re going in uncharted waters and the chances of hitting a home run there are few and far between."
Dave Rogers, crew chief for Kyle Busch, who won here in August, participated in the Goodyear tire test two months ago when temperatures were 20 degrees cooler than they have been at Michigan. Throughout those 20-lap runs, Rogers said, there were no issues with the No. 18 Toyota. Even after a 31-lap run Friday, Rogers had no cause for concern.
"Our speeds are off from the guys that are having problems — I think it’s a function of speed or primarily a function of speed," Rogers said. "The race pace generally slows down to where we were at. I think Kyle did a good job of racing race pace and not trying to set track records. Our tires looked OK.
"I think that it would have been fine if we would have kept that tire once race pace slowed down, but obviously when you see that problem, NASCAR and Goodyear have to react. They have to react to make sure that we keep these drivers safe and put on a good show for our fans."
Still, Rogers realizes his crew will be working overtime to ensure a competitive car for the driver. And after two weeks of testing before races, teams on Sunday will start feeling the effects.
"It’s a lot of work on the mechanics," Rogers said. "They’ve been up here and these cars are hot. One of the problems we’re having is the tires generate so much heat because there’s so much grip out there. So when you’re working on the cars, the tires are hot, the brakes are hot, the engine is hot — everything’s hot.
"You’ve been here for three days — the ambient temperatures are up. All the guys, every mechanic on every team, they are just flat tired and ready to watch the race and let the drivers work for a little while. Now you have an extra practice and a longer night.
"I think fatigue is probably the biggest thing you’re dealing with the crew just making sure they stay hydrated and make sure their minds stay fresh and get through another long day.”
Wear and tear on cars will also come into play. Traditionally, Michigan International Speedway has been a big horsepower track. With teams already logging plenty of miles on their engines before Sunday’s race, how will the additional 75-minute practice session affect the durability of the parts?
Engine builder Doug Yates said the speeds will take a toll on more than just the tires.
“I’ve been worried since the thought of running here at these speeds from the time we tested,” Yates said. “We tried to do our homework. We’ve run tests and endurances back at the shop. We feel like we have our bases covered, but it’s a lot of stress on the engine as well as the tires, the cars and everything else.
"Over the course of the weekend, we give our guys a lap limit based on the life and cycles of the engine. We’ve adjusted that a little bit here, but the teams are working with us, as well, to make sure they finish the race and have a good result."