Shredding tire drivers’ worst fear

Despite watching his car become engulfed in flames last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Kurt Busch insists that blowing a right front tire is far more frightening.

“When a right front blows out, it’s the longest second and a half of your life looking out the windshield at the concrete wall in front of you,” Busch said.

Carl Edwards shudders at the thought of a tire blowing — particularly given the record-breaking qualifying speeds at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Even though the Generation 6 cars have a tremendous amount of grip, the corner speeds are so fast that if a driver loses control he or she is just along for the ride.

“I don’t even want to think about that,” Edwards said. “That’s on the list of things we don’t think about very often, because if you drive in that corner and you’re thinking about the tires giving up, that’s no good.

“Goodyear has done a really good job lately, and we haven’t had a lot of trouble with that, but it’s tough to decide whether to lock up all the brakes or keep trying to turn. It is no fun to hit the wall as fast as these cars are going when you have that trouble. That’s no good.”

Texas Motor Speedway, which has not been repaved since 2001, is one of the more abrasive tracks on the circuit.

To diminish the possibility of tire failures this weekend, Goodyear brought a new, sturdier tire combination to the track to ensure better wear. While the left-side tires have been used here for the last two seasons in the Cup Series, the right-side tires were run in the truck series.

Goodyear engineers selected this tire combination for the Generation 6 car following a tire test here in October.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon has endured a love-hate relationship with Texas Motor Speedway since the 1.5-mile track opened in 1997.

Gordon didn’t finish all the advertised laps in the first four races after the track’s debut. Before he could complete Lap 69 in the 1999 race, he blew a right front tire while running second and rocketed into the Turn 4 wall. Prior to his more recent wrecks at Pocono Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Gordon considered that wreck the most vicious of his career.

With more than 35 years of racing experience, Gordon can generally “feel (a tire) going down.” But it’s up to the team to remain proactive throughout the race weekend to understand the limits of the tires.

“It’s when it just blows and you don’t have any warning that is the toughest thing,” Gordon said. “We are keeping a real close eye on our shoulder temperature and our bead temperature. We had a tire come apart here the last time we were here. We were running strong up toward the front, I think we had a shot at winning that race had that not happened. We are certainly keeping a real close eye on it.”

Gordon finished 14th in the fall. He will roll off eighth on Saturday.

Certainly, the additional test day on Thursday and two practices on Friday should help Gordon and his fellow competitors with set-ups on race day. However, if Gordon should cut or blow a tire, he acknowledges, “There is not much you can do.”

“If you can kind of feel that something is happening, they are all different,” Gordon said of tire problems. “Sometimes it’s delamination and you can have a little bit of a warning. Sometimes it’s stuff in the tread so when those cords break then you can usually feel that, but other times you don’t feel it at all and you just ride the fence.

“Basically if it happens you just slow down and hit pit road. You don’t want to do it too quick, because then you will damage the tire more. Just about trying to find that right pace to get back to pit road and hope the caution comes out soon.”