The Hot Pass: Goodyear finds grip at Indianapolis

Following a two-day tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, Jeff Gordon predicted the tires would hold up for the 2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

That was a pretty bold prediction from Gordon. Last year after Friday practice, there were some cars that weren’t able to complete five laps on the track without exposing the cords of the tires. The problem couldn’t be corrected in time for the race and the ensuing race was mired by 11 cautions resulting in 52 yellow-flag laps. Thirty-six competitors completed all 160 laps, but the race ran at a snail’s pace of 115.117 mph (three-and-a-half hours in length).

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But from all indications so far, the four-time Brickyard winner’s prognostication has proved to be right. After seven tests and more than 13,000 test miles on the selected tire compounds (Left-side — D-4178; Right-side — D-4252), Gordon reiterated after two practices on Friday that Goodyear has indeed “created a great tire.”

“If anybody has an issue with tires, it is not because they are wearing out,” Gordon said. “(Goodyear has) backed it up with testing and they have now proven it here at the race track.

“What I think is the most crucial is the practice that we had and I think I could have probably run all day long on one set of tires if I wanted to.”

Gordon was concentrating on race set-up, so his longest run on Friday was just 20 laps. Lisa Smokstad, tire specialist for the No. 88 Chevrolet, said Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s tires were “totally fine” after a 27 laps run.

“So far, everything we’ve seen we’re very happy with,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales. “The track took rubber very, very quickly this afternoon and continued to do so.

“We got a nice dark groove out there. Tire wear’s been excellent. We’ve got guys that have had 27 laps on tires and still look good, so (we’re) projecting well in excess of a fuel stop right off the bat.”

Gordon is convinced that wear won’t be an issue on Sunday which will promote a variety of strategies.

“The wear is only going to get better as we put rubber down on the race track which this tire does do,” Gordon added. “It is going to change the grip level and the balance, but the wear is only going to get better.

“There seems to be some pretty good grip in new tires but they do go away fast as far as the grip level. I think that the wear is good enough to where definitely guys could take some risks on track position being more key than fresher tires.”

Status quo at Team Red Bull … for now

The meeting of the minds between Jay Frye, Red Bull GM, and race team/Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz that was expected in Austria last week has been put on hold temporarily.

“It’s not an unusual situation,” Frye said. “Except the owner is 6,000 miles away.”

At issue currently is shoring up Brian Vickers’ contract beyond 2009 and the possibility of changing manufacturers. Frye added that he doesn’t “anticipate” any driver changes but confirmed that his phone has been busy with inquiries for seats next season.

“We have a good team and it’s only going to get better,” Frye said. “I think people realize the potential that exists here.”

Bicentennial at the Brickyard

Kasey Kahne will celebrate his 200th start on Sunday, but that wasn’t the reason the driver was all smiles after second practice on Friday. His No. 9 Budweiser Dodge was just that good.

Kahne posted the third fastest time on the speed chart — 49.932-seconds, 180.245mph.

“Kenny (Francis, crew chief) and the guys have worked really hard on this car,” Kahne said. “The engine program has picked up a ton. I’m really happy with how things are going right now.”

Considering that Kahne has qualified fifth or better in his last four starts at Indianapolis, he seems to have the line around the 2.5-mile flat track figured out. His best finish at the Brickyard was second to winner Tony Stewart in 2005. For Kahne, “momentum” — particularly around the corners — is the key for a solid run in the race.

“All four corners are a little bit different,” Kahne said. “You have to figure out how to carry that momentum because it’s all about speed on the straightaways. You can get passed so easily. We’ve done a pretty good job, so if we can keep building on that, hopefully we’ll have a pretty good car on Sunday.”

Watercooler talk

  • Hearing the Camping World Truck Series’ schedule could drop down to 20 races in 2010 …
  • With DeWalt parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season, what’s the likely sponsor for the No. 17 team and Matt Kenseth? Crown Royal — Here’s why that makes sense
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the sixth fastest circuit in second practice with a lap of 179.702 mph. Interested to see what happens in his first Lance McGrew prepared car this weekend.