(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports) —- A first use of alternate tires in the annual non-points Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race has created the tantalizing prospect of their potential deployment in the regular season. Many drivers are openly intrigued, at least. Crew chiefs have been quietly probing Goodyear for clues about the new tool. Fans are abuzz.
But even if the softer, grippier, ostensibly more speed-producing green-labeled tires revolutionize the May exhibition, they could remain a one-off novelty both because of the difficulty in applying them to longer races, and NASCAR’s current fondness for the state of competition created by a newly reconfigured points system and the implementation of stage racing for 2017.
“I would never say we would never do it, but the thought within the industry was really to contain this for the time being around the All-Star Race, obviously hoping it would be successful, as something that could differentiate that race,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell told USA TODAY Sports. “When you look beyond that, there’s a lot of things we have to consider. Any time you have two different tire compounds you’ve got (to) manage, is that good at each track for the racing and what goes into that? Is it a huge tire-development costs on the teams and put some additional costs on the race teams you don’t need to?”
O’Donnell said a full conversion to the use of alternate tires is unlikely, but said their use at specific tracks could be discussed in the future.
Cup points leader Kyle Larson feels divergent strategies borne from the so-called “Prime” and “Option” tires could be beneficial in points races. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver sees the All-Star Race as a proving ground for the alternates.
“I know, if it works and I’m sure even if it doesn’t work they can figure out a way or another tire to make it work later on like getting a second attempt at it,” he said. “I think you see, honestly, every other form of motor sports has tire options and compound options and NASCAR doesn’t. I think strategy is a big part of our sport and if we have that option tire to use throughout any point, I mean we have it really to use throughout any point of the All-Star race, but I’m talking regular season stuff, I think if we have that option it just adds strategy and excitement to the races.”
Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt is publicly much more cautious. The executive is concerned how much such a variable would affect the conduct of a points race.
“I think in general when you can bring strategy into the competition it brings more variables and can shake things up,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “I think we’ve seen that with the stage racing. Having said that, I’m not sure the right thing to do is throw the variable of tires into points racing. We’ll see how that race looks, how it goes, how did it go for Goodyear, how did it go for the competition and I’m sure afterwards there will be an autopsy done on it and see how it looks.”
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Goodyear director of race tires sales Greg Stucker said there would be much to discuss before alternate tires could be deployed for full-scale points races. Open-wheel series, including IndyCar, utilize alternate tires only on street and road courses, where compounds and construction of the quicker-degrading product is not as rigorously stressed. At lower speeds, cars with wearing or potentially failing tires can slow and reach the pits more safely than a car exerting the constant speeds and G loads an oval creates. Though the All-Star Race is held on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 20- and 10-lap segments of the race virtually assure that alternate tires would not be overly exerted over long durations, Stucker said.
“It’s a different animal when it gets to oval racing,” Stucker told USA TODAY Sports. “The flow of the race is different, pit stops are different, it would be a different strategy, so I think we would have to really sit down and talk about what we want to try to accomplish with something like that.
“I think it’s a great fit for something like the All-Star Race. It really adds a different dimension, some strategy, and I’m not saying that it couldn’t be worked into normal races, but I think we have to really sit down and flesh that out and maybe not do it exactly like everybody else does.”
The alternate tire is expected to increase speeds from three-tenths to a half second, but that and their durability have not been tested on a track. Goodyear finished laboratory tests of the optional tire in late April. They will be utilized on cars for the first time during practice on Friday at CMS. Each team will be issued a set for practice and for use during the Open or All-Star Race.
“Even if somebody were to try to leave them on for two stints, 40 laps, we feel that’s doable, within reason. That’s why this matches it up well,” Stucker said. “We think it will fall off more than the prime but it’s hard to say. It partly depends on setup. Charlotte tends to be a sensitive race track to ambient conditions.”
Stucker said crafting an optional tire for broader use was “certainly doable” for Goodyear, but suggested an alternate route could be best.
“We try to be as racy as we can pretty much everywhere we go, maybe more conservative some more than others,” he explained. “So, there’s probably not a lot of room to go with more traction or more grip in some places, so it might actually be a move the other way and create a prime that maybe has a little less and the current tire becomes the option. That could still all be worked out, but we need to work out what we want to accomplish.”
For now, that’s enlivening the All-Star Race.
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