Goodyear: Credit Where Credit's Due
Reid Spencer - SportingNews.com
Jul 28, 2009
Last year, Goodyear took the brunt of the blame for the tire failures that ruined the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, and the court of public opinion made the tire company pay.
"Fiasco," "farce," "debacle" and "catastrophe" were only some of the choice words used to describe the race, which was punctuated by caution flags every 10 laps or so as tires wore to the cords on the abrasive surface at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Goodyear wasn't the only culprit. Last year's race was the first with NASCAR's new Sprint Cup car, and the car hit the track with limited advance testing. Cup crew chiefs collectively had opted for a sanctioned full-field test at Pocono rather than Indy in 2008 -- a grave mistake in retrospect.
Rain interrupted Goodyear's own tire test at the 2.5-mile speedway. Accordingly, Goodyear had to construct a tire with limited data for a largely untested car (at that track) with a higher center of gravity and higher proportion of its weight on the right side. The results were disastrous.
"I think everybody needs to realize that everybody put a big finger on Goodyear, saying that was their fault last year," said Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, Sunday's race winner. "Ultimately, it wasn't. The testing was limited last year. We actually came up and did the test for them. There was rain. So it wasn't a very good test for them to try to bring a car up here and get the thing going.
"I think they were put behind a big eight ball coming up here. To come up here cold turkey, expect them to develop and have a tire prepared to race at a track like this, as coarse as the surface is, make it all happen, it wasn't fair to them."
Fair or not, Goodyear made sure the 2009 race wasn't a repeat of last year's. Lack of testing was a non-issue, as Goodyear conducted seven tests in the year between races, in which 30 Cup drivers covered more than 13,000 miles.
Goodyear diamond-ground a portion of its own test track to approximate surface conditions at Indianapolis and ultimately came up with a different chemistry for the tires the company brought to the Brickyard.
The difference between races was night and day. Sunday's event, which ended with Mark Martin harrying Johnson for the final 24 laps, saw three cycles of green-flag pit stops following full fuel runs on tires.
Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of race tire sales, wouldn't put a price tag on the testing and development Goodyear did between races, but the cost had to run well into the millions.
"It's not really that important," Stucker said. "The important thing was to come back here with a good package."
Mission accomplished. And happily for Goodyear, the tire developed for Indy will have more than a single application. The concrete racing surface at half-mile Bristol is tough to "rubber in," and the new chemistry of the Indy tire will help provide a solution.
"We've already tested down at Bristol on the Nationwide cars and the Camping World Truck Series, and we're actually going to run this right-side tire down there in about a month," Stucker said. "That concrete surface tends to take awhile to take rubber, and this was a very good solution for down there, so you'll see it again then."
Dover is another possibility.
"We go back and test in Dover in a couple weeks," Stucker said. "Something along these lines may work for Dover."
The bottom line is that Goodyear did yeoman work over the past 12 months to make sure tire failures weren't a factor in this year's Allstate 400. If Goodyear had to be the scapegoat for last year's race, the company deserves the lion's share of the credit for a problem-free event in 2009.
"I think we've got to realize what a great job they did coming up here testing and getting everything squared away," Knaus said. "Goodyear, they love racing. They love what we do. It's a neat thing they've got going on."
And they deserve to be recognized for it.
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