By Rick Minter
Goodyear’s new multiple-compound right-side tires got positive reviews after they were used on Labor Day weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where the asphalt is old, worn and abrasive.
The comments weren’t as positive after the tire technology was put to the test on a freshly paved Kansas Speedway for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.
The tire confounded many a driver and crew, and some of the top drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup were among those who never seemed to figure it out. Drivers struggling with tires led to a track record 15 caution periods, which consumed 71 of the race’s 267 laps.
Kevin Harvick and his No. 29 Chevrolet team mastered the challenge better than most, as he dominated the race en route to his 22nd career win, his third of the season and first ever at Kansas.
Even so, he acknowledged that the tires were tricky.
“It was an interesting weekend, to say the least,” Harvick said in his winner’s interview. “Obviously, everybody was battling the tires and the track, and I think it was like driving on a razor blade.”
But Harvick, like many of his competitors, said the real problem is with the asphalt being used to pave race tracks these days.
“I don’t think there were any issues with the tire,” he said. “I think the issue is the pavement and the things they keep repaving these race tracks with that puts Goodyear in a box. It’s not Goodyear’s fault; they have to make a tire that’s not going to blow out. They have to make the tire durable.”
Points leader Matt Kenseth, who had won the two most recent Cup races at Kansas as well as Saturday’s Nationwide Series race which was run on conventional tires, said the racing in Sunday’s Cup race was “just incredibly treacherous.”
Kenseth compared the racing to that at Charlotte Motor Speedway just after that track was repaved.
“That’s the worst conditions I’ve raced in … since they paved Charlotte, probably, and had that hard tire,” he said. “This right-side tire was obviously not the answer. I’m sure Kevin’s [Harvick] happy, but other than that, I think everybody kind of struggled with it.”
Jeff Gordon, who finished third to continue his strong start to the Chase, said the paving companies are getting the tracks too smooth, which would be good for a public thoroughfare but bad for a race track.
“These surfaces are too smooth,” he said. “I’m talking about the abrasiveness of the race track. It doesn’t dissipate heat, doesn’t wear the tires, and all it does is cause friction and heat and failures, and then Goodyear has to build a very hard, durable tire …
“We’re paving these race tracks with what we’re paving new highways with. This is not a highway; it’s a race track and it’s a race car and a racing tire. It needs to be looked at differently. We have the same issue in Phoenix. Darlington. We’ve had the same issue every repave that we’ve had over the last six, seven years.”
Joey Logano, who finished fourth, said the lack of grip led to aggressive racing on restarts, which led to numerous wrecks.
“Every restart you had to be so aggressive to pass people, because that was your best shot to pass them, and everyone realized it,” he said. “There wasn’t much grip out there and everyone was doing that, and you are going to have a crash. We proved that fact multiple times [Sunday].”
Columbia, Mo., native Carl Edwards, who came up short again in his career-long quest to win at his home track, said the weather, much cooler on Sunday than in earlier runs with the tires, was a factor.
“In my opinion, that Goodyear dual-zone tire is awesome technology,” he said. “It worked great in the test when it was about 25 degrees warmer, but I didn’t see any rubber on the race track [Sunday].
“I think the conditions changed, and we went into an unknown area and didn’t know the tire would act that way. It was treacherous; I mean death-defying every time you went into the corner on a run.”