Limit on tires had crew chiefs scrambling with strategy at Martinsville

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – After Joey Logano spun to bring out the caution on Lap 220, his natural reaction was to tell crew chief Todd Gordon he was coming into the pits for four fresh tires.

Gordon told him unless the tires were ruined by the spin, he wouldn’t give Logano a new set of tires – and didn’t.

Such was a new element in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway where crew chiefs had to conserve tires. NASCAR issued a bulletin to teams earlier this week that included a reduction in the sets of tires teams could use at some tracks. Martinsville was the first race with a reduction. Instead of 11 sets of tires, as teams had last year, they had 10 sets of tires – including the set teams started the race with.

The change came because NASCAR and Goodyear didn’t felt the reduction would severely impact teams. It also helped save teams a little money.

Crew chiefs said the change was more dramatic this weekend because the cold temperatures meant it took the track longer to gain rubber. That wore tires sooner. A series of cautions in the first half of the race would have seen drivers coming down pit road more often but crew chiefs kept drivers out, wanting to save a set of tires for the finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this race last fall after a four-tire change with about 10 laps to go.

Logano said he wished teams were allowed 11 sets.

“If we would have had that extra set, it would have been a different story,’’ said Logano, who finished third. “Hey, we spun out. That’s the penalty we get for spinning out. We shouldn’t have spun out in the first place, I guess.

“You kill your tires so much when you spin out. The tire pressures don’t go evenly. You build a lot more to the rears. You flat-spot them and that takes quite a bit of grip away. Nothing good happens.’’

Gordon said he didn’t want to put on a set of tires at that point if he didn’t have to because he would have one less set of tires available than the field.

“Short-term gain, long-term lost,’’ he said. “I felt we could hang on.’’

Gordon said he finished with one set of fresh tires that went unused, hoping for a caution that never happened.

“It brings more strategy into the race,’’ Gordon said of the new rule.

Bootie Barker, crew chief for Casey Mears, said he put a set of scuffed tires on Mears’ car about midway through the race. Barker said it was either the first or second time he’s ever done that at this track.

Dave Rogers, crew chief for winner Denny Hamlin, said the reduction reminded him of Xfinity races where there’s a significant limit on how many sets of tires teams can use in a race.

“You’re trying to predict cautions,’’ Rogers said. “You don’t want to run out of tires, but then on the other hand there’s times that in the Xfinity Series I’ve gotten myself in trouble because I’d be the only car … with an extra set.’’

Even if a late caution came out, Rogers might not have taken tires because so many in the field would have stayed out because they didn’t have any new sets left.

“It’s a really complex element,’’ he said.

Chris Heroy, crew chief for Regan Smith, said he saved a set of tires for the end but didn’t get the late caution he wanted. After Smith was spun, ruining the team’s best set of scuffed tires, Heroy had his crew match another set of scuffed tires just in case he needed it later in the race.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for runner-up Brad Keselowski, said he didn’t notice as much of a change with the reduction.

“This is always a tough one, even when we had the 11 sets,’’ Wolfe said. “You always felt like you were close to not having enough.’’