Goodyear expects softer tire for 2016 season

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Goodyear is expecting to build more softer tires with the adoption of a lower downforce rules package for the 2016 Sprint Cup season.

Greg Stucker, the director of race tire sales for the NASCAR supplier, said tires will be tuned to each track with a goal of increasing grip. That likely will mean a softer compound at many 1.5-mile to 2-mile tracks, but tires are expected to remain the same at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway (neither of which will feature the new package) and short tracks such as Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

“There will be some commonality but probably a lot of change through the rest of ’16,” Stucker said Friday morning at Kansas Speedway.

Even as the tire construction changes, Goodyear probably will continue to use the same combinations at multiple tracks. For example, the 1.5-mile ovals of Chicagoland Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway traditionally have featured the same tire compounds.

NASCAR has stressed it plans to tinker with gear ratios on a weekly basis to improve the quality of racing, but Stucker said that won’t have an impact on tire production.

“We probably will have the same number of combinations,” Stucker said. “The racetracks aren’t changing, just the downforce numbers. The racetracks where we run a similar combination, probably will like that same combination in low downforce.”

A similar low-downforce approach was used twice this season, drawing rave reviews at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway. Goodyear designed a softer tire more suited to the package at Darlington, and that will be the model for next season.

But though lower downforce helps accommodate a softer tire with more grip because it puts less aerodynamic stress on the car, Stucker cautioned there would be limits.

“We’re not saying, ‘Go max grip,’ ” Stucker said. “That may not be the optimum. We’re going to try to find the right level of grip to compensate for the loss in aero.

“As we go softer, the cars become more fragile, and you have to balance them more. They tend to run hotter, tend to wear more, tend to give up more. You take downforce away and take a load off the tire, it opens the window a bit for crew chiefs to have more tools to tune the car.”

The softer compounds also could increase the likelihood that tires might not last the length of a fuel run.

“That’s always been our target: If it’s managed properly, then the tire package will go a fuel stop,” Stucker said. “As we go more aggressively in grip, it’s going to be a little bit closer. If the setup isn’t right, you might have to pit a little bit earlier than a full fuel stop, and I think everybody likes that: drivers, NASCAR and crew chiefs.

“If everything is right, a fuel stop won’t be a problem. Depending on where you are with your setup, it might be the strategy to pit earlier.”