CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR’s use of an optional, softer tire for next month’s All-Star Race has competitors excited and wondering when Goodyear might bring those tires to other tracks.
Not since NASCAR had two tire manufacturers more than 20 years ago have competitors had such choices. That will change with the All-Star Race with two different sets of Goodyear tires. Competitors will be allowed to use one set of optional, softer tires in the four-segment, 70-lap race. They’ll have the regular tires as their other option.
If things go well, that could lead to the softer tires also being brought to other tracks in the future.
“This is something we’ll look at for 2018, when you look at what are levers we can pull from a competitive standpoint, this is one of those,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief development officer. “We’re positive about what can happen here. Something to look at for sure.’’
Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, told NBC Sports on Tuesday that the company has not had talks with NASCAR about any other race with softer tires beyond the All-Star event.
Stucker did say that Goodyear has come to an agreement “in principle” with NASCAR to remain the series’ sole tire supplier. Goodyear’s contract expires after this season. Stucker told NBC Sports that “we’re just putting all the final touches on (the new contract). I think we’re in good shape.’’
Drivers are encouraged by having a softer tire at the All-Star Race and what it could mean.
“This is the perfect time to try a softer tire,’’ Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch said of the non-points race. “This could be a direction for the future of the sport. I like it. Let’s see how it goes.’’
Kyle Larson also is excited to have a softer tire option.
“If this whole thing goes good, maybe we can see it in other races down the road or all races,’’ he said. “You go to most of your local short tracks … dirt tracks you have two or three different compounds you can chose from, different staggers to make your car work better. Adding that little bit of tire game and strategy is exciting for the race teams.’’
Stucker said much has to be determined about how the softer tire works at Charlotte Motor Speedway before using it elsewhere.
Stucker said that the softer tire used is a combination of construction and compound not used together before.
“We went back at our data, our compound lineup and looked at some of the testing we’ve done … and tried to figure out if we’re looking to be three- to five-tenths (of a second quicker initially) and that was the bogey, what would be the right combination,’’ Stucker said. “That’s how it came about. It’s not necessarily a combination we race anywhere else, but it’s combinations that we evaluated and we have history on and we merged compound and construction to come up with that combination.’’
The key question with the softer tire is when teams will use it in the All-Star Race, which features three segments of 20 laps and a final 10-lap segment for $1 million.
Will teams use the tires early to ensure they’re among the 10 cars advancing to the final shootout or will they save it for the final 10 laps.
As for how long the softer tire will remain faster than the other tire option, teams will have for the All-Star Race, Stucker said: “We came up with a combination with the full knowledge that someone may put it on for one of those 20-lap segments and knowing that if they make that choice they want it on for 20 laps.
“They can’t afford to put it on at the beginning of a 20-lap segment and then have to change. It’s going to be really hard to say how much falloff there will be. That’s going to depend on the conditions, how warm is it going to be, what is the ambient (temperature), how much sun is the track seeing over the course of the afternoon … car set up, all those different things. Our intent was for it to be able to survive a 20-lap run.’’