KANSAS CITY, Kan.—A defining point in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is likely to come Sunday where the rubber meets the racing surface at Kansas Speedway.
Tires have been the talk in the garage throughout the weekend. For the second time this season Goodyear has brought right-side tires featuring zone tread technology to a race track, bringing along with them a change in what the drivers have been feeling form the seat of the car.
On Labor Day weekend at Atlanta, Goodyear provided dual-tread right-side tires matched with the same left sides used at the speedway in 2012. The transition was as seamless as the extruded dual compound on the right-side tires.
Kansas presented a different challenge. Unlike Atlanta, which features old, abrasive asphalt, Kansas was repaved last year. And unlike Atlanta, Goodyear brought a left-side tire that provides more grip than the one used in April.
To compensate, the dual-tread right side Cup tires at Kansas feature a harder, more heat-resistant compound on the inner shoulder and the same compound on the outer nine inches that was used in April.
“Here at Kansas City, it’s not as abrasive as Atlanta,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday. “It’s a new pave, so that adds a degree of difficulty when you try to bring a tire that’s reliable enough.
“With this tire, with the zone tread, it helped the reliability on the right side enough that they were able to work on the left side and, I believe, give the car more overall grip totally. That’s the benefit of a tire like this.”
Though some have questioned changing the tire combination during the Chase, Pemberton said that was NASCAR’s plan all along. The success with the dual-tread right sides at Atlanta expanded the opportunity for use of the technology at Kansas.
Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman all participated in a tire test in mid-July.
“We knew for a long time that we were going to attempt to change the tire between the first and second race at Kansas,” Pemberton said. “I think the success of that tire (at Atlanta) played a role at Kansas. I’m not sure that it was the primary focus when the test was scheduled, but for sure, it opened up opportunity when the tire was as successful as it was in Atlanta.”
Driver reaction to the new tire combination has been mixed. Jeff Gordon liked the feel. Teammate Jimmie Johnson felt the combination was more edgy than its predecessor. Chase leader Matt Kenseth’s impression has been that the right-side tire actually provides less grip than the tire he rode to victory at Kansas in April.
“Everybody has a different opinion of what tires do and do not do for them,” Pemberton said. “Whenever you’re comfortable with a certain thing, change is hard to accept sometimes.
“You don’t know what to expect. That’s the beauty of the races that we run. You don’t know how the race track is affected through the summer heat, through the winter snows and cold. It’s inconsistent at best. From the spring race to the fall race, even with the same tire, you probably wouldn’t have the same results.”