Drivers fear tires could ruin race

Jay Hart
Yahoo! SportsApril 2, 2011

Could NASCAR be heading for another tire debacle like it experienced three years ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Listening to the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch, that's a possibility in Sunday's Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

For the second time in three weeks, drivers have complained that the track is not "rubbering up." When that happens, tires wear out quickly and there's just one groove of racing, both of which could result in a bevy of blown tires, cars sliding into other cars and a plethora of wrecks. In other words, a whole lot of carnage.

"It's going to be insane tomorrow," Busch said after Saturday's truck race. "There's going to be a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of beat-up fenders."

As Earnhardt explained, instead of rubber being ground into the track, the shredded marbles from the tires are just sitting on the track. That's creating swathes of loose rubber that, essentially, are turning tires into roller skates.

"If you got in the marbles, it would ruin you," he said. "Once you got in the marbles, you ruined that set [of tires]. I mean, there is no way to get them off. We don’t go fast enough here to really grind them off. It was messy. It was just real messy all day.”

There was a similar issue two weeks ago at Bristol when that track wasn't rubbering up. As a result, Goodyear made the decision to switch the tires midway through Friday practices. The switch helped.

This is where the similarities between Bristol and Martinsville end.

Goodyear did not make a switch this weekend. There was hope the track would begin to take rubber after a practice marathon on Friday coupled with Saturday's truck race.

That, apparently, didn't happen, and now the fear is Sunday's race will be a single-groove affair that will produce very little, if any, side-by-side racing.

"I don't think so," Busch said when asked if the track would have rubber on it for Sunday's Cup race. "I wish it would because it would make for better racing.

"We could actually probably get two grooves going, but right now there's one groove," Busch continued. "If you run on the inside down the straightaway, you're running through marbles. If you run on the outside in the corners, you're running through marbles. … I don't see it getting any better tomorrow. Anything could surprise us, but I doubt it."

Jeff Gordon expressed some concern over a lack of testing of the new tire being used. He said if Goodyear is going to make a change from one year to the next – Goodyear brought a softer right-side tire to compensate for a harder left-side tire – they would serve everyone better if they held a test of the new compound.

"We're making tire changes without testing, and they keep coming back and saying they're minor tire changes. So I don't know," Gordon said. "I still anticipate us seeing rubber sticking to the groove in the race track tomorrow when all 43 cars are out there and you're running a lot of laps."

Busch isn't as convinced. When asked if NASCAR will throw competition cautions during the race, as it did in the tire debacle at Indianapolis three years ago when the yellow flag came out every dozen laps or so, Busch said that won't be necessary.

"We'll just wreck each other so we'll make our own cautions," he said. "I don't think we'll have to throw cautions because we're blowing tires or anything like that. We'll wreck ourselves."