It may not be as significant as the switch from bias-ply to radial tires, but Goodyear's new "zone tread" technology is expected to have a huge impact in NASCAR.
Goodyear officials aren't claiming the technology will radically alter competition on the race track, but at least one spokesman for the supplier says it could be a game-changer "down the road."
"I think we're really just opening the door," Greg Stucker, director of race tires sales for Goodyear, said on Aug. 18. "As we ? learn a little bit more, learn how it behaves on the race track, get feedback from teams, I think it will give us some opportunities."
The technology consists of combining two different compounds across the tire's surface ? a harder inside shoulder and softer outside area - to create a product that can withstand the tremendous stress of race conditions but also provide ample grip.
The new tire will debut this weekend when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Atlanta Motor Speedway to compete in the Sept. 1 AdvoCare500.
The inside of the right-side tires will feature the same compound used at Michigan International Speedway this year while the outside will consist of the compound used in recent Atlanta races.
Because of weight distribution and stress loads, the inside portion of a right-side tire endures the most abuse during a race. A tire that is too hard has far less grip and won't wear as quickly as one that features a softer compound.
However, too soft of a compound can lead to excessive wear and blistering from the heat generated, or failures from the stress.
Having a more durable compound on the inside third of the tire, and a more tractive compound on the outside two-thirds, Stucker said,"enables us to keep a reasonable level of grip while still protecting the vulnerable part of the tire."
AMS, at 1.54 miles, is one of the fastest tracks on which NASCAR competes. Geoffrey Bodine set the current track qualifying record of 197.478 mph in 1997. During a recent tire test at Atlanta, Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted an unofficial speed of 188.69 mph.
The track surface, which hasn't been repaved since the late 1990s, is one of the most abrasive on the circuit.
The combination of speed and abrasiveness has made coming up with an adequate tire a daunting task for Goodyear officials in the past.
Stucker said there should not be any differences in wear across the surface of the new tire during the course of a run.
"We're not talking about running Martinsville and Daytona (compounds) opposite one another," he said. "We're running two compounds that are pretty similar."
The new tire has been tested twice at Atlanta, as well as at several other venues. Thirteen drivers participated in a recent confirmation test at AMS, including defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
"Unfortunately, it's been brought in as a necessity rather than as an option," Keselowski said of the tire, "because last year Atlanta's tire with the car we ran was basically incompatible to the track and we had every kind of issue we could have. So that forced the Goodyear development cycle to be expedited, which is never ideal."
It will be "trial by fire" he said of the tire's Atlanta debut.
"The test was good and that's great, but it's very, very important that that tire succeeds because it's the future of our sport, and it's the solution to the lack of side-by-side racing that we have in the sense of what Goodyear is able to provide. It's a really, really important weekend for our sport."
Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards also participated in the test. While he said he feels a softer tire and less downforce "would be the better move," he understands what Goodyear is trying to accomplish.
"Goodyear is in a box and they've got to make a small contact patch not come apart with the extreme load in these cars and I think they're doing a good job with that," he said.
For now, the new zone tread technology will only be used for tires at Atlanta, although Kansas Speedway is a likely candidate for the application.
"Nothing for sure has been decided yet," Stucker said. "But we're looking at any place that we'd like to be more tractive but we're kind of on the edge durability wise. This race car is definitely fast, particularly on the mile and a halves and on up. So I think any race track like that is a candidate for sure."
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