Goodyear still on the ropes

BRISTOL, Tenn. &

It took just one quick practice session for Tony Stewart to assess the tires Goodyear brought to Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I thought it was good," Stewart said after Friday's rain-shortened practice.

It was the first positive remark Stewart has had about tires since his blistering rant against Goodyear following Sunday's race in Atlanta. The two-time series champion hasn't softened his stance, continuing to rail against the tire choice every day since his second-place finish.

But he's happy with the tire compound at Bristol, where he had no issues navigating the 0.533-mile bullring.

"Anytime that you can take your car and go from the top to the bottom of the track and back, you obviously have the grip you need to go where you want to go," he said. "Having that flexibility is what we're all looking for."

That Stewart had something kind to say about the company he assailed surprised Goodyear officials, who would have liked to have heard it directly from the driver.

"It would have been nice if he could have come over here and told us that," said Greg Stucker, director of race tire sales.

Tensions were still high Friday between Stewart and Goodyear, but the driver eventually met with Goodyear general manager Stu Grant for an amicable discussion.

"It was a good meeting, but at the end of the day, it's up to Goodyear to make it right," Stewart said. "If having this meeting helps to make things better down the road, then this meeting was a success."

Grant was also pleased with the meeting.

"It was constructive. It was extremely worthwhile to sit down and have a discussion with him," Grant said. "Tony was able to express his concerns and I listened to his concerns. I was able to explain our process, and we both talked about how moving forward, we can improve the process of developing tires."

The flap started when Stewart &

like many drivers in Sunday's race &

was unhappy that the hard compound Goodyear selected for Atlanta lacked the grip needed to race around the abrasive surface.

But that shouldn't be an issue at Bristol, where the concrete surface is more forgiving and the speeds are much slower than most of the tracks NASCAR races on. And with 30-degree banking, the lateral loads that Goodyear has apparently struggled with this season are not as severe.

Stucker is hopeful a successful race Sunday can give Goodyear a respite from the scrutiny it has been under all week.

"We like it when nobody talks about tires at all," he said. "Typically, if tires aren't an issue, nobody mentions it. And when somebody does have an issue and brings it up, it becomes a big story."

And it still was a story in Bristol, where even though drivers are comfortable with the current tire, they still want Goodyear to take a hard look at the problems that plagued Atlanta.

"It wasn't Goodyear's finest outing. There's no question," Jeff Burton said.

But drivers stopped short of calling for competition for Goodyear, which as the exclusive tire provider in NASCAR, can't be challenged by another company during the life of its contract that runs through 2012.

NASCAR is adamantly against more than one tire company participating in the sport because of the safety concerns that can arise if one manufacturer takes shortcuts in an effort to produce a faster tire that teams will select. NASCAR has not had a "tire war" since 1994, when Hoosier challenged Goodyear for one season.

"I have lived through the tire war ... we saw more failures because the manufacturers were forced to put more emphasis on making the cars drive a certain way," Burton said. "I drove on Hoosiers. no means is it my opinion that we would make Goodyear step up and do a better job if we had two manufacturers here.

"I'm in complete opposition of that."

The Atlanta debacle wasn't the only issue Goodyear is facing. The manufacturer is still searching for a suitable tire to bring to Darlington, where speeds in a two-day test earlier this week inched toward 200 mph.

As with Atlanta, when Goodyear elected for durability over grip, the tires will again have to be hard enough to withstand the loads. To make sure the company gets it right, they will again bring Jeff Gordon (Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (Ford) and Ryan Newman (Dodge) back to the track to test different models.

"It's extremely fast &

too fast for that size of a race track," Biffle said. "It's just astronomically fast. You just won't be able to race at that speed and, on top of that, the tire wouldn't survive that kind of loading.

"Goodyear is going back to the drawing board."

That's how NASCAR wants the tire company to react, and prefers Goodyear errs on the side of safety.

"The direction is to not have a safety issue with the tires," said Robin Pemberton, director of competition for NASCAR. "That's the number one deal. Bar none."

Share This Story