The new Sprint Cup Gen 6 car is extremely fast. A large part of the reason for the speed is that the car is producing more downforce (the use of air pressure that holds it to the ground) than any of its recent predecessors. This high level of downforce creates high load factors (read: stress) on the tires, which are already being pushed to the limits.
The result is an increase in tire failures, most of the time at the most inopportune of moments. Not to make light of the situation, as a tire failure at any time can result in damage to the race car and worse—injury to the driver or a fan in the stands. But, we’ve seen a marked increase in tire failures in 2014, and everyone from fans to crew chiefs are concerned.
“We ask a lot of the tires,” said Alan Gustafson, in a recent phone interview with Bleacher Report. Gustafson is the crew chief for the current points leader, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
“We under-inflate them, play with the camber angles and push them right to the limit and beyond. You’re always asking yourself, ‘Do I push it just a bit more to get that extra tenth (of a second), knowing full well that taking just one extra step is a huge gamble?’ ”
Gustafson is only one of 43 crew chiefs faced with making those kinds of decisions regarding the tires every weekend.
The Goodyear tires are just one critical component on a car made up of thousands of components, many of them designed specifically for each individual team.
Yet, Goodyear is charged by NASCAR to design and engineer tires that work for everyone, including NASCAR’s needs.
Teams want tires that remain perfect for a long run. NASCAR wants them to wear out at a specific rate, as it makes for better racing.
On some weekends the two interests meet somewhere in the middle; everyone is happy, and the racing is good. On other weekends, like the one last month at Auto Club Speedway, the two sides never do find common ground, and everyone feels slightly cheated by the system.
It’s not perfect, it never will be and everyone will continue to complain about the Goodyear tires.
It’s all part of the sport.