On Thursday, 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers tested Goodyear’s multi-zone racing tire at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, ahead of Sunday’s Hollywood 400 race at the the track. The upcoming Kansas race will be the second NASCAR race in which the tire will be used, following the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September. Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who got in test/extra practice time on Thursday. After the test session, Gordon talked to the motorsports media about the new tire. Here’s what he had to say:
HOW DID IT GO FOR YOU OUT THERE TODAY?
“Pretty good. I thought the track had good grip when we first started and lost a little bit probably due to the track temp there towards the end of the day. Certainly hoping to lay some rubber down, but I’m not so sure that this tire is going to do that. Other than just being real real tight I thought the tire reacted pretty similar to what we’ve dealt with in the past here.”
IN EVERYTHING YOU DID TODAY IS ANY OF IT A DIRECTION FOR THE REST OF THE WEEKEND OR WAS THIS JUST REALLY ALL TESTING?
“No, everything that we did today was in direction for this weekend. To me this is just an extension of our race weekend. We had data on the car, data acquisition to gather more detailed information. In some ways we wish we had this every weekend. Not necessarily an extra day at the track, but data acquisition to gather that data. Then the engineers will sort through that overnight and come up with what we think we are going to need to do for the weekend. Of course it’s going to be cool on Sunday so that is going to change things quite a bit with the grip level and the balance. No, to me testing is always trying to find something to make the car go faster. Not everything can relate to every other track and this track being as smooth as it is and sort of a repave. Still kind of acts like a repave even though it has lost a little bit of grip. The tire kind of makes it that too because it’s a pretty hard tire that we are basically sitting on. I’m not so sure that anything else really applies to other tracks. We are all about what is happening this weekend.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAMS PERFORMANCE THUS FAR IN THE CHASE SAYS ABOUT YOU AND YOUR TEAM?
“It’s just we don’t ever quit. I think it shows that we’ve made improvements performance wise we’ve gotten a lot better not just since the Chase started, but prior to the Chase we were performing better. Which to me is what helped us get into a position to even have a shot at being in it. We had sporadic good performances earlier in the year, but for the most part we just didn’t have the speed and that has really come together in the last six weeks. I’m really proud of them for that because I’ve been going to the race track and had a lot of fun. We have been leading laps and running up front. At times in position to win races and there is nothing better than doing that and it couldn’t happen at a better time than right now.”
IN LAYMEN’S TERMS WHAT DOES THIS ZONE TREAD MEAN? HOW DO YOU FEEL THE DIFFERENCE IN THESE TIRES HERE NOW?
“Unless you A, B, A the tire that we had here before against this tire and then back to the other tire it’s really hard to say what the gain is. I really give Goodyear a lot of credit for bringing this tire here and trying to give us something to lean on these smooth race tracks like this where they have to build a very durable tire. We build a lot of shoulder heat in the tire because of the high speeds. So when we say durable we mainly mean really rock hard. So to put some softer compound in there to try to give the car a little bit more forgiveness and grip I love it. It worked really well at Atlanta. That is the first time we ever raced this. I really liked it there. I’m not seeing anything that is odd or off today other than just really tight. We are seeing some tire wear which is a good thing. That is what Goodyear likes to see to dissipate that heat is to see a little wear. We will monitor that throughout the weekend. If we saw more rubber being laid down on the track then typically you would say ‘okay that will get better as the weekend goes on’. This is one of those tires that we have seen this year where it just doesn’t lay much rubber.”
IS IT A BETTER TIRE IN YOUR OPINION OR IS IT TOO EARLY TO SAY UNTIL YOU GET INTO THE RACE?
“Right now I would say it’s a better tire. I don’t think any of us like the box that Goodyear is put in when we come to a newly surfaced track and have to put a rock hard tire on there for durability. It’s not because that is the best performance tire it’s because they have to play it safe because of the high heat and the speeds that we are running. Right now what I’m feeling it feels good. It concerns me that just the No. 24 that we are as tight as we are. We can’t seem to get it fixed. That makes it tough to maneuver through traffic and tough to get the speed out of the car that we want to have. We are just trying to find more tools to get the front to hook up. It seems like unhooking the back doesn’t seem to be the answer and so right now it’s probably too early to really judge the tire, but with everything I’m seeing I’m liking, I’m not disappointed with it in anyway.”
WITH EVERYTHING THAT GOES INTO THE SET-UP OF THE CAR AND EVERYTHING IS THIS THE TIRE A MAJOR CHANGE OR A MINOR CHANGE?
“I think it’s a very minor change.”
JAMES HILTON IS ACTUALLY RETIRING AFTER HIS RACE TOMORROW. I THINK YOUR ROOKIE YEAR WAS KIND OF THE LAST YEAR HE WAS RUNNING SOME CUP RACES. I WAS CURIOUS IF YOU EVER RAN INTO HIM? HE WAS 59…
“I hope I never ran into him (laughs).”
NOT LITERALLY WITH THE CAR. I WAS CURIOUS IF BACK THEN YOU SAW HIM AND THOUGHT ‘MAN HE’S RACING AT 59 I HOPE I’M RACING AT 59.’ NOW HE’S 79 AND STILL RACING:
“Well I admire anybody that is out on the track whether they are at full speed or whatever minimal speed is. I think it says a lot about somebody that wants to go out there and has a passion, desire to do that. Especially now working with AARP I have an even greater appreciation for folks that do that. I don’t have any real stories racing with James other than he just seems like he has been around forever. Every time I turn on a race James Hilton is out there and that is pretty cool.”
YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE DOING IT INTO YOUR SEVENTIES?
“I don’t think I will be doing it until I’m 50 so no, but I said I wouldn’t be doing it when I’m 40 and here I am at 42. So you never know.”
MATT KENSETH SAID HE WISHES THEY WOULD NEVER CHANGE THE TIRE. YOU SAID YOU LIKE IT. WITH THIS TEST TODAY AND SOME OF THE TEAMS ARE USING THE CARS THAT THEY TESTED TODAY, SOME AREN’T. THE THING IS I WONDER HOW EVERYBODY ADAPTS TO IT AND HOW IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE RACE THIS WEEKEND?
“Well of course whoever won the race the last time they are not going to want anything to change. Things went well for them and they would like to come back with everything being the same, especially when the championship is on the line. For us even though we had just not a very good weekend but it wasn’t because we didn’t have speed or didn’t like the tire, I thought we actually had a pretty good race car, but we got caught on pit road when the caution came out. And we crashed in qualifying and had to come from the back. We weren’t going to be in the top 10 so I wasn’t asking for a big tire change or anything, but I always am asking Goodyear to find ways on this type of tire, it’s the Michigan, here, any newly paved race track. One of the things I struggle with the most on those types of tracks is there is very little forgiveness. It just seems like you can get to the peak of the performance of the tire, but it’s like a razors edge and you get to it and you can jump right over it very quickly and you lose the front or the back. That is what happened to me the last time here in qualifying it was just very much of a surprise. So I applaud Goodyear anytime that they are going to try to add something to that tire to give it a little bit more forgiveness because I don’t think I’m the only one that is making those comments. That is what I see them attempting to do and they wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t feel confident in it. I know that there is limited testing that they did and it was in July, but to my knowledge this is one of the first days that we have had this whole combination of both left-sides and right-sides on the car. Other than a little bit of extra wear which is typical that you see especially after the rain and everything I would say that it’s a positive not a negative.”
WHAT DOES FORGIVENESS IN A TIRE MEAN IN A RACE?
“It’s just when the car slides around that you can recover from it. You can just ease out of the throttle and the car straightens up and then you don’t just lose the back of the car like that. Or even the front of the car where you can feel where you are getting to the edge of the grip and you know when you are about to go over it and if you go over it you can recover quickly and get the car to cut with the front same thing with the rear. When the tire is real hard it needs temperature but even when you get it to that temperature and you load it up it just only has so much grip because it’s just harder. Then it doesn’t wear so it last forever. That is why you see so many two tire stops. Where guys want track position instead of new tires and I think most of us would agree that the best races that we see are tracks where there is fall off. There are four tire changes, yeah, it’s nice to have somebody try to chance it and maybe take right-sides, but you want to see passing. The way you do that is by having fall off in the tire and the abrasiveness of the track and the multiple grooves. I think that is what they are at least trying to achieve with this tire.”
KNOWING THAT IT IS STILL EARLY IN THE CHASE DO YOU RUN THROUGH IN YOUR MIND WHAT YOU THINK CERTAIN THINGS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO HAPPEN FOR YOU TO REEL IN THAT GROUP IN FRONT OF YOU?
“I think all we can do is our best to get the best out of our car and our team. We can’t control what our competitors do. We can only control what we do and to me it’s just living up to our full potential. Then just kind of let the chips fall the way they are supposed to or the way they will. We can’t play those scenarios out in our mind because you just don’t know how that is going to happen. You just go out and race as hard as you can and I’m very proud of the effort that we’ve put out. I made a mistake at New Hampshire that cost us. Other than that we have gained on everybody in the Chase except for the top three guys. Those guys have been performing very well. If they don’t have some issues or have a really bad day then nobody is going to catch them. We are not wishing that upon them it’s just we just got to go out and do our jobs and hope that the tracks, like I look at this as one of our weaker tracks. If we can perform well here I think it really puts us in great position to go gain some points at a few other tracks. That is what we are looking at doing right now. We are way ahead of the game right now. We were four weeks ago not in it. Now we are in it and we are up to fifth or tied for fourth. We are pleased with where we are at. We are not going to complain about being where we are at, at all.”
HOW MUCH EASIER IS IT TO COME TO THE RACE TRACK WHEN YOU ARE RUNNING WELL AND HAVING FUN RATHER THAN THE STRUGGLES FROM THE PAST?
“This has been a very frustrating year for us. We’ve tested ourselves, me personally, Alan (Gustafson, crew chief), the engineers, the pit crew, everybody on this team because we’ve gone to race tracks where we felt like we should have performed and we didn’t. We have gone to race tracks where we were performing and made mistakes or had failures and that tests your patients, it tests your frustration in the car and off the track your relationship with the people on the team. When you can fight through that it makes you stronger. We thought we fought through enough last years, but we actually I think needed a little bit more of that. It’s been a struggle. Knowing what struggles we have been through to have things going well it is exciting because we can appreciate it so much more because we know what those tough times were really like.”
I WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ‘KICK IT FOR CANCER’. I KNOW THAT YOU WENT TO KNOXVILLE THIS YEAR. WAS THAT YOUR FIRST TRIP TO THE DINGUS?
“I think it was my first trip to dingus. Very good time.”
TALK ABOUT ‘KICK IT FOR CANCER’ AND THE SPRINT CAR COMMUNITY AND HOW THEY HAVE SUPPORTED YOU:
“They have been extremely supportive. I am and I’m not surprised you know they are just a great group of racers that work very hard. We have supported a team and I think that they just appreciate our involvement in looking at the World of Outlaws and sprint cars and that fan base as a group of people that we wanted to be involved with and put on these kickball tournaments. Kendra Jacobs and Shane Stewart so many people that have… the promoters at all these tracks they have just gotten behind it. So yeah in that sense I am surprised. I didn’t expect it to take off the way it has. They have been tremendous to bring more awareness to pediatric cancer through the ‘kick it’ tournaments. We have raised a tremendous amount of money as well as overseas. One of our biggest games we have had to date was over in Australia because all the sprint car racers go over there during the winter. It’s been phenomenal and it continues to grow and we are having a lot of fun. We had a ‘kick it’ tournament in Charlotte or outside of Charlotte with NASCAR. We don’t raise near as much money with them as we do with sprint car racing. That is the type of community that there is. Everybody wants to be a part of it and they are also maybe not as scared about getting hurt out there doing the kickball tournament.”
DALE EARNHARDT, SR. USED TO TALK ABOUT HOW THE MOST IMPORTANT CONVERSATION FOR HIM IN EVERY RACE WAS THE CONVERSATION HE HAD WITH HIS TIRES. WHAT HIS TIRES TOLD HIM ON A CONSTANT BASIS. DOES THIS TIRE THAT YOU ALL TESTED TODAY SPEAK TO YOU AS WELL AS ANY TIRE THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER HAS EVER TALKED TO YOU AND IS IT AS EQUALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“That must be why I struggle on these repaves (laughs). Because I feel like they are speaking French and I don’t know French. No, I mean they don’t. That is what I was getting at about these harder tires on these newly, recently paved race tracks. It’s a box that we are in and we understand why we are in it because of the durability as I mentioned and trying to get the best performance as well as we are carrying a lot of speed. This car has got a lot of downforce and the track has got a lot of grip in it. You are either stuck to the race track or you are not stuck to the race track there is no in-between. I understand what you are saying. To me you can say it’s the tire, you can just say it’s the grip level; you can just say through the seat of your pants of what the car is doing it’s just feeding information. It does start at the tire because the tire and the contact to the pavement is the first thing that you are reacting to. Then it’s sent up through the springs and the shocks and the whole chassis and aerodynamics and everything before it finally gets to you and your hands on the steering wheel and your butt in the seat. I kind of like to talk to everything. Sometimes that is why I confuse myself in those conversations. I never heard Dale (Earnhardt, Sr.) say that so that’s interesting, but it’s also true.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR