Many drivers said they could tell no difference in the racing two weeks ago at Martinsville, Va., with the new package, or in some instances, thought it was worse than last year.
Officially, the race featured five cautions (two for stage breaks) and three green flag passes for the lead. Two combined to lead 244 of the 400 laps.
As part of a scheduled meeting with Cup drivers Saturday morning at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, NASCAR officials as well as representatives from tire supplier Goodyear discussed several options for the series to try to improve the racing product this season.
“I commend all of our drivers. Kevin (Harvick), Denny (Hamlin), (Michael) McDowell – a lot of them spoke openly about what they were feeling with the short track package,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, told Motorsport.com.
“We’re three races into that – three ovals and one road course – so obviously we had all that data. We had all of our staff, including from the R&D Center, and in collaboration with the drivers and Goodyear, we discussed what levers we can pull, what opportunities may be in front of us.”
Hamlin said he left the meeting “very optimistic” with the discussion, and believed one area that could be addressed is a change in the tire compounds.
According to Hamlin, Goodyear officials said the debut of the Next Gen car last year and its 18-inch wheels, shorter sidewalls and wider contact patch prompted them to be conservative and “very common” with the design of the tires.
“We feel like we’re comfortable enough now to start mixing that up and really start getting more aggressive with our tire compounds,” Hamlin said. “That’s fantastic news for us and hopefully for competition here in the next few months.”
More testing to come
Sawyer said he expects NASCAR will do some additional testing – likely at Phoenix or Richmond, Va. – after the information from the meeting is dissected back at the R&D Center.
“There’s not one lever that you could ever pull and say, ‘That’s it.’ There’s a lot of things that go into it,” he said. “You’ve got horsepower, you got tires, you got aero, you got the speed of short tracks vs. intermediates vs. superspeedways. All of those things factor into the racing result.
“I don’t know that one particular thing came out of (the meeting) but there was a lot of discussion about the tires. Goodyear has done a phenomenal job and will help us work through whatever the next development with tires looks like.
“This car has a wide tire – there’s more tire on the race track. Therefore, the way the aerodynamics work has changed as well.”
Corey LaJoie, Spire Motorsports, NEGU Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images