NASCAR to give Cup teams dual tire options at Richmond

Author:
Sportsnaut

A NASCAR Cup Series race with dual tire compounds is coming to Richmond Raceway next month.

While the sanctioning body has yet to tell teams what the rules will be, orders have been placed for the option tires that will be run alongside the primary compound for the event at the Virginia short track on August 10-11.

The Federated Auto Parts 400 will feature the same combination used at North Wilkesboro Speedway for the All-Star Race, comprised of the primary left-side D-5208 and right-side D-5220 and the option left-side D-5224 and right-side D-5226.

The race would also have the wet weather package tires available, which were used at the start of the spring race in March to much fanfare.

Unlike freshly paved Wilkesboro, Richmond is the most abrasive short track on the schedule and it is likely to produce an interesting challenge for crew chiefs as the option tire should produce more speed but with greater degradation.

But it’s also a night race, and this concept has been offset both times it was used due to cooler temperatures in both the 2017 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and at Wilkesboro in May.

Regardless, crew chiefs like Chris Gabehart of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team endorse the idea and applaud both NASCAR and Goodyear for the efforts to improve short track racing with the seventh-generation platform.

“I mean, first off, I applaud them trying it,” Gabehart told Sportsnaut over the weekend in Downtown Chicago. “I think it’s a good spot to try it. It’s not in the playoffs so a regular season race is the next logical step to try something like this at. …

“What I have gathered with track testing at Richmond over the last couple of years is that this surface responds really well to these types of changes, and then it degrades a good amount as we’ve all learned, so I think the racing could be pretty interesting.”

The best part about this concept — especially with a race prone to long green flag runs and one that is much longer than the 200 lap All Star Race — is that NASCAR is going to leave when to change tires completely up to the teams.

From that standpoint, it could look similar to the wildly popular spring race at Bristol, which started the industry in this direction in the first place. That excites Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“I don’t expect them to control when you put on the (option tires) so that’s interesting to me from the standpoint that everyone could end up doing something different, which I think would be great,” Daniels said. “But there is also the potential that we could all end up playing the same cards at the same time but the fact that NASCAR is willing to give us the option tire and leave it open, I really think that could create a lot of excitement for the fans.”

The obvious question is whether or not the option tire will even be viable, only from the standpoint that Richmond notoriously chews up tires as it is, so will that softer tire even last long enough to make it worthwhile should the race feature long green flag runs.

That was articulated by Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 crew chief Rodney Childers.

“I don’t feel like you’re really going to be able to put them on and make it very far,” Childers said. “It’s going to need to be a situation where it’s at the end of the stage with 15 to go so we’re like, ‘let’s put those on’ and maybe we try to save them for the end of the race, get a caution with eight to go, bolt them on and be fast as hell to the end.”

Childers wonders if the option tires will even make it 20 laps on that surface before they are down to the cords. That was echoed by Mike Kelley, of the JTG Daugherty No. 47 team, too.

“It just depends on how short of a run you need them for,” Kelley said. “The other tire falls off so hard that I don’t know that I will ever need a tire (at Richmond) that is that aggressive unless it’s a really short run.”

The rumor Kelley heard is that NASCAR will allow teams to have two sets of the option tires for this race. He has some concerns, like he would on any other weekend over the data he will have access to compared to teams with Tier 1 affiliations, and how that could challenge his single-car team’s effort.

At the same time, looking at it from a big picture standpoint, he likes the concept from a racing entertainment standpoint.

“I like that they’re trying it,” Kelley said. “I don’t have a problem with it at all. I think our short track package needs some work. I don’t think that tires are always going to be the answer. We’ve seen at Iowa that the pavement direction or resin, you can still have some entertaining races depending on the track but I don’t know that this is the one thing that will fix all the tracks.”

To wit, Gabehart is still beating the drum about increasing horsepower or reducing the width of the tire to create the kind of racing NASCAR is known for on short tracks and road courses.

“It’s the horsepower to grip ratio,” Gabehart said. “And if we are not going to work on the horsepower then we need to work on how much grip we have.

“Interestingly enough, what we’re doing and what we saw at North Wilkesboro is actually giving more grip with the hope that it will fall off more and Wilkesboro didn’t. So this is only advantageous if (the primary) actually fall off more than the option.

“One wrinkle we will see that we didn’t have at Wilkesboro is that you’ll have to run the (both) at times. You won’t have a choice. So even if the (options) happen to be magic, when you use them will be a wrinkle that we didn’t see at Wilkesboro.

“So I do applaud them for trying stuff. They have to get aggressive with it. I still really think tire width, and reducing that footprint is something we have to consider, again, working on the grip ratio side of that equation but I applaud that NASCAR and Goodyear continues to be aggressive.”

Without even knowing that Gabehart made that argument over the weekend, Daniels also credited him for being so vocal about the horsepower-to-grip ratio conversation.

“Chris Gabehart, in my opinion, has articulated this very well, where the cars are just overly-gripped and under-powered,” Daniels said. “So how do you solve that?

“Certainly adding a higher grip tire with some fall-off is an interesting way to do it. But at the end of the day, if we had less of a tire footprint to work with or a higher horsepower footprint (which will) get us over the limit of the tire to where right now, we’re not.”

Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing and a veteran crew chief, thinks Richmond is the best place to do this.

“The (option tire) is going to fall off big time,” Rice said. “If you put that tire on and it goes green for a long time, you can either split the stage and pit once or twice so I’m pumped. I’ve been vocal about having a softer tire in general and I’m glad we’re trying it.”

Rice would take it a step further.

“Give us the daggone rain tire too and let us run that tire once a race, any run of our choosing because it has no stagger,” he said. “If we get a caution with like 10 to go, give the crew chiefs the option to run the option, the prime or a rain tire. They’re way smarter than me. Let them have at it.”

Baby steps first, which start next month at Richmond.

Driver feedback

Denny Hamlin knows that implementing the dual tire option at Richmond takes away an advantage that he and Gabehart have established over the past three years but he concedes that it’s in the best interest for the industry too.

“Personally, on the 11 car, do we love throwing in these kinks, no, we’d rather race straight up and see how it plays out,” Hamlin said. “At the same time, I understand why we’re doing it and applaud Goodyear for trying it just to see if we can come up with a better primary tire long-term for short tracks.

“A lot of this will depend on what this tire does — is it fast for three laps or 10 or 15?”

Ryan Blaney hopes this works out better at abrasive Richmond than it did newly paved Wilkesboro.

“Hopefully at Richmond it does a little bit more,” Blaney said during a press conference over the weekend in Chicago. “The track is a little older. It’s worn out. I just like to see, you know, I think if you’re going to have a dual tire like that, you have to have the option, like the soft tire, be a lot faster for 10 laps and then be a lot slower after like 20 than the prime. So hopefully it works.

“I know, like I said, Wilksboro didn’t really work. We stayed on the reds for like the whole race and we’re able to hold everybody off. I don’t think it will be that case at Richmond. I think you’re going to get more fall-off there. I applaud NASCAR and Goodyear for wanting to try stuff like that.

“You’ve got to find ways to try to help the short track program a little bit as far as raceability, dirty air, stuff like that. We always talk about tires and they’re not easy to change, but it’s the easiest thing to change as opposed to like bits and pieces on the car.

“We’ve tried everything you can try on the car — almost everything. We tried everything that we’re going to get on the car, so the tire thing is the next option and I think it’s a good direction. I don’t expect it to be amazing at first, like just the learning process and learning curve of getting everything where it needs to be. I think it’s a good direction. Hopefully it does something. It will be fun for the teams to have the option of when you put them on and how many you got laying. So, we’ll see how that strategy side goes.”

Hamlin was listening to that press conference and agree with that entire line of thinking.

“I was listening to Ryan in the media center and he nailed it,” Hamlin said. “It has to be faster for 10-15 laps and then it’s got to be slower 30-40 laps after that. They’ll have to have that rubber mixture just perfect for that.

“Every track we go to is different from the surface standpoint so then they’ll have to make a different compound for each track we go to.”

Ryan Preece is on board.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It creates strategy, and opportunity, because right now our biggest thing is passing and if that option tire creates a difference in speed, and track position opportunities, that’s a good thing.

“Its just going to come down to their R&D processes and getting that compound right.”

He knows what this looks like if it works because Preece comes from Tour Type Modified racing where many of these races allow for just one tire to be taken anywhere on the car and at any time. It creates a lot of shuffling through the field.

“Yeah, because sometimes you qualify poorly and you take your tire early and get track position, it puts it in your hand to hold on the rest of the way,” Preece said. “There are a lot of ways they can go about trying to create that and I’m curious what it looks like.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *