INDIANAPOLIS (July 23, 2009) – While tires are the topic of conversation going into Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bart Apple doesn’t expect the subject will remain a focus once the green flag drops.
That’s because Apple, tire specialist for Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont team, has seen the progress that Goodyear has made since last year.
“(Goodyear) tested last year and numerous times this year,” said Apple, who participated in the June tire test with the No. 24 team. “The tires that Goodyear has decided to bring to the racetrack work better. The track takes rubber very well, and the tires last as long as a fuel run, which is what they want and what we see anywhere else usually. They’ve done an excellent job with the tire they decided to bring this year.”
According to Lisa Smokstad, tire specialist for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, the first laps might be a bit rough while the tires and the track adjust to each other, but that’s nothing new for Indianapolis.
“The Indy track itself is so worn, it actually looks like razor blades,” Smokstad said. “Even the Indy cars have that same problem. The track just pulls the rubber off the tire. It happens every year. When we go out, the first six laps traditionally of any (Brickyard) race that I have done, we’ve gone down to the cords like that and then the track just rubbers up.”
That didn’t happen last year. Instead of collecting rubber, which improves tire wear, the track just chewed through the Goodyear Eagles used by Sprint Cup teams.
“The rubber was wearing into a real fine powder,” Apple said. “That was due a lot to the softness of the compound Goodyear had and how rough the track is.”
By the conclusion of the 2008 event, NASCAR had thrown a total of six yellow flags for the tire issue, turning the prestigious Brickyard 400 into a series of heat races. Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson ultimately took the checkered flag.
Goodyear responded immediately and brought in almost 30 Cup cars to test a variety of tire compositions at the historic racetrack. Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet, participated in the initial test last October, while Gordon’s crew turned laps during the final test in June. After trying out the new tires, Gordon sang Goodyear’s praises.
“I ran this tire as hard as I possibly could,” Gordon said after testing at IMS in mid-June. “I put numerous laps on them. It’s a dead issue. This is going to be a race. It might come down to fuel mileage. It might come down to a lot of different factors, but it’s not going to come down to a 10-lap shootout on whose tires can last.”
Just as a precaution, Goodyear is issuing each team additional tires. This weekend, teams will have four extra sets of tires to use during the four one-hour practice sessions. When the race starts, each team will have 10 sets of tires instead of the usual eight that Goodyear distributes.
Goodyear’s response seemed appropriate to Apple, who considers the Brickyard 400 as one of the biggest races of the year.
“In my opinion, this is the biggest race of the year,” Apple said. “It’s Indy. It’s the racetrack with the most history in the world. I think every driver that is a race car driver wants to go there and win there. I think the fans want to go and see a good race. I don’t think they want to see the 10-lap heats we had last year, and I don’t think that’s what the drivers want. They want to be able to go and race on a tire that’s going to be fast at the start of every run and give up and lose grip and the cars are going to slow down.
“This is going to become a racer’s race.”
Race coverage of the Brickyard 400 begins Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN, and the green flag is scheduled to drop at 2 p.m.