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NASCAR trying something radically different for the All Star Race at North Wilkesboro

There will be two different sets of tire compounds

NASCAR: All Star Heat Race 1
Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

And now for something completely different.

Recognizing both the success of the high tire degradation spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway and that freshly repaved tracks like North Wilkesboro feature just one groove until the surface begins to age, the NASCAR All Star Race will feature two different tire compounds as a strategic wrinkle.

And really, there are actually three different tire compounds when counting the wet weather compound, which might be necessary when considering the damp forecast this week.

The goal for the weekend is to create passing through tire management and differing tire strategies throughout the 200-lap main event. If Goodyear’s projections hold true, the option tire is expected to produce over three-tenths more speed a lap than the standard tire but it also tends to fall off 25 laps into a run.

How much that tire falls off depends on how hard drivers push it. The standard tire can go much longer but it also doesn’t have as much pace. All told, the race just features a lot of variables with NASCAR and Goodyear hoping it offsets what would otherwise be a straightforward single-fie race.

The dynamic was best articulated over the weekend by Denny Hamlin.

“It’s going to need to be a significant difference and when I say significant, it needs to be three-to-four-tenths faster,” Hamlin said, before adding an important caveat.

“The issue is then how long is it going to last? If it’s only going to last 20 laps, (we) probably aren’t going to put them on unless it’s at the end of the race, but even then everyone might stay out for track position.”

NASCAR is forcing teams to start on the option tire for the main event, because the league wants to immediately replicate what the racing looked like at Bristol or even the start of the race at Richmond last month, which began on the wet weather tires.

These option tires are basically the wet weather chemical compound, used at Wilkesboro during the heat races last year, but on slicks rather than treads.

From there, it will be up to the drivers to decide how much they want to abuse the tires to get or maintain track position, in advance of swapping back over to the standard set. Teams will start the race with two sets of standard tires and two sets of the softer option tires.

There will be a caution at Lap 100 with a mandatory four tire stop and a caution at Lap 150 with no requirement of whether to pit. That is where this concept will really sink or swim. If it’s going to come down to a 50-lap run, do teams opt for a tire compound that will last that entire run or will teams opt to take the option tire and get to the front, and hope for enough caution laps that they can make it last?

That’s what Erik Jones believes will determine whether or not this is a success or not.

“The true win with the option tire would be for someone to come in, get the option tire — maybe one or two cars — and go to the back and drive straight to the front in 10 laps,” Jones said. “I think that would be a win for the option tire.

“If it goes green and it falls off, so be it.

“That is kind of the box you are in with that tire. You are going to have to see a large variance in lap time with that tire for it to be a win, three-tenths probably, to really make it work and cut through the field and do what you want to do.”

Another, more complicating factor, is that the NextGen car is so set-up sensitive to the tires that the balance will shift considerably from one compound to the other so will crew chiefs like Rodney Childers seek a balance or lean towards one of the two compounds with an eye towards the end of the race?

“The other thing is when they ran the softer tire (at the test), the balance was way too tight,” Childers said. “The problem is you can’t do enough adjustments during a pit stop to change the balance to where it’s good with both sets, and you can’t give up that many spots on pit road doing rounds in both sides of the rear to make up for the balance difference.

“So, I think that’s really going to be the key is can a guy on the hard tires the whole time end up being better because he’s not having to make as many adjustments, or a guy that just worries about running soft tires, stays balanced that way, and hopefully he doesn’t feather the lefts and he can continue to keep going.”

That’s where Brad Keselowski landed over the weekend when discussing this topic too.

“When the pace picks up the, the cars because they sit on the bump stops, it dramatically changes the way they handle,” Keselowski said. “So, if the new tire is much faster, you’re going to have to choose between setting up for that or the (standard) tire and that can create some discrepancies that could open up passing, right?”

So those sort of wide set-up options, stemming from the threat of the option tire, could create speed disparity by itself.

Remember that NASCAR and Goodyear tried an option tire in 2017 for the All Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway but there wasn’t enough speed difference between the two and the set-ups decisions were pretty similar across the field.

Hamlin’s biggest concern for the whole experience is that the option tires will have speed but fall off too quickly, making it not even worth it over that final 50 lap stint.

“That’s my only concern with it,” he said. “I applaud that we’re trying it. My only concern is that it’s going to wear too aggressively and that we’re all going to be on the standard tire and it’s not likely not to drop off very much.”

Ryan Blaney hopes that it creates enough speed disparity and for the right amount of time.

“I hope it’s a big enough gap to where it means something,” said the defending Cup Series champion. “Like. if you’re going to have an option, super soft or whatever, it has to haul for like 10 laps and then starts falling off but it probably needs to last more than that, like 20 laps, and then it starts to come back.

“I know we tried that in the All Star back in like 2017 and there wasn’t a big enough speed gap. Hopefully there is this year and that there will be a decision to make of whether to take them or not. We’re not going to know for sure until we get there.”

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

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