Why NASCAR’s All Star Race option tire experiment didn’t work

There are still a lot of reasons to pursue this direction, however

That wasn’t entirely how the NASCAR All-Star Race was supposed to go.

On one hand, the repave of North Wilkesboro Speedway was met with widespread praise over the weekend as a track that received a fresh coat of asphalt in November but immediately widened out and produced three usable grooves.

That’s literally unprecedented.  

On the other hand, for the second time in eight years, NASCAR and Goodyear implemented an option tire for its annual spring exhibition and it once again failed to produce enough disparity between them to impact the outcome.

Goodyear projected nearly a half second advantage from the option tire, with race quality being determined by just how long the speed would last before dipping below the pace of the primary tire, which is called the crossover point.

The problem on Sunday night is that the advantage of the primary tire was exceptionally short and that the primary tire never crossed over to being the more advantageous tire. As a result, most of the leaders opted to run the final half of the race on the option compound and track position mattered more than fresh rubber.

John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development, admitted that he wanted more out of the race.

“Hats off to Goodyear for getting aggressive with this tire,” Probst said. “It did a lot of the things we wanted it to do. There was some pretty good racing out there. It gave the teams some strategy.

“Did everything go exactly like we thought? No. I think we all wanted to see the tires fall off more. Credit to (Joey Logano and) the (Penske) 22 team because we didn’t think after practice on Friday that they could do what they ultimately did, run those tires that long and that hard and them still hold up that well.

“The good thing is that we have some tire tests coming up at Iowa and Martinsville and we’ll continue to get more aggressive with it. It’s always hard when you come to a track, practice in the daylight and race at night. The track temperatures have a lot to do with how they perform too.

“We’re going to stay at it and get more aggressive.”

Kyle Larson, who pitted with one of the fastest cars with 50 laps to go, could not take a 50-lap advantage on fresher option tires to the front of the field.


Joe Gibbs No. 11 crew chief, Chris Gabehart, suggested there were a lot of factors. The first part of his theory was running the race at night instead of during the heat of day.

“The soft reds were not wearing terribly but they were getting really hot,” Gabehart said. “So when you lose 25 degrees of track temperature, that can be enough to help it hold on.

“It’s not wearing enough and I know Goodyear is working on it and I can’t imagine what they’re thinking right now, right? This is literally their rain compound, softest thing they’ve ever made for a Stock Car that I know of and it’s not enough.”

Ultimately, Gabehart landed on the same things that the NASCAR industry has continuously battled with this car on short tracks, in that he said it has 100 less horsepower than its predecessor, has wider tires and independent rear suspension.

“It just has a lot more grip,” Gabehart said. “The cars are easier to drive and the cars are all the same, and while certain teams and drivers always find their way to the front, there’s just not a lot of disparity.

“I sugar coat it and beat around the bush but we’re talking about the best drivers and the best teams in the world and we’ve made the cars easier to drive, and the setup optimization is easier to achieve, because … of the horsepower to grip ratio.”

Even with all that being said, some teams were still expecting a greater disparity between the prime and option tires. Cliff Daniels said his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 team had missed it with their own internal projections.

“For the record, I think we would’ve missed it by a country mile,” Daniels said. “Because we were almost thinking, that to start the race, the (options) were going to go really fast and then degrade pretty good. Maybe after lap 35 or so is kind of what we were thinking — that they would hold on for a little while. We did not at all see it coming that the (options) were going to hold on for pretty much 90 laps.”

He got off the pit box and looked at the 100 lap old option tires that came off the cars that ran them the entire first half of the race and it completely changed the course of their strategy.

“I definitely applaud the effort from Goodyear and NASCAR to try to make a splash with something different and to give us the options and the disparity,” Daniels said. “But, you know, I think Goodyear almost made too good of a tire with the (options) because it didn’t blister or wear out enough to create some of the strategy and maybe even chaos that I think we wanted to see.

“It was different than expected but interesting nonetheless.”

Unfortunately, the high corner speeds and increased grip level basically allowed Logano to air block Hamlin and for Hamlin to air block Larson. That’s one of the dirtiest words in short track racing right now but for reasons articulated by Gabehart, it’s part of the dynamic until something changes.

“I would run to him, and then you couldn’t pass,” Hamlin said. “I would lose a little bit of air there, and I would try to give my car a break and then run to him again – just have to be so much faster to get around.

“Hats off to the track, NASCAR and Goodyear for giving it a try. Hopefully, we learned something here for future short tracks.”

Again, lost in all of this is that North Wilkesboro was repaved in November and despite all the character intentionally or unintentionally left in it, this is still a brand-new surface.

It was just never going to have a tremendous amount of tire wear built into it, which was half of the decision to go with a softer option tire in the All-Star Race in the first place.

The other half of the decision was to further experiment with both dual compounds and a softer tire to improve short track racing across the schedule.

Rodney Childers said earlier in the day that he felt the option tire would make a tremendous short track tire at New Hampshire, Richmond, Bristol, Martinsville and Phoenix.

His peers do not disagree at all. 

Daniels says the options need to be softer and the primary needs to be harder.

“Say we go to Richmond, you have 10 sets of tires, give us five and five, there’s your allotment,” Daniels said. “That could be interesting.”

Matt McCall, RFK Racing No. 6 crew chief, agreed.

“I think so, and I think that’s going to happen pretty quick,” he said. “I think, if we’re going to go this direction of two compounds at a points race, then we need to go further.”

Daniels and Larson’s No. 5 team will be testing at Iowa Speedway after the Coca-Cola 600 and Goodyear is expected to continue further down this path.

“I was just talking to some of the Goodyear engineers,” Daniels said. “They’re going to bring the (options) and, and they’re going to bring some different stuff up there too.

“Iowa is going to be interesting because it’s like half a repave now. There are sections of new pavement and a mix of old, so that it and of itself will be pretty interesting, wild and unique. If you mix in some tire options with that, it could make a pretty, pretty fun scenario for creating disparity, different options, different strategies that that could come into play.”

Ultimately, Gabehart says he understands the disappointment from fans but also says there was a lot to feel optimistic about this weekend too.

“Again, let’s be clear, you’re never going to finish four wide at the finish line every week,” Gabehart said. “We need to temper expectations and understand that the Game 7 Moment isn’t going to happen every week.

“Tonight was absolutely a step in the right direction, no question. The industry learned a lot this weekend. I said all week, that with 200 laps and two sets each, there was not going to be a lot of room for divergence but give me two options out of my eight sets at (New Hampshire), Richmond or Phoenix and it’s 400 laps, I’m going to have to pick and choose.

“I’ll have to factor stage points, getting to the end of the race, all that stuff. That’s going to get us the comers and goers we’re looking for because we won’t have an infinite supply of both compounds like we did tonight.”

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

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