HAMPTON, Ga. – NASCAR’s lower downforce package cannot succeed without the appropriate tire compound, but Goodyear is looking at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a unique one-off event.
Having worked closely with the sanctioning body since the package was introduced, the tire company has brought a new setup Sprint Cup Series team this weekend. Described as a softer tire, Goodyear hopes to eventually integrate a more robust construction on the 1.5-mile tracks, which will enable them to go even softer on compounds.
But while Atlanta might be the first race of the season under this package, Goodyear’s director of racing, Greg Stucker, believes the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 should be judged cautiously.
“You’ve got to be real careful about Atlanta. The surface here kind of gives us the type of racing that everybody thinks they want everywhere just by the nature of the beat,” Stucker said. “It’s a worn out racetrack. We’re going to see a lot of falloff; a lot of give up; a lot of tire wear. But we see that all the time.
“I think we’ll take this weekend with a grain of salt, make sure that there’s no surprises from what we expect, but once we get to the next couple of mile-and-a-half’s I think that’s really going start telling us what we want to see. Once we get to Las Vegas and Fontana, then really see if we’re consistently seeing the changes that everybody expects.”
Atlanta marks the first of four 1.5-mile tracks over the next six weeks. And it was these types of tracks NASCAR had in mind when tweaking the aerodynamic package in hopes of creating better racing, specifically more side-by-side competition. Complaints have been rampant the last few years of a decreased competition level because cars had become so aerodynamically dependent could not perform in dirty air.
For Sunday, a few drivers expect the field to slide around a lot more than normal due to a combination of the package and Atlanta having a very abrasive surface. With tires expected to see an even greater falloff during a fuel run, it will force the drivers back into once again managing their pace.
Stucker and his team will monitor the race closely as they begin to compartmentalize what does and does not work for this package.
“We want to see pretty problem free racing and something that the guys can manage,” he said. “It may end up being a good race on the racetrack and maybe something not necessarily transparent to everyone, but if it’s difficult for people to manage in the garage area, that makes it a little tough, too.
“So we want to make sure that it’s a good robust package that is kind of predictable and that they can manage through.”
He reiterated, though, that it would take more than one race at Atlanta before it becomes clear if the sport is moving in the right direction.
“You have to look at things as you go through the season, and I don’t think we’ll have a real good gauge until we get a quarter of the way through or maybe even halfway through the season to understand if we’re on the right track,” Stucker said. “And that’s not going to be a Goodyear call. That’s going to be a collective garage area call.”