Following last Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway in Madison, Illinois race winning crew chief Paul Wolfe from the Team Penske No. 22 Ford for driver Joey Logano fielded question during a NASCAR Media availability. Among the topics he addressed was that of the seemingly high number of tire failures that have been seen throughout the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
NASCAR’s new car, the Next Gen, has provided some challenges as well as some benefits to race teams. The car has also shown that it can provide excellent racing, particularly on some types of tracks where that had not been the case with the previous Gen 6 machine. Drivers and crews have, at times, struggled to find the right driving style and setup combinations to suit the new car which has actually made for some entertaining action on the track.
One concern during the first half of the season has been that of tire failures and the crashes that have resulted from those.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which builds tires for NASCAR teams, has pointed at the teams themselves as the causes for the blowouts. The Akron, Ohio-based company released a statement prior to last month’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway meant to emphasize the need for teams to follow the recommendations of their engineers regarding tire pressures.
“Recommended” is more than a recommendation the notice began. The statement went on the point out that the tire pressure guidance they offer teams comes from extensive testing, computer modeling and simulation. The company made it clear that they are not just guessing and nothing about their recommendations is done in a haphazard way.
However, teams realize that to win at the Cup Series level, they have to test the limits, and sometimes even exceed those limits. Following the guidelines will not produce as much speed as will pushing the limits. As a result, teams will often choose to error on the side of finding more speed.
“I don’t know that anyone in the garage is running what Goodyear is recommending for air pressure,” Wolfe said when asked about team choices regarding tire pressures. “There’s a lot of speed and grip in pushing the limits on tires, and as a competitor, that’s why everyone is doing it. I don’t think you see it just among one organization. If you look throughout the year, you’ve seen it throughout every team having issues.”
Because the Next Gen car is still new to everyone, the limits are not yet fully known.
“And as I said, that comes down to trying to get every last little bit,” Wolfe added. “I think we’re still learning where those limits are. We’re obviously right on edge. As race teams, we’re still trying to learn where the limit is at every track we go to. The loading is different with how we get around each race track.”
Wolfe went on to say that he made a small adjustment to his car’s tire pressures after teammate Ryan Blaney suffered a failure during the Gateway race.
If every team is choosing, as Wolfe suggests, to ignore Goodyear’s advice, then the problem for all teams is that they have to do whatever they can to find speed at the possible cost of sacrificing safety. If several teams are in fact finding more speed by not going by the recommendations, at least one of those risk takers will make it to the end of each race without an issue and will beat those doing as was recommended.
It may be safer to do as Goodyear says but it may also be slower. Racing, more often than not, calls for drivers and their crews to take chances to find more speed. In other words, at least some degree of safety may have to be compromised in favor of going faster.
Wolfe then went on to point out the ultimate dilemma faced by teams who must build a car that will go as fast as possible but will do so in a way that will not overexpose their driver to danger.
“I think from a team side, I think we could work together as an industry to understand why we’re having the failures and maybe as a group come up with a solution. Nobody wants to go out there and be thinking ‘Who’s going to blow the next tire?’. But at the same time, as a team, you can’t just leave that on the table. There’s speed there so you’re always going to push to the limit.”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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