Drivers say tires reduce competition

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2003

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If Rusty Wallace had his way, the tires on his new Dodge Intrepid would wear out every 50 laps. After all, what's another $1,400 when it's the difference in winning a $150,000 race?

''I've been saying for a year the reason you don't see any racing is the cars have too much downforce and the tires are too hard,'' Wallace said.

''Cut the rear spoilers down to five inches and soften up the tires, and races would be back in the hands of the drivers.''

A year ago, Wallace was a lonely voice of criticism against a program by NASCAR and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. to cut costs by reducing the number of different tires manufactured during the year. Instead of having a set built especially for each track, the company now has a handful of different tires.

Instead of building a tire to suit a speedway, Goodyear is forcing race teams to build cars that suit the tires.

This means building tires that are as hard as hockey pucks that seemingly last all day.

''It kills the racing because guys can drive as hard as they can without worrying about their tires,'' Wallace said. ''It takes a lot of the skill of driving out of the hands of the driver.''

Wallace has found a lot of allies in this week's test session at Daytona International Speedway.

Other drivers are joining the argument and NASCAR is listening.

''The package we've got right now isn't the best for good side-by-side racing,'' Jeff Gordon said.

''Now it's all about track position. It comes down to the way you position yourself after the last pit stop. The aero-push is so bad, it's hard to pass anybody.''

Aero-push is a condition where the front wheels lose grip in the corners. Big spoilers and hard tires, drivers say, are part of the problem.

Downforce requires a harder tire; harder tires require downforce.

''I think the biggest challenge we face is what we talked about a lot last year continuing to address the aerodynamics of the car,'' said John Darby, NASCAR's director of competition. ''We're continuing to work toward reduction of the total downforce on the cars.''

Darby said the sanctioning body is working with Goodyear to make a softer tire once the downforce is reduced. Changes could come soon, especially since there were no last-lap passes for a victory in 2002.

''I don't think there's any question the tire is too hard,'' said Ward Burton, last year's Daytona 500 winner. ''It's made it where the aero in the car is more important a lot of times than the driver.

''We all know the tires have gotten harder and harder and harder, particularly the last few years. It's changed a lot. It's made it so that people who have no experience can come into this sport and get with the right team and right car and win races. You never saw that before in the history of NASCAR and those tires are what's done it.''

Nearly half the races last year were won by a driver who used pit strategy. Calls for no tires or two tires, instead of four tires, too often were the reason a driver gained track position that allowed him to win.

''And that's not racing,'' Wallace said. ''With the way these cars are right now, you can't race side-by-side. Take some of that downforce away, give us softer tires and you'll start seeing good races again.''

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