Houston, we have a tire problem – or do we?


There's been a lot of talk about tires in the NASCAR Cup Series over the last month, and everything points to one thing: NASCAR has a tire problem.

Or is it?

The big debate about tire wear this season started in Bristol, where the track eats up the rubber, like that cousin at the family reunion who didn't even bring anything to the potluck but still tried to get take-out plates. Many drivers expressed their displeasure with how things turned out, including reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney.

“What’s the fun in driving around there and crawling around?” Blaney said. “(We) can’t do 50 laps unless a tire blows out. There are people sneaking around the racetrack with broken stuff. I can’t believe there wasn’t an accident.”

However, other drivers disagreed with Blaney, namely Brad Keselowski.

“I had a lot of fun,” Keselowski said. “I felt like you must be really smart. It reminded me of one of Matt Weaver's short track Late Model races for a while, and guess what? It’s good to have something different every now and then.”

That debate died down and made the news during the Circuit of the Americas weekend, but after last weekend's race in Richmond, another tire talk sparked a heated debate.

The first 30 laps of the competition were completed using wet weather driving, a relatively new concept to stock car racing and NASCAR as a whole that allows racing to continue even when conditions are not exactly what drivers and teams would like. These 30 laps were among the best of the race and resulted in the first major success of the rain tread pattern on ovals that the series has seen to date at the Cup level. Previously, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ran them at Martinsville and the Cup Series ran them at North Wilkesboro for heat racing.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR's VP of Competition, spoke about the tires' performance after the race.

“First of all, thanks to Jim France,” Sawyer said. “That was his vision a few years ago. He commissioned the R&D center and Goodyear to develop a tire that we could drive in wet conditions, and tonight was a success. We were able to start the race pretty much on time. The guys did a great job with the tire. Goodyear did a phenomenal job.”

However, the debate came when NASCAR banned competitors from switching back to slick tires on lap 30 as they felt the track had returned to optimal standards. Sawyer said that at this point, unlike the rules on road courses, NASCAR is not comfortable letting teams decide whether or not to go back to slick tires on oval tracks, and that the company is still making that decision internally meets.

Should teams have the right to make this decision themselves on oval and road courses? Should it be completely controlled by NASCAR? Are drivers just mad to be mad? Bingo.

Skip Flores, the co-host of Stacking pennies with Corey LaJoiesaid it best on the podcast this week.

“Anyone who races in Cup is prepared for anything,” Flores said. “Everything is calculated, everyone is prepared, everyone knows exactly what is going to happen… Everyone has a game plan. Then you throw that into the mix and everyone's game plan falls apart. That’s why everyone is so angry and nervous.”

There is no tire problem. There's no real question about NASCAR deciding when to remove or reinstall the rain compounds, and there's no problem if a race car's tires actually wear out. Newsflash: This is supposed to happen. No other successful motorsport series has managed to let drivers drive around open-faced all day without the tires falling off, but no motorsport has had much success making every tire explode at the slightest hint of pressure either.

NASCAR knows this. Goodyear knows this. Drivers know this. No one is out to win NASCAR races or degrade the overall product, and certainly not a company like Goodyear, which benefits most when the sport is at its best. There are also many riders who need to worry less about the wear and tear on their right front wheel and more about figuring out how to ride in a pack, that much you can be sure of.

Fans have to ask themselves one question: Does everyone ride the same tires? If the answer is yes, then maybe grab another one from the fridge, sit back and enjoy the best that sport has to offer week after week. There is no tire problem. That is, unless Goodyear takes Nike's lead and also leaves the tires to Fanatics.

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