Motorsport News

Do Drivers Who Participate in Tire Tests Have an Advantage at Road Courses?

Nascar Cup Series

Each year, Goodyear performs tire tests at different NASCAR tracks to optimize tire performance and get a better handle on what type of tire to bring to any given race.

One of these tests occurred at Sonoma Raceway, where this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 is being held for the NASCAR Cup Series. Repaves seem to be a hot topic of conversation recently, with last week’s column focusing on Iowa’s recent repaving of the track’s famed corners.

It’s a bit of the same sandwich this week with much more cheese, so to speak. Whereas Iowa repaved only the corners, Sonoma Raceway underwent its first full repave in almost 25 years.

When repaves of any reasonable size happen at any track, Goodyear makes sure it has the data and research in place to bring a competitive tire on race day (or at least that’s the plan).

The question of the day, though, is not whether or not repaving is a good or bad thing, as any track official or race fan in Sonoma’s situation would side with the former. The question is whether or not Cup drivers who participate in the tire tests have an unfair advantage over their peers.

NASCAR always sends one driver from each manufacturer to test out the new surfaces for Goodyear. At Sonoma, that was Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Josh Berry and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. The test was closed to the public.

The big sticking point with this weekend’s tire test/race scenario — and any of them, really — is the amount of time that is typically taken in-between the two events. For instance, this round of testing was completed on March 26, while the race itself is taking place in the heat of summer.

Hot asphalt always changes how a tire handles, degrades and holds together on track. It also changes affects how well drivers can regulate tire temperature to avoid things like blowouts and failures. Therefore, the tires will not race the same as they did on the track in June as they did in March.

The tire Goodyear brings on race day could be completely different than what the drivers deal with during the tire test, as they would have been given several different compounds to shake down across the full length of the circuit.

The difference isn’t in the tires, then, surprisingly. What about the laps?

Yes and no. Sure, the three drivers have a few more laps on the other guys, but the layout…

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