Tires, rumble strips could play factor next week at The Glen

Photos by Jerry Jordan, Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

WATKINS GLEN, NY – After nearly two days of testing at Watkins Glen International Raceway to get ready for next week’s Cheez-It 355, one thing has been consistent, several drivers have concerns about the tires Goodyear has chosen for the track.

Kyle Busch alternated between the Toyota Racing Development car and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

Kyle Busch alternated between the Toyota Racing Development car and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin’ the Tires

“Mostly, the tire is just a hockey puck, so the car doesn’t stick very well,” said Brad Keselowski, after the morning run on his second day of the two-day test session. Keselowski crashed hard during the first day of testing but that, he said, was a brake issue.

“Just something happened and we lost the brakes,” he said.

Kurt Busch also weighed-in on the tire issue, saying they were a factor in his spin, on Tuesday. He said the team was “super-loose” when they unloaded and had this test not been available, they wouldn’t have been competitive next week.

“I thought that here would be more grip but it just seems like the tire is on the hard, conservative side,” Busch said. “It feels like you are just working harder to maintain the lap times are because the tire isn’t doing it for you.”

Casey Mears also commented during the lunch break about how hard the tires were but acknowledged, “at least, everyone has the same thing.”

A crew member of the No. 1 team, of Jamie McMurray said they were also having issues because the tire temperatures were getting too high.

The Goodyear tire code for what is planned to be run next week is D-4648. That tire is the result of testing done by Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano back in May. It is traditionally a short-track, which is not uncommon, according to several crew members in the garage, and this tire has been used at Iowa Speedway by the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series teams.

Busch’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, said he believes the track and the tire will come together as it gets rubbered in but when they unloaded it was slick and not like when Harvick tested. He said the team unloaded with the exact same set-up as Harvick and were very loose, whereas most of the teams testing in May ended up being tight.

Kurt Busch said the tires didn't have a lot of grip when he was testing at Watkins Glen but crew chief Tony Gibson said he could tell the track was changing. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

Kurt Busch said the tires didn’t seem to have a lot of grip when he was testing at Watkins Glen but crew chief Tony Gibson said he could tell the track was changing. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin’ the Tires

Another noticeable aspect of the track is the newly repaved surface, which received mixed reviews and some drivers don’t think it’s making much of a difference, while others say they can tell a difference. Watkins Glen underwent a major overhaul during the off-season with the track surface being completely bulldozed. The next surface also included new rumble strips, which may affect how drivers go through the bus stop next week.

“They are different and they are all more symmetrical now, whereas some sharper, some were flatter and now they all have the same type of build into each one of them,” Busch said. “And they are definitely bigger and more abrupt through the bus stop, so the bus stop is going to have a lot more action, I think, this year than years past.”

Keselowski said he could also tell a difference in how the rumble strips factored into him getting around the track but the most important thing the difference in the new surface from the old.

“There is a lot to be gained here to begin with, whether the surface is new or not because we don’t test here a lot,” he said. “Then you add the surface change and again, it’s another layer. So, I think this is a big track to test at specific to gains that can be made for the race weekend.”

Rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott shared their thoughts on the new surface.

“I don’t think it is an advantage, or disadvantage, really,” Blaney said. “It still has the same shape. So, if you have been here before you kind of know where most of the braking zones are and stuff like that. I am not sure if it is a little faster, I don’t know the times from last year but we’re definitely not at a disadvantage I don’t think.

“It’s pretty technical and you have to be precise with braking points and on-throttle stuff. Going through the ‘esses’ that’s a lot of time and you have to get your car good. That is what we are working on now. My car is not great through the ‘esses.’”

This is Blaney’s first time at Watkins Glen and Elliott has only been at the track in an Xfinity Series car.

Chase Elliott pulls down pit road during a NASCAR test at Watkins Glen International Raceway. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

Chase Elliott pulls down pit road during a NASCAR test at Watkins Glen International Raceway. Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin’ the Tires

“I ran the last two years in the (Xfinity Series) here, so I have a few laps but nothing since they repaved it,” Elliott said. “This is my first time but I don’t really think it is a lot different. Personally, I think it was really fast before and had a lot of grip, so it is seems like the same old Watkins Glen to me. I can’t really tell a difference.

“The bus stop was always rough before, you know, having to jump the curbs like you do. It’s still that way now. I don’t have a curb-jumping meter of how bad it was before.”

The Sprint Cup Series will practice twice next Friday for 85 minutes apiece with qualifying on Saturday.

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