Tires are the only part of a race car that make contact with the track surface, and how effectively their condition is managed by the driver throughout the race determines how many laps they can stay with the pack before needing to duck for pit road.
NASCAR races might look easy on the tires, but with races lasting, hundreds of miles and scarce opportunities for drivers to get ahead of their rivals outside of pit stops and multi-car pileups, maximizing tire conservation amidst the chaos is crucial to surviving until the end of the race.
2022 with the arrival of the NextGen Cup Series car has brought about numerous changes, from sequential ‘F1’ transmissions to a new chapter in tire and wheel regulations. By this point, virtually all tire and car performance data collected from the previous Gen 6 car’s time should be disregarded as new records are already being set with the updated car specs.
Who supplies tires for NASCAR?
To cope with the speedways, superspeedways, dirt ovals, and road courses, tailor-made tire compounds are produced by Goodyear for each round of the season. Race weekends might offer racing teams the option to choose from several tire compounds, with the potential to experiment with different setups and strategies.
The Goodyear Eagle 18-inch radial tires used in this season’s Cup Series action are an inch-and-a-half wider than last year’s tire, with a lower profile to hug the new forged aluminum rims. Although Goodyear is not the only tire manufacturer involved in the evolution of stock cars in the NASCAR series, they are the only manufacturer with a tried-and-tested tire to meet the demands of the new 2022 car, producing radial tires for an 18-inch wheel.
NASCAR tires vs road car tires
Part of the reason NASCAR opted to increase the wheel and tire size to 18-inch for the current NextGen cars was to increase relevancy to roadgoing models, aiming to grab the attention of millions of worldwide fans that own and drive cars and trucks daily.
The Goodyear tires this year are radial tires, just like many road cars, only they are filled with nitrogen rather than air. Nitrogen-filled tires result in fewer changes to tire pressure as a result of external factors like heat or moisture.
Road cars must legally have a tread pattern, this helps provide grip in a diverse range of conditions and offers a long lifespan compared with a Cup Series race tire. Stock car tires don’t have any tread grooves cut into them, to create the largest possible contact patch with the track.
The 18-inch Goodyear Eagle tire is new for the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022, but as a project, Goodyear has conducted over 30 real track simulations spanning over 3 years to test and develop the perfect tire compound for each event.
The secrets learned from the development that went into the new Cup Series tires have been passed down to those designing road cars to offer a fresh new road tire that shares DNA with the super-fast cars hurtling down the speedway on race day.
Tire compounds in NASCAR Cup Series
What makes NASCAR unique from any other motorsport is how the tires are treated in a side-to-side fashion, in contrast to the conventional front-to-rear treatment seen in other forms of motor racing, allowing teams to only replace the tires needed. Changing half the tires costs half the time, meaning less time lost on the track.
Road courses with lots of turns and heavy braking zones might require softer rubber compounds to give the drivers the faster handling and gripper stopping power to post fast lap times. On speedways and superspeedways, a harder range of tires might be supplied by Goodyear to offer drivers a greater tire lifespan.
Factors that affect NASCAR tire wear
The lifespan of a set of tires depends on many factors:
- The smoothness of turning and braking
- Particles and debris
- Track temperature
- Air temperature
- Lap length
When drivers have to push harder to either attack or defend, they might push the tire beyond its limits, degrading in quality faster, often predominantly on one side of the car. Longer laps found on superspeedways might see tires last between 12-16 laps with this year’s NextGen car. On speedways with a lap distance of around a mile in length, drivers can drive for over 30 laps before needing to stop for a new set.
Pitting for new tires
When a driver enters pit road to get fresh tires, it may only be one side of the car the team bosses decide to change. With only five members of the pit crew permitted to set foot on the pit road, a lot of teamwork is required to ensure the car gets back out on track as fast as possible – without losing positions.
The tires are changed by a pair of pit crew members working alongside each other and a tire carrier working in harmony with them to offer-up tires without delay. One of the tire changers can be seen also taking care of jacking duties while working on a tire with their partner.
Wheels are swiftly removed from the car the moment it stops in the box with a tire changer buzzing the air ratchet on the single lug nut with rapid precision. When 2 of the car’s tires are being changed, one pair of tire changers will handle the job, but when a 4-tire pit stop is required, 2 pairs of tire changers might hop over the pit wall to get the job done faster.
Gen 6 tire vs 2022 NextGen tire
The previous Gen 6 cars used steel rims with 15-inch tires. One of the many changes on this year’s NextGen is the change from 15-inch steel rims to 18-inch BBS forged aluminum rims. With larger rims comes a lower profile tire – that’s a smaller distance measured from the wheel rim to the outer surface of the tire.
When a car is designed to use low-profile tires, it’s often with the intention of increasing responsiveness, giving the driver greater confidence to push the car harder. Low-profile tires might offer greater stability and the potential for cars to reach and maintain higher speeds than before.
In this year’s Daytona 500, we already saw apparent flaws to the new tire approach, with both Kaz Grala and Justin Haley losing a wheel while going flat-out. Yet the loss of a wheel didn’t stem from a collision or fault in the design but rather a technical issue with securing the new single lug nut design of the 18-inch rims.
For the single lug nut design to properly secure the wheel, the wheel must be positioned correctly, allowing a securing pin to be introduced and fully inserted. Even more worrying, perhaps, is the tire that came loose from the wheel by itself – flying across the lawn on its own accord.
Tires are a big talking point in the Cup Series this year, and now you know exactly why. The tremendous amount of work that went into creating the whole range of tires is already paying off, blessing us with edge-of-the-seat races and faster pit stops than ever before.
And with teams and drivers working together to stay high, or go low throughout the race, the way the tires are worn this year is bound to show us a new trick or two from the highly-capable NextGen cars.
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