NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have voiced concern about tires wearing too fast following practice and qualifying for Sunday's race at Martinsville. It is the second time in three weeks that Cup teams have been faced with tire issues after Goodyear and NASCAR had to switch tire specifications following the first practice session at Bristol due to excessive wear on right-side tires.
As was the case at Bristol, Goodyear has brought a new tire specification relative to the past at Martinsville, which is also a half-mile track but with the lowest cornering speeds of the season among all ovals.
A softer compound on the right sides and a harder one on the left compared to what was last run last autumn at the same venue, seem to be wearing much faster than anticipated. The track has not rubbered in as normal, big tire marbles being left on the outside of the racing line at both ends of the track.
A fuel run on a new set of tires should last for more than 110 laps, but many teams were unable to get to even 40 laps before their tires faded.
"We were wearing the tires really, really badly. Goodyear brought a little bit softer tire, with great intentions and we all want that, we all want more grip," said seven-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon. "But we were really struggling a lot with some really bad loose conditions getting into the corners and off the corners.
"I was just glad that we weren't alone in that because it was definitely making me nervous with how bad loose the car was getting and that's something that's not typical for us here. So we were really challenged with that quite a bit and felt like we made gains on it throughout the day.
"Right now we're trying to anticipate what the tires are going to do, what the rubber is going to do. Is it going to lay down? Is that wear going to get better? You certainly think that it should, but you never know these days."
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. described the situation as "messy."
"After 12 laps, everybody was kind of falling off pretty fast," said Earnhardt. "There was no rubber built up and there was a lot of marbles. You couldn't get out of the bottom groove. You had to run right next to the curb. If you got in the marbles, it would ruin you. Once you got in the marbles, you ruined that set.
"There is no way to get them off. We don't go fast enough here to really grind them off. It was messy. It was just real messy all day."
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin said expects the grip levels to improve for the race, reducing the issue relative to practice.
"I know after 35 laps yesterday we pretty much wore out a set of tires so it's going to be a big question mark on how it's going to all play out," said Hamlin, winner of the last three races at Martinsville. "I think that's going to be better, it typically always is from practice to the race here at this track -- tire wear gets a little bit better. And with it getting warmer, the track should rubber up. Everything that you fought yesterday should be 50 percent better tomorrow."
Wear levels for drivers seemed to vary, with polesitter Jamie McMurray able to get the best consistency out of his Goodyears during Friday's practice sessions, reporting his tires looked in reasonably good shape after 60 laps. However, following Saturday's Truck Series race, Kyle Busch, who finished second in the 250-lap event, said he does not expect wear and grip to improve on Sunday. Many drivers complained of being unable to run on the outside line which was filled with rubber marbles.
"For as bad as they feel, there's still some rubber on the tires," said Busch. "There's no grip in the tire. I don't know how many different coatings of rubber they lay on the tire so when you get down towards the end it's like a harder rubber so you don't get to cords... I don't know.
"We haven't seen very many cords this weekend. We did a little bit on the first run today because we were all so far off. We seemed to make adjustments and get a lot better and we didn't see any more. That doesn't mean we're not going to see it again tomorrow."
NASCAR officials may decide to put out a caution early in the race to check on wear rates, but those getting the tires to last the most should be in with a good chance at the end of the 500 scheduled laps for Sunday's race.