RICHMOND — Goodyear spent Tuesday and Wednesday testing tires at Richmond International Raceway, hoping to avoid a repeat of April’s Toyota Owners 400.
During that race, several drivers complained of disintegrating tires, and a handful of drivers saw their right front tire blow, costing them a shot at victory.
The company brought about seven new models to the track and had six Sprint Cup drivers on hand to drive them.
After sets of 50 laps in the summer sun, the feedback was positive.
“I’m excited about coming to Richmond with whichever [new] tire they bring,” Aric Almirola said. “They’re all driving great on our car.”
Almirola was still flying high after winning last weekend’s Coke Zero 400. It was the first time the No. 43 car had reached victory lane since 1999.
Richard Petty, who made the car famous and is a co-owner of the team, flew into Richmond on Tuesday night for a celebratory dinner with Almirola, his crew, and
the team’s sponsor, Smithfield.
Also participating in the trials was Chesterfield native Denny Hamlin.
He said one driver from the Joe Gibbs Racing team is allowed to come to each testing session.
Hamlin thought the heat provided an ideal testing ground.
“The track is hot enough to where it’s taking rubber, so it simulates a pretty good racing surface,” he said.
“These are extreme conditions, and that’s what you want to be tire testing in.”
Drivers were asked to rate the tires that they tried.
Goodyear is secretive about the process and won’t reveal specifics about the tires they will ultimately provide teams with for the September race at Richmond International.
Hamlin said the tire issues this spring were caused by a change in the car design which produced more downforce on the right front tire.
“It puts Goodyear in a tough spot to build a tire that’s reliable, without making it so hard that
it’s like concrete and the racing is awful,” Hamlin said.
He explained that harder tires aren’t as fast on the track.
Drivers were also using the opportunity for extra laps at Richmond to
plan ahead for the fall race.
Cole Whitt, who has finished 43rd and 41st in his two Richmond Sprint Cup races, was working on his turning lines out of turns 1 and 2.
“We’re working on our stuff as much as Goodyear is working on the tires,” he said.
Veteran driver Greg Biffle said there’s only so much that can be done, though, since Goodyear wants all the laps run a certain way, to provide consistency in their testing.
For Kyle Larson, the testing was an opportunity to drive the track more than he was able to in April.
He wrecked his car in the first turn of the first lap during the Sprint Cup race, making it a short night.
Because of that, he didn’t get to the point of having tire issues, though he was still able to provide feedback on the newer models.
Biffle said drivers will often have slightly different preferences during testing, based on how they drive the cars, but that a consensus usually emerges.
Hamlin was asked if the testers will take heat from the other drivers if the fall race doesn’t go well.
“Nah, I’ll just point the finger somewhere else,” he said with a laugh.