Pit members wheeled stacks of customary yellow-lettered Goodyear tires throughout the Charlotte Motor Speedway infield on Friday afternoon.
Then they parked them next to pillars of unfamiliar, green-lettered tires.
Friday’s opening practice for the NASCAR All-Star Race marked the much-anticipated debut of the faster “Option” tires that drivers can use in Saturday’s race, with each team receiving one set.
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And at first glance, the tires did what was expected.
“I think NASCAR should be really pleased with what happened this afternoon because we ended up delivering exactly what they wanted, which is a faster tire that’s going to give up (that speed) more (quickly),” said Stu Grant, Goodyear’s worldwide director of racing.
“Based on our numbers and what we saw – and everything is limited when you have one set – it was three-tenths (of a second) faster than the ‘Prime’ (regular tires) but over a 10-lap run it gave up three-tenths more. So I think you’re going to have the comers and goers.”
The implementation of the “Option” tires, which have more grip and speed – at least to begin with – brings another strategic element to Saturday’s All-Star Race.
Teams will have the choice to use their one set of “Option” tires at any point during the 70-lap race, whether that’s to improve their chances of making the final 10-lap, 10-driver shootout or during it. If it’s the latter, the team must restart the race behind the teams not using the “Option” tires.
The way they provided grip everywhere gave the car a very stable feeling just by bolting on a set of tires. ... So why aren’t we doing that all of the time?
Kurt Busch, on the Goodyear ‘Option’ tires
But how will the tires perform if a caution comes out during the final segment?
“I think the performance in that situation would be similar to the Prime,” Grant said. “You’re going to see a similar fall off and similar restart. Initially, you’re going to be faster for the first one, two, three, four, five laps and then on six or seven it starts to cross over and be about the same speed.”
One variable between Friday afternoon and Saturday night is the temperature of the track, which could potentially give the “Option” tires a bigger edge.
“I think you’ll notice more of a speed difference at night than you will during the day,” said Kyle Larson, who posted the fastest lap of the practice session at 189.274 mph. “Just got to wait and see, it’s kind of hard to predict what’s going to happen.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the first driver to turn to the “Option” tires on Friday. He saw an immediate result, jumping from 10th to third on the leaderboard.
Another beneficiary was Kurt Busch, who finished in sixth at 188.081 mph.
“I was really surprised by them,” Busch said. “The way they provided grip everywhere gave the car a very stable feeling just by bolting on a set of tires.
“It tells me how much technology is available from the tire and how much speed and comfort they can really add to the tire if they want. So why aren’t we doing that all of the time?”
Whether the “Option” tires are ultimately incorporated into the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series regular season remains to be seen. But this weekend’s results could influence that decision.
“The bottom line is we’re going to go ahead and see what happens tomorrow night and then have some additional discussions with NASCAR to see if that’s what they want to do,” Grant said. “But an ‘Option’ tire with more grip in a points race that has to last a gas stop is a whole different discussion than one that lasts 20 laps.”
Pat James: @patjames24
The All-Star Race: How it works
What: NASCAR Monster Energy All-Star Race.
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord.
TV: FS1. Radio: PRN affiliates.
Stages: There are four stages –three 20-lap segments and a 10-lap shootout – for a total of 70 laps.
Who’s in: The 20-car field is highlighted by 16 drivers who either won a previous All-Star Race and still compete full-time, won a past Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and still compete full-time, or won a points race in 2016 or 2017. The other four spots are determined via Saturday’s Monster Energy Open and a fan vote.
The twist: Adding to the strategical aspect of this year’s race is a softer set of tires, referred to as “Option” tires. Each team will be granted one set of these tires, which they can use at their discretion. If a driver uses the tires on the final segment, they will start behind all of the drivers who choose regular tires.
Worth mentioning: The field will be cut to 10 entering the final stage. ... The drivers who won each of the first three stages earn a spot in the shootout field (as long as they’re still on the lead lap). The field will also include the seven drivers with the best average finishes through the first three stages. ... The winner receives $1 million.