Drivers back Stewart’s tire assessment
DARLINGTON, S.C. – A day after Tony Stewart assailed Goodyear for the tires it provided at Atlanta Motor Speedway, three other drivers echoed his complaints — but without the same venom.
“I think he went a little overboard,” four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said. “He kind of made it personal.”
Gordon, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman all tested tires for Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. at the newly paved Darlington Raceway on Monday, and all agreed the rubber at Atlanta wasn’t favorable for driving conditions.
But none was as angry as Stewart, who said Goodyear gave him “the most pathetic racing tire I’ve ever been on in my professional career.”
Goodyear officials participating in Monday’s test refused comment, and the garage was closed to media. Still, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and Brad Keselowski crashed the test and took a spin on the new surface in an SUV.
But the tire company issued a statement defending its Atlanta product, while promising to retest the rubber before the series returns to the track in October.
“We provided what we believed were the best possible products for the races this past weekend,” the company said. “We believe that our engineering, research and tire development is second to none. We accept that drivers will have their own opinions about tires.
“Even though both Goodyear and NASCAR were satisfied with the tire’s performance in Atlanta, if the drivers are not happy, then Goodyear’s not happy.”
Stewart, who wrecked two races ago in Las Vegas when his right front tire blew, was unhappy all weekend in Atlanta.
Gordon said he spoke with the two-time champion before Sunday’s Cup race, and “could tell he was pretty wound up about it.”
After the first green flag run, when it became clear that grip was lacking on the tires, Gordon knew Stewart would be irate after the race.
“We were all pretty out of control out there,” Gordon said. “I don’t disagree with him as far as the comfort level in the situation we were in. But we have to look at all sides of this and try to give the folks that are doing their jobs the ability and constructive criticism to try to do it better.”
Newman agreed with Stewart’s sentiment that the hard compound made the tire difficult to drive on around Atlanta’s abrasive surface. But he cited Goodyear’s emphasis on safety in saying Stewart overreacted in his assessment of the tires.
“The tire thing is a little blown out of proportion,” Newman said. “There’s a lot of things he said that were true. Obviously, he took it to another level. That’s Tony. Everybody is different.
“But I don’t know of anybody who popped a tire, or that had a tire issue to the point where we had tire problems. Is there a grip issueâ¢ Borderline. Yeah. Is there justification in some of Tony’s commentsâ¢ Probably. Did Tony overreactâ¢ Probably.”
Goodyear also defended itself against accusations Stewart made that the tire company was chased from several other racing series.
“They got run out of Formula One. They got run out of CART, the IRL. They got run out of World of Outlaws sprint cars. They got run out of USAC divisions because they couldn’t keep up and make a quality enough product,” Stewart said.
Goodyear called Stewart’s remark an “erroneous comment” and said it decided to leave other racing series “only because of the escalating costs of competition.”
Goodyear is the exclusive tire provider for NASCAR and not subjected to competition from rival companies. Goodyear also hand-picks the drivers who participate in each tire test, and maintains it rotates its choices through teams and manufacturers.
But in bringing three cars to Darlington representing Chevrolet (Gordon), Dodge (Newman) and Ford (Biffle), Toyota felt snubbed by its exclusion. Stewart drives a Toyota but the manufacturer said Goodyear selected the participating teams before Stewart’s complaints.
Sprint Cup program manager Andy Graves said he unsuccessfully lobbied NASCAR for Toyota to be included in the test.
“It feels like it puts us as at a little disadvantage,” Graves said.
Goodyear said the manufacturer needs only two to three teams for collecting data, and the exclusion of Toyota wasn’t deliberate.