Smooth, Fast Key Words during Goodyear Test
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers Bobby Labonte, Scott Riggs, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular Bobby Hamilton Jr. participated in the two-day tire testing session, the first on-track activity since the completion of a $3.5 million repaving project.
No official speeds were announced, but drivers said fans could expect track records in each of the three divisions that will participate in the track's May events.
"The paving job is really nice," said Labonte, a two-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway, who tested the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge. "You've still got your Charlotte characteristics to a certain extent, but it's a lot smoother. The car really sticks, so it is really fast."
Veteran Kyle Petty, on hand wearing his car owner's hat, was impressed with Goodyear's approach to the testing session.
"This is a tire 'test' and I think that's what everybody has to keep in mind," Petty noted. "This is an opportunity for Goodyear to come to this race track and try something different. They are really, really methodical about the way they go through things.
"By bringing multiple teams and multiple drivers-and with Scott Riggs, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte you've got two or three different styles of drivers and a couple of different styles of cars with the Chevy and the Dodge Charger-Goodyear is able to gather as much information as possible."
"I'm glad to see all the effort that's going into making sure we have a safe race here," said Riggs, who made many laps behind the wheel of the No. 10 Valvoline Dodge. "I'm really tickled to see the paving job is so smooth. There is grip everywhere. There is grip all the way to the top of the race track and that's going to be the key to making sure we open up a second groove and there is good side-by-side racing."
Goodyear will use the data gathered during the test to build the best possible tires for the May races.
"Anytime you come to a test like this, there are a lot of unknowns," said Rick Heinrich, a Goodyear product manager. "We want to know how the cars will react to the new track surface. We knew there would be a lot of speed and new asphalt generally generates more wear. The conditions were a little bit more severe than we anticipated, but not out of the ordinary.
"As more laps are put on the track, the conditions will change. But we've learned a lot," Heinrich added. "The reason we are here is to gather information so we can decide which direction to go. Everything we did yesterday and everything we do today is to gather data so we can go back and build the best tire."
H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway, is extremely pleased with the paving job, and is anxious to see how the cars react once more rubber is run into the racing surface.
"This is as scientific of a paving job as has ever been done," Wheeler said. "The people who did it have a lot of experience and they have all the latest technology. The track is going to be a challenge and I'm not really sure we are going to know what we have as far as the track is concerned until we have all the cars here to test in early May.
"Racing is what produces the drama and the drama is what sells the tickets. I'm anticipating we'll have good racing with plenty of passing," Wheeler concluded.
The only incident during the two-day session came at approximately 10:15 a.m. Wednesday when Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet slammed the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 4. Johnson's car was heavily damaged, but the three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner was not injured.
"The tire went down, lost air pressure," said Heinrich. "We talked to Jimmie and he had felt the tire start to go down in Turn 1. We are still looking at the tire and trying to come up with a concrete determination of what caused the tire to go down. We don't know if it was a puncture or wear related at this point."
NASCAR teams will return to Charlotte Motor Speedway for more testing in early May. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams will test May 1-3 while Busch Series teams will be on the track May 8-10. The track's main grandstand will be open free of charge during both testing sessions.
Tickets for all May events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge on Saturday, May 20, and the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 28, can be purchased online here or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.