KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After Sunday’s Sprint Cup race in Atlanta, Tony Stewart came dangerously close to suggesting something that gives sanctioning-body officials hives.
During a lengthy, unflattering critique of the tires that Goodyear supplied the drivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Stewart said that other tire companies would do a better job in NASCAR.
While Stewart really was not calling for a tire war, his words surely hit a nerve in Daytona Beach and Akron, Ohio, cities where NASCAR and Goodyear have their headquarters. That’s because for racing series and tire companies, tire wars are often viewed as a potential Armageddon.
“No,” Ramsey Poston, NASCAR managing director of corporate communication, said, “we are not interested (in a tire war). Goodyear has been a remarkably good partner.”
Most major forms of auto racing in the world have gone through tire wars – times when more than one brand of tire is available to competitors.
The last tire war in NASCAR occurred in 1994, when Hoosier came in and challenged Goodyear for status and customers.
Geoffrey Bodine won three races on Hoosiers that year. Cars using Hoosiers won 12 pole positions.
But the move was not made without controversy. Concern was expressed by some teams and some drivers.
They were worried that a tire war could adversely affect safety as the companies, in a quest to be faster than the other, would go with softer and softer rubber compounds and the result would be blown tires.
Some thought the tire war would drive up costs.
The 1994 tire war lasted one season. Hoosier did not come back in 1995, as it just proved too costly for a company that, compared with Goodyear, was mom-and-pop.
A new tire war in NASCAR would be impossible to mount right now as the series does not have an open-tire policy – NASCAR has an exclusive contract with Goodyear. No other tire company could enter the sport until the Goodyear contract expires.
For the time being, Firestone, the American company that is probably best suited to go after Goodyear’s contract when it expires, is not interested in approaching NASCAR.
“Obviously,” Al Speyer, motor-sports executive director for Firestone, said, “NASCAR is a very successful form of motor racing. But, we are really, really busy with open-wheel racing.”
Might that change when Goodyear’s contract with NASCAR expires?
Speyer said, “We are always looking at all motor sports, and we have ongoing analysis, but we could never comment on pending business ventures.”
Stewart has criticized Goodyear several times over the years. His latest objection concerned the tire brought to Atlanta. Stewart, a two-time Sprint Cup champion, said tires were just too hard. As such, he said, they did not offer enough grip, and that made for a dangerous situation as drivers had a hard time keeping control.
“It was just sliding around,” Stewart said. “(The car was) loose in and loose off and tight in the center. Everything you asked the car to do, it wouldn’t do because the tires couldn’t take it.”
Stewart, who has raced other brands of tires when he was in USAC and the Indy Racing League, said Goodyear should be embarrassed and that Firestone and Hoosier could do a better job.
In a statement released this week, Goodyear said it believed it had brought the best tires possible to Atlanta.
“We believe that our engineering, research and tire development is second to none. We accept that drivers will have their own opinions about our tires,” the statement said.
Stewart reacted to Goodyear statements Wednesday by telling the Martinsville-Henry County chamber of commerce in Virginia: “For them to say that they were satisfied with the race, that’s insane,” Stewart said.
“If they really firmly believe that, if they believe what they put out in their press statement that they were happy with the result, then that scares me to death.”
Poston said NASCAR retains its confidence in its current tire supplier.
“They (Goodyear) will find the right balance,” Poston said.
Other drivers, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, agreed that the tires Goodyear supplied to Atlanta were wrong for conditions.
Dale Jarrett, also a former Cup champion, said Tuesday, “I have no problem with what Tony Stewart said. I’m a huge supporter of Goodyear and all that they have done over the years, but somebody needs to wake up right now and listen to these guys that are talking. We’re talking about race drivers that have a huge amount of talent and very seldom complain about things like that.”
Jarrett said, however, that a tire war is something to be avoided.
“Last time we did that, a tire war with another company,” Jarrett said, “I don’t know that it was a good thing and I don’t know that any series anywhere around the world has ever benefited from something like that.”
Just fix the problem, Jarrett said.
“It’s going to be a little more costly to Goodyear or NASCAR or a combination of the two, so we don’t need the tire war,” Jarrett said. “We just need them to get the proper tires on each of those vehicles.”