USA Today via Reuters

USA Today via Reuters



Did NASCAR just sabotage Denny Hamlin's season with this new Goodyear tire change?

Several complaints have been made against NASCAR this year. Drivers and fans alike have given the higher-ups no rest about problems ranging from low horsepower to missing pylons at racetracks. But amidst all the criticism, one particular thing has enthralled people. And that came about by surprise – the spring race in Bristol race stirred drivers with its tire management aspect.

And NASCAR has been diligently working on seizing this rare win, their only ray of sunlight. After introducing multiple tires at the All-Star Race, executives are back with another Goodyear tire plan. This time, a regular-season points-paying race is the target. The Richmond race next month is to bring dual tire compounds. Despite the flurry of excitement, it may also be a matter of concern for Denny Hamlin and his team.

Denny Hamlin reveals his disadvantage


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Denny Hamlin and Chris Gabehart have a penchant for tackling the unknowns. It is a strategy they have honed for the past three years – one which lies at risk with NASCAR’s new update for the upcoming Richmond race. The Federated Auto Parts 400 will feature optional tires alongside the primary compound of Goodyear. And in a move that’s set to shake things up, NASCAR is putting the power in the teams’ hands. With the race being prone to long green flag runs, the decision to change tires will be entirely up to the teams, throwing strategy and skill into the spotlight.

Denny Hamlin explained how this could throw cold water on his and Gabehart’s game plan. “Personally, on the 11 car, do we love throwing in these kinks, no, we’d rather race straight up and see how it plays out.” But then he admitted to his eagerness for the short-track effort on NASCAR’s part. “At the same time, I understand why we’re doing it and applaud Goodyear for trying it just to see if we can come up with a better primary tire long-term for short tracks. A lot of this will depend on what this tire does — is it fast for three laps or 10 or 15?”

The Food City Dirt Race in March went down in the pages of NASCAR history. It produced a track-record 54 lead changes as drivers fumbled with an unexpected dilemma. Bristol Motor Speedway acted up –  the 0.533-mile concrete oval ate into the rubber tires way more than last year. So drivers, except for Denny Hamlin, had to shuffle their race strategy or let things slip into chaos.

But this unbridled situation played into the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team’s hands, as Hamlin soared to victory. Back then Gabehart noted that the unrefined, out-of-the-box thinking suited them, as Denny Hamlin recently said. “I mean, from the minute practice was over, we suspected something was going to be different. I think a lot of us thought maybe 80 (laps), 100 in, this place would rubber in and get a little more familiar. But it did not. It was a blast. I’m not just saying that because we won. I’m saying that because it was fun to have to do something so unrefined.”

Besides the risk posed to Denny Hamlin’s team strategy, the new tire strategy also holds another problematic aspect.


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NASCAR’s initiative to make for a high tire fall-off, exhilarating race seems exciting indeed. But Richmond differs from Bristol from a crucial standpoint. Richmond Raceway is the most abrasive short track on the schedule, so the softer option tire is bound to be an interesting challenge. Should the race have green flag runs, crew chiefs are doubtful if the option tires will survive that long as the track chews them up.

Rodney Childers, Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 crew chief, expressed his concern. “I don’t feel like you’re really going to be able to put them on and make it very far. It’s going to need to be a situation where it’s at the end of the stage with 15 to go so we’re like, ‘let’s put those on’ and maybe we try to save them for the end of the race, get a caution with eight to go, bolt them on and be fast as hell to the end.”


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Mike Kelley, crew chief of the JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 team, wonders if the tires will make 20 laps before they are down to the cords. “It just depends on how short of a run you need them for. The other tire falls off so hard that I don’t know that I will ever need a tire (at Richmond) that is that aggressive unless it’s a really short run.”

These pertinent points may end up hyping up the excitement for the Richmond race. As Denny Hamlin shifts his team strategy, other drivers will need to work hard on the tire strategy that Hamlin already excels in.