Strategy focus: Tire wear top of mind for Atlanta – Nascar
Atlanta, which has hosted NASCAR’s top series since 1960, always has been known as one of the most demanding of the intermediate tracks –a high-speed venue with long corners and an abrasive surface that puts tire management at a premium.
It’s a combination that has led to some of the most entertaining races on the schedule through the years. Now, with points-paying stages incorporated into each Monster Energy Series race, it may well be even more so.
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Unlike last week’s season-opening Daytona 500, which saw teams base pit strategies for the opening stages on fuel mileage, this week’s strategies will likely focus on tire wear.
“It’s a big, fast race track, long corners, very abrasive so tire wear is always an issue there,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales. “Now we’ve got a little bit lower downforce (a reduction of approximately 500 pounds) so that’s going to aggravate that situation a little bit. I think the cars will be sliding around a little bit more.”
Additionally, NASCAR has reduced the number of sets of tires provided to teams this season — this weekend teams will have five sets for practice on Friday and Saturday, one set for qualifying (which must be used to start the race) and 12 sets to manage during the race itself. That’s two fewer sets for the race compared to 2016.
“Now you throw the format change on top of that, I think it’s going to be a strategy issue,” Stucker said. “How do you manage them so you have fresh tires on at the right spot? You want to take on four as often as you can but guys are going to have to be very cognizant of when they come down and take tires.”
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Teams that make it to the final round of qualifying will see significantly more tire wear at the start of the race than those who fail to make it out of the first round. And that difference can mean as much as one second a lap on the race track.
“You’ve got the top 12 guys that are there on, let’s say they have seven laps on them maybe, and you’ve got the guys that are starting from 24th on back that maybe only have a couple of laps,” Stucker said. “It’s going to be a big difference. I think it will be pretty significant. Particularly if it’s a sunny day and the track’s a little bit slick. … It will change things up a little bit.”
The fuel window for races at Atlanta typically falls between 50-55 laps, and with the first two stages scheduled for 85 laps each, teams will have to pit for gas at some point during each stage. How and when they choose to pit and also take tires, Stucker said, will be another piece of strategy that crew chiefs will have to consider.
“What’s the strategy going to be there?” he said. “Do you come in and get tires early? I don’t know because they fall off pretty quick.”