Atlanta Motor Speedway heated from the January cold last week when four Sprint Cup drivers participated in a two-day Goodyear tire test.
Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr., seemed happy to be back at work after a brief winter break. Track president Ed Clark said the veteran drivers seemed excited to be back on the track.
The test was more of a tweaking exercise, nothing like the work that was done in the wake of a tire fiasco in 2008, one that caused Tony Stewart to lead a chorus of complaints about the tire-compound selection.
The drivers explained that the first day of the test consisted of short runs using various compounds, with the second day devoted to longer, 30- to 40-lap runs so engineers could get an indication of the tire’s durability.
“[Goodyear] has some stuff that grips better than the tires we ran here last fall,” Martin said. “That tire had great durability. They’re trying to find something that has that same durability and be a little bit more grip-friendly.”
AMS presents a unique challenge to tire engineers because of its worn racing surface. But worn asphalt generally is considered a good thing because it lends itself to multiple racing grooves as opposed to a freshly paved surface that creates single-file racing in one groove.
“I think all drivers love the aged pavement to race on, but it’s a challenge when it comes to making grip,” Martin said. “I think they’ve found some things that are an improvement.”
Edwards, who got the first and third victories of his Cup career at AMS, said he might have been a poor pick for a tire-tester at AMS.
“I really liked what Goodyear’s done here,” he said. “Even those races where everybody was complaining about the tires, I thought it was really fun racing. The cars were really difficult to drive. As long as tires hold air, I’m behind Goodyear.”
Building a team
It remains to be seen just what kind of team owner Kyle Busch will turn out to be, but he doesn't mind doing whatever it takes to attract top talent. Busch's Truck Series team last week announced the hiring of two veteran crew chiefs, Eric Phillips and Dan Stillman. Already, Busch had hired the defending championship-winning crew chief Rick Ren from Kevin Harvick Inc. to be his competition director.
Phillips comes to Busch's team after leading Mike Skinner to three victories last year. Stillman comes from Roush Fenway Racing, where he led Edwards' team to a second-place points finish.
Phillips will lead the No. 18 crew for Busch and Brian Ickler, who will share the driving duties. Stillman will work with the No. 56 of Tayler Malsam.
"I don't think it's any secret how badly I want to win races," Busch said in a statement. "We want to create a culture of winning at Kyle Busch Motorsports, and the way you do that is to hire people who know how to win and how to build winning teams."
Kevin Harvick, whose driving contract with Richard Childress Racing ends at the conclusion of the 2010 season, shed no light on his plans during the media portion of his appearance at Preseason Thunder at Daytona International Speedway.
“I'm not getting in the middle of it,” he said. “When it all boils down to it, it's all about winning races, and that's all I care about. We're going to come into the season, and we're going to race a lot this year, and we're going to have fun. That's my main goal for the year is to have fun. How it all plays out, I couldn't tell you.”
Harvick hasn’t won a Cup race since February 2007 at Daytona.
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