INDIANAPOLIS - Goodyear's Greg Stucker arrived Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a nervous stomach. He left the historic track with a sense of relief.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 27 laps on one set of tires and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon offered another emphatic endorsement that Sunday's race at The Brickyard won't look anything like last year's debacle at Indy.
Stucker couldn't have scripted it any better.
'It makes you feel pretty good,' Goodyear's race tire sales director said after two practice sessions. 'I've still got a few butterflies. We thought we had asked all the questions, gotten all the answers and were pretty thorough. We felt we were pretty good, but you're always a little anxious when you get here.'
Stucker wasn't just spouting the company line.
One driver after another put their stamp of approval on the new tires.
Longtime veteran Jeff Burton said he had full fuel runs, 33 to 35 laps, on the tires in testing without a hint of a problem. Joey Logano, the youngest race winner in Cup history, described the tires as 'great,' and Gordon said it was time to forget last year's indelible race image - caution flags because of excessive tire wear.
'I think tires are a non-issue. Let's move on to something else,' Gordon said. 'They have created a great tire. If anybody has an issue with tires, it's not because they're wearing out.'
It took countless hours, an incalculable amount of money and seven tests on the 2.5-mile oval to get it right. Stucker insists it was worth every bit of the investment.
Last year, the tire rubber turned into a black dust that made the track slicker and wore down tires to the cords. NASCAR officials were forced to call competition cautions every 10 to 12 laps, prompting some fans to compare NASCAR's tire debacle to the 2005 Formula One fiasco when 14 of 20 drivers pulled off the track before the start of the race because of tire concerns with Michelin. Two days later, NASCAR issued an apology.
So Goodyear went back to work. Stucker has said the Indy tires were discussed every day over the past year before opting for a softer compound that makes rubber stick better to the abrasive track surface and reduces wear.
The new tires received rave reviews from drivers during a mid-June tire test, prompting Gordon to guarantee there would not be a repeat. Race organizers said Friday that Gordon's comments produced the best week of ticket sales all year.
And Gordon didn't back down after two practice sessions. Though he said there was more tire wear during Friday's first run, Gordon called that typical of all venues on the NASCAR circuit and insisted the tires were better on the succeeding runs.
'I know we had about 20 laps on one set of tires and there was so much left in them,' he said. 'We could have run all day on one set of tires if we wanted to, the wear is that good.'
But today could create a new complication. After practicing on a warm, sunny track Friday, forecasters are calling for a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms, which threatens to wash the rubber off the track before qualifying begins.
Stucker believes it won't make a difference, and Gordon said the tires worked well when rain produced a similar situation during the June test.
'We feel like we can run it on a very green track,' Stucker said.
How good are the tires?
Stucker said similar tires will be tested in Dover in a couple of weeks and are expected to be used for the Nationwide Series and Camping World Trucks Series races at Bristol next month.
But until Sunday's race is over, Stucker might not rest too easy.
'At this time last year, we knew the wear was high, but we weren't expecting what happened during the race,' he said. 'It was just disappointing. NASCAR asked us to put our best foot forward and I think we've done that.'
· What: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
· Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
· When: 2 p.m. Sunday
· TV: ESPN