Goodyear appears to have executed the equivalent of a grand slam with two outs in the seventh game of the World Series with the tire combination it's tested during the past two days at Daytona International Speedway.
The new tires were necessitated by a complete repaving of the 2.5-mile, high-banked race track that's the site of NASCAR's next national events, during February's Speedweeks 2011.
"The original projection for the completion of the repave was not until the first of the year," Stucker said. "And given our production schedule and how much time it would take to put all the tires together, we really couldn't wait that long -- to come back after the first of the year, test and then go back into production. So we really had to make the call ahead of time."
Stucker said that led Goodyear to take four cars to Talladega this past August, along with doing a simple, but well-thought process at Daytona to enable its timing to work out.
"We did all of our [preliminary] testing at Talladega because we knew the surface would be very, very similar; that the asphalt mix would be the same between what was laid at Talladega in 2006 and what they put down here at Daytona," Stucker said. "We only used four cars because really, we were only doing comparative work and trying to gauge what worked well and getting differences in track temperatures and tire temperatures and so forth.
"So we tested at Talladega and they actually poured a test strip here at Daytona, at the same time, which we were able to measure from a traction perspective and get a coefficient of friction. We were able to characterize the surface with some techniques we have, at a very microscopic level and then to compare that to Talladega -- and use all that data to have confidence that what worked at Talladega would work here.
"We pulled all that data together and made our decisions well ahead of us being able to get on the race track."
It appears to have been successful, according to some of the drivers who tested this week to confirm the tire choice before an en masse test next month where upwards of 40 teams are expected.
"Tires, from what we've seen so far, are not going to be an issue," defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray said. "The amount of steering wheel input required now, versus what we had here six months ago is maybe half -- you're not really having to turn the steering wheel [in the corners] because the car has so much grip.
"We joked around before getting on the track that the tires were just going to be screaming hot. We made our first 15-lap run. When I saw the tire sheet, I didn't believe the tires were so cool -- maybe close to 75 degrees less than what we expected. So I don't think you're going to see tires be an issue."
"When you ask about the tire, [and I] try to explain to you what the tire wear is -- it's cool yet at the same time they're not wearing. Tires are not going to be an issue, like Jamie said," former Cup champion Bobby Labonte said. "I'm not sure the correct term of the tire, what the little things that stick up [out of the rubber] are called, but the little things that stick up, we can run 20 laps and they're still on the tire."
Stucker tried to simplify Goodyear's ability to come so close right out of the box.
"I think you just have to have an understanding of what a new surface proposes," Stucker said of Goodyear's Daytona success story. "Typically the asphalt is fresh and there's a lot of grip, it's very smooth and there's very little tire wear, so we know that from our history and those are the sort of things that we take into account when we come up with the right package."
Goodyear's advance testing resulted in a combination that matched left-side tires previously used at Talladega Superspeedway and an adaptation of right-side tires typically used on intermediate race tracks such as Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"The left side is exactly the same as we've been running at Talladega," Stucker said. "The right side is a derivative that we tested at Talladega. It has some construction characteristics that we felt like would lend itself to Daytona -- understanding, of course, that historically Daytona has had more requirements from a handling perspective just because of the tighter corners.
"We felt [this combination] would lend itself to that type of racing a little bit more and it seems to have proven out that way."
Mark Martin, who only tested Wednesday, went so far as to tell Sirius NASCAR Radio that he felt the tires would "last 500 miles." Stucker only chuckled at that estimation.
"I think there's a little bit of over-exaggeration," Stucker said. "That was early on [in the test]. Once people get dialed in, they're going to start stressing tires a little bit more. Nonetheless, it's what we see typically with a repave. As was alluded to earlier, the new asphalts, the new formulations that have been developed, they're a tighter mix [and] they stay together a little bit better. We just don't see the tire wear that we typically have seen in the past.
"I think that's pretty much what we expect. So tire wear won't be an issue, at least for the first couple of races we have here. One of the things we watch is to make sure tire temperatures are in line with where we want them to be [and] all that has been the case."
According to McMurray, this year's race might be unique and tires, he said, are at the root of that.
"In the past, as the tires would wear out, the pack would spread apart a little bit until you cycled through the pit stops, then gather back up," McMurray said. "Typically by the end of the race, if the sun went down, you would run in a pack. With the amount of grip that the track has [and] the way the tires are not falling off at all, it will be two- or three-wide -- really hard on the drivers and spotters -- for 500 miles."