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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 16, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We appreciate everyone's attendance. We certainly appreciate Goodyear's attendance, Goodyear's support, Goodyear's efforts. We appreciate Jeff Gordon spending time with us, staying around after the test has already been released to speak with us today.
Earlier today we had Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch in here, and as I mentioned now, we have Jeff Gordon who drives the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. He's a four time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, and I believe he's also a four-time winner here at the Brickyard.
Also we have from Goodyear Greg Stucker with us. Greg is the director of race tire sales for Goodyear, and right now before we get started we'll let you know that we certainly have a large media crowd in here. We're going to take care of you in here initially. We also have a national teleconference that's listening in.
GREG STUCKER: I'd just like to start with a couple comments on kind of how we got to where we are today. We're very positive about our recommendation for this year and I'll kind of go through exactly how we arrived there.
When we left Indianapolis last year, after last year's race, there was one thing we were very clear about, and that was that we were going to get it right. I guess I want everybody to be just as clear today that we're very confident that we have done exactly that. It's been a very deliberate process over the last 11 months. A lot has taken place. It's involved not only the Goodyear racing division but really the whole corporation. A lot of people have been involved doing a lot of different things in order to make sure we have a good recommendation for this year's race.
We've come here and tested seven times, and I want to clear up the misunderstanding, a lot of people said why have they gone back seven times. It's a process. We built upon every test, we learned at every test. Everything that we've done at every test has been built upon what we learned at the previous. Certainly we fought a little weather, as we did here today. But we wanted to make sure that we got it right, make sure that we basically left no stone unturned.
In addition to all the track testing, which we accumulated over 13,000 miles, Jeff is here today, but 30 other guys have been involved in that testing, so certainly it's taken a lot of commitment on NASCAR's part, on the team's part, on the drivers' part, and we certainly appreciate that in Goodyear's perspective.
But there's been a lot going on back in Akron, a lot of our research people working on a lot of difference processes. We've developed ways to measure tread wear and wear debris that's generated from the tires very differently from the way we did it before. We've developed ways to actually measure the track surface, and we've done that at every test that we've had here. We actually have equipment that measures the racetrack at the very microscopic level, so we understand exactly what happens and maybe what doesn't happen when we rubber in and don't rubber in the racetrack, so try to understand exactly what takes place.
We've even gone so far as to grind our test track in Akron with exactly the same surface that Indianapolis has. We hired the same company with the same equipment to come and grind a couple of sections of that test track so that we have the resources, we have the ability to do some testing in Akron when we don't come to the racetrack.
I guess I just want everybody to understand it's been a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of commitment on a lot of people's part to make sure we do it right, and like I say, to make sure we've covered all of our bases, and we're very, very confident that we've done that.
I think we've come away with a very good recommendation. I think if you get out and look at the racetrack you'll see we've put a lot of rubber down. Jeff made the comment when he came yesterday he was very surprised to see the rubber we put down in the morning. Even with all the rain last week, a lot of that rubber was laid down two weeks ago, and we were very confident that we won't have the same issues that we had last year.
In addition, I think we've given the guys a very raceable setup. I think there's a lot of grip there. One of the options was just to go so hard that you couldn't wear the tire out. But I think we owe it to these guys to make sure we've got something that's very raceable to put on a good show. I just want everybody to know that we're very confident that we've done that and we're looking very forward to the race in about a month and a half.
With that, I'll open it up.
JEFF GORDON: I'm very pleased with the results. I was very surprised to see how much rubber was on the track yesterday when I arrived, and just to see how the tires are reacting from a grip level with the car as well as how it's wearing the tire, heat in the tire. I mean, everything looks great at the Brickyard 400 and go out there and run hard, and tire wear is not even going to be in the back of our minds.
It might be whether or not we can stay out and how far we can push it, if anything. They've done an excellent job. I think a lot of obviously credit goes to Goodyear, all the hard work, effort, time, money that's been spent to make it right, but obviously there's been a lot of teams, and I have not been one of them so I don't get the credit, but there's been a lot of teams that have contributed to put in a lot of laps in here to get it to where it is today.
So thankful for those guys. I got to kind of come in at the end and have the proven great product and just be able to go out there and put laps in, which is what Goodyear asked us to come here to do.
Q. The guys earlier were talking about falloff rates. What did you see, and are you going to be happy with the amount of falloff to make it a racing race?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I like to see falloff, and even with as great as this tire is, this track is so abrasive that you're going to have falloff. I saw falloff, and I like the grip level from the beginning, I liked how it does gradually fall off. It's not a huge drop. And I felt like it was enough to where it's going to make the racing really, really good.
I think it's always important to have a certain amount of falloff so that you can tune on the car, you can change your line as a driver. You still want enough grip to where if you slide off-line a little bit, you can recover. All those things I saw while we were here.
GREG STUCKER: If I can just add one thing, we've heard from a number of guys, yeah, lap times fall off, but the balance of the car has stayed very consistent, and that's one thing we always strive for. Like Jeff said, it's kind of that gradual falloff, but the balance of the car is still good.
Q. Greg, Kasey Kahne was in here earlier, he's tested at most of the sessions, and he said that as short as a month ago he was still concerned that there was still problems with dust, and that the last two sessions, the one in early June and this one, have totally allayed his fears as far as the way the tires were forming dust. What did you guys hit on, and what was the main thing that marked the difference between the test before early June and the ones that have happened in the last two weeks?
GREG STUCKER: It's just kind of amassing everything we learned over those first tests. We were here seven times before the end of 2008. We ran a lot of different compounds just to try to understand how different formulations reacted with the racetrack. I also mentioned some of the testing that has been developed, and we're utilizing that to kind of measure that debris and formulate what our approach was going to be to coming up with a recommendation.
So we kind of went down that road in early spring before the 500, and these last two tests really were to finalize recommendations two weeks ago and come here and confirm it with multiple cars this time. Really the last two tests we've really just been doing pretty nothing but running the race tire. That's all we did yesterday and today.
Q. How much was it the tire and how much was it the new car?
GREG STUCKER: When we left here last year, we said it's kind of a little bit of everything. We needed to understand exactly how the car acts on this racetrack. That's kind of really what it was, the new car runs at a little bit different attitude, it wore the tires a little bit differently, created that fine, dusty particle that we've talked about. So once we had an understanding of that, then we just went to work on how we make the tire package right for the car and the racetrack.
Q. How important is it to have a good tire here, a good race here based on what happened last year?
JEFF GORDON: I think that's why they spent as much time here testing and all the effort has been put in there. I think that this is an incredibly important race to motorsports in general and to all the companies that are involved, especially Goodyear.
Last year was something that none of us wanted to see what happened last year, and I think that it was determined I think probably before that race was over that it's not going to happen again.
You know, I just really hate that Goodyear took so much of the blame because this track is extremely abrasive. This car we've seen wears tires more. There's a lot of things that have contributed to what happened.
Unfortunately Goodyear took the brunt of it, and because none of the other things changing, they had to really work hard to come up with the compound and this tire. I give them a lot of credit for taking that on head-on and resolving it.
You know, it is important to have a good race here. There's a lot of fans that travel from all over to come to this race, and we know how many people are watching at home, and this is an important event, and we want to go out there and put the race on that we possibly can.
Again, I'm confident this year we're going to be able to do that.
Q. When Michelin had their issues here a few years ago with the F1 race, they made an effort to reach out to the fans. Has Goodyear made any attempt to reach out to the fans?
GREG STUCKER: No decision has been made on that. We've been focusing on making sure we got the tire right and we'll decide on that at some later date.
Q. There's a lot of fans out there that are holding onto their money probably to see whether or not this thing is going to happen and the way we've become accustomed to seeing the 400. Can you guarantee that we're not going to see a repeat of what happened last year?
JEFF GORDON: I can. I will guarantee it. I'm 100 percent confident. I ran this tire as hard as I possibly could, put numerous laps on them. It's a dead issue. This is going to be a race here -- it might come down to fuel mileage, it might come down to a lot of different factors, fastest car, not the fastest car, track position, a double fire restart with ten to go, but it's not going to come down to a ten-lap shootout on whose tires can last.
I told Stu Grant earlier, they've actually made it too good, it's that good. And I'm 100 percent confident, and I can promise all the fans out there that if they want to come to the Brickyard and see a great race and be confident that the tires are not going to be an issue, you can trust me. I hope that's enough for them. But they've got it resolved for sure.
GREG STUCKER: What he said. (Laughter.)
Q. You and Tony are one-two in the battle, and you both kind of cut your eye teeth around here. What is your first memory of Tony, and how often did you actually race against him before he came to NASCAR?
JEFF GORDON: I don't ever remember racing against him. I think somebody said that maybe we raced buns at the Hoosier Dome race, the midget race that they used to do there that was sort of an invitational race.
But I knew of Tony Stewart because I remember when I was leaving USAC and going to run stock cars, I know Bobby was one of them, but I think there were a couple others that had mentioned Tony Stewart's name and said that he had a bright future, really talented race car driver.
So when I started seeing him on Saturday Night Thunder and hearing his name and seeing his name in the papers, then it was no surprise to me because I remember hearing that name.
He certainly has lived up to all those expectations. He's a terrific race car driver, great talent, and I think this year even shows his talents to a whole 'nother level, to be able to change teams, be involved with the ownership side of it and restructure and go to a team that really was not that successful and then be able to have the year that they're having.
It's not just Tony's talent on the racetrack, it's what he can attract. To me that's how you really measure what somebody's value is, what their talent level is, and it's pretty impressive what they've been able to pull off over there.
Q. You said seven tests since the last race. Was there a time or a test in the last couple months where you figured out where you were confident and you kind of got to the point you are today? Was there one test in the last couple months where you figured it out, that you thought that was the test?
GREG STUCKER: I think if you go back two weeks ago, that was the first test after the 500, we knew that would be kind of a measure of where the racetrack was for the Brickyard race coming up. It was our intent to finalize the recommendation in that test, and that's exactly what we did.
We left here two weeks ago knowing that we were able to put a lot of rubber down on the racetrack, knowing that we could make in excess of full fuel runs, and we were very confident with the way the tires looked, the way the tires performed, the grip level. So I think probably the last test two weeks ago, that was the one where we kind of walked away and said, we've think we've got it and we'll just confirm it this week, which is what we've done.
Q. Can you give us a sense of how many different tire compounds you used to try to get to the right one?
GREG STUCKER: A lot. I mean, it's probably a rough guess. As far as tires that have hit the racetrack, probably 20. But you know, that doesn't reflect the number of lab studies and simulations that we've done back in Akron with all of our engineers.
It's a big number, but that's what we needed to do, and try to learn how different ones reacted.
Q. In the time leading up to the race, the rubber on the track likely will be washed off, so what will things be like on race weekend? Second question, do you anticipate teams being provided an extra set of tires? Third question, is there a need to extend practice time to get the rubber on the track like you have it now?
GREG STUCKER: We really think we've had a pretty good measure of that from the time we ran two weeks ago to now. I know one day we had three inches of rain here in Indianapolis. I think we've gotten a lot of weather over the last two weeks and we were able to put rubber onto the racetrack very quickly yesterday morning. That's one of the reasons why we wanted to have 12 cars here, to try to simulate that first Friday practice session. I think with this tire combination we have, the rubber will be put down very quickly and we'll be in very good shape.
To address the other questions, we've talked about NASCAR a little bit. They will have additional sets of tires because of the abrasive nature of this racetrack, they'll have additional sets of tires for practice and qualifying, more so than the normal six that they would have. We haven't yet finalized that number. We're kind of waiting to see how things play out this week, but we'll figure that out.
I think right now the schedule is out, and I'm pretty comfortable with the amount of practice time that's been announced. I don't think we'll have any issues whatsoever with regard to the amount of practice people have.
JEFF GORDON: I'd just add to that, yesterday to me was a real mark of how this tire is going to react and how much progress they've made.
You always expect when you come to Indianapolis the first couple of runs you're going to see excessive wear until that rubber gets laid down. We never saw that. I mean, maybe the first run we saw a little bit more than what we saw like today, but never even came close to getting through to the wear holes. It was fantastic. I was very impressed that on our first run yesterday, and we ran some pretty quick laps, that the excessive wear was not there, which we were expecting, even hearing that they've made such an improvement on the tire. We still expected to see something, and we didn't.
They've had a lot of rain here in the last couple weeks or ten days or however long it's been since they were here last, so you certainly expected it to be at its worst yesterday. I think I'm certainly very confident when we come back here that we're going to lay rubber down right away, and again, not see any issues with wear.
Q. Greg, can you approximate how much time, money was spent on getting this tire right, how that might compare to Atlanta and getting the tire there like it should be? And does any of this improvement translate to other racetracks?
GREG STUCKER: You always try to pick up bits of information that you can translate to everything you do. But this place is very unique. Our focus here was to focus on Indianapolis and Indianapolis alone. If there's things that spin off, then we'll certainly utilize that. But really the focus was to get it right here.
Like I said earlier, there's been a lot of time and effort. It's tough to put a number on it, but just a lot of resources from a people perspective, a time perspective, equipment. Again, we just felt like there was nothing we shouldn't do in order to try to get it right. It's just what we do.
Q. I think you've just said, I assume this is a tire that is going to be just for the Brickyard?
GREG STUCKER: Right now -- it was a tire developed for the Brickyard. This left side combination was actually used at Pocono and probably will be again at the second Pocono race. It doesn't mean that this tire may not be used at other racetracks, but it was developed solely for this racetrack in mind, and if it's able to be used somewhere else, we may do that.
JEFF GORDON: And just know that this track is unique to any other track we go to, not only shape and size of this track but the abrasiveness in the surface is unique to any other track that we go to. And it is the most challenging racetrack that I believe Goodyear has, and even as a team, to manufacture a tire for. So it's a very, very tall order, and I'm really impressed with what they've been able to do.
Q. Earlier this week they suggested that maybe cutting some horsepower, 50 or 100 horsepower might help with the tire situation in general. Can you maybe give your thoughts on that?
JEFF GORDON: That's somebody that doesn't drive a race car because that's just absolutely backwards. The more power that we take away from the engines, the faster we go through the corners. We've seen it in the Nationwide Series, we saw it years ago at New Hampshire when they had some of the tragedies there, tried to slow the cars down, take power away, and we went through the corners faster.
You know, just because you cut horsepower down doesn't mean that it's going to slow your speed in the middle of the corner down, and that's where most of the tire wear and abuse comes from is how you lean on that tire through the middle of the corner and the corner speed.
I always say, give us more power, because the more power that we're going to have, the more difficult it's going to be to control it, and the car is not going to handle as good, we're probably going to carry actually less speed. But I definitely am very much against taking power away from the cars.
Now, if you take downforce away, you take grip away, you do a lot of other things on top of the power, then maybe, but just the power is definitely not the answer.
GREG STUCKER: Just to reinforce that, for example, we actually ran a little bit harder setup this week in Michigan in the Truck Series than we did in the Cup Series just because of what Jeff said. Those vehicles with less horsepower actually can run the corners faster than the Cup cars do.
Q. In light of what happened last year, how important is this year's Allstate at the Brickyard 400 event in terms of public perception and confidence in Goodyear?
GREG STUCKER: We've got our name on the sidewall of every tire, so I think it's extremely important to our whole corporation. Like Jeff said earlier, there was nobody that walked out of here as part of this whole group, the teams, NASCAR and Goodyear that weren't disappointed with last year's outcome, and we went to work the very next day. And I can guarantee you within the racing division there hasn't been a day go by that we haven't talked about the Brickyard, the race, our feelings about it and what we're doing. So it's been number one priority for the last 11 months. And again, I think we got it right.
THE MODERATOR: We thank you very, very much.
End of FastScripts