NORTH WILKESBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 19: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 19, 2024 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) | Getty Images
NORTH WILKESBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 19: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on May 19, 2024 in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Two tire choices at NASCAR All-Star Race were a good first step

It was a noble experiment—and one with promising possibilities.

Under fire in the crucible that is the NASCAR All-Star Race, the sanctioning body tested a new concept—two different types of Goodyear tires with distinctly different characteristics available to competitors.

The primary tire, designated by yellow lettering, was the more durable of the two, capable of producing longer runs with limited fall-off at recently repaved North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Added to the mix was a red-lettered option tire, featuring the same tread compound Goodyear uses for its wet weather NASCAR tires—but with a slick surface rather than a tread pattern.

The option tire was designed to degrade more rapidly after producing lap speeds as much as a half-second faster than the primary tires.

In theory, drivers on option tires would build substantial leads that would disappear as their tires degraded and drivers on primary tires caught up.

Inevitably, there’s a difference between theory and practice, often shaped by unforeseen circumstances.

No one could have predicted that an angry Kyle Busch would turn the No. 47 Chevrolet of Ricky Stenhouse Jr, into the wall on Lap 2 after Stenhouse made an aggressive three-wide pass on the opening lap.

Under caution on Lap 5, 14 of the remaining 19 drivers—all of whom had started the race on option tires by NASCAR mandate—came to pit road and switched to primary tires, preserving their two allotted sets of options tires for future use.

Pole winner Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney remained on the track on the option tires and took the green flag on Lap 11 in the top five positions.

For Logano, the decision to remain on the red tires proved to be the winning move.

After a restart on Lap 11, the race ran under a green flag for the next 90 laps until a planned halfway break at Lap 100 slowed the field. Logano held the lead at the midway point. Only Reddick, who was experiencing “brake shake,” faded badly.

Christopher Bell, on primary tires, passed Reddick for the fifth position on Lap 42, but otherwise, the drivers on option tires prevailed.

NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs are as observant as they are savvy. Noting that Logano had led every one of the first 100 laps on option tires, crew chiefs overwhelmingly chose option tires to start the second half of the race. The only exceptions were the Toyotas of Reddick and Ty Gibbs.

After a Lap 109 restart, a fast No. 11 Toyota soon had Denny Hamlin in the mix. By the time Gibbs spun in Turn 1—with help from Busch—to cause the third caution on Lap 118, Hamlin was running second behind Logano.

At the next planned break after Lap 150, Kyle Larson, who had arrived at North Wilkesboro by helicopter after qualifying fifth for the Indianapolis 500, led roughly half the field to pit road for option tires.

Larson restarted 10th and soon was challenging Hamlin for the second position. After roughly 20 laps, however, Larson’s lap times had fallen off and he was no longer able to make a run at Hamlin, much less Logano. On the penultimate lap, Buescher passed Larson for third.

Three of the five drivers who ran the entire race on option tires finished in the top five—race winner Logano, third-place Buescher and fifth-place Blaney.

So what conclusions are fair to draw from a race on a repaved speedway with two tire options? For one thing, it was apparent that the fall-off of the option tires was more extreme in the early laps of a run but tended to plateau as the run progressed.

That’s one reason why drivers on primary tires were unable to catch Logano during the 90-lap run in the first half of the race.

Another reason was the quality of Logano’s car. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford had logged 800 laps during a Goodyear tire test at the newly resurfaced facility in mid-March. Logano also ran 65 consecutive laps on option tires during Friday’s practice for the All-Star Race.

“We ran over 800 laps here at the tire test and took all that information and helped Goodyear do their part of it,” said Paul Wolfe, Logano’s crew chief. “But (we) also got what we could out of it as a team and took that back and put together something that was obviously shown to be pretty special with the performance in that car and what Joey was able to do.

“I think you had to have a really good, balanced car to make those reds work the whole race like we were able to do. That was key. I think we saw guys that didn’t have a well-balanced car that would fall off whether tight or loose, but it took a pretty balanced car to do that, and fortunately we had that.”

What Larson proved was an expected conclusion that new reds (or two-lap scuffs) could make inroads on reds that had been run for more than 40 laps. In fact, Larson thought Hamlin would have won the race, had the No. 11 Camry pitted at the three-quarter mark.

“I think they (option tires) were effective to get me there, probably for 10 laps,” Larson said. “But then after that, I just don’t think our car balance was there. Say Denny pitted, I think his car was much better than ours. Had he pitted, he probably would have, or could have, in my opinion, won.”

What didn’t materialize was the primary tire overcoming the option tire’s advantage over the course of a long run. So perhaps an option tire with continued steep fall-off throughout a run is the answer.

Perhaps the Formula 1 model has merit. For every race, F1 drivers have three tire options and must use at least two of them. Perhaps NASCAR drivers at short tracks could be required to use each of their two tire options at least once per race.

It’s useful to remember that the 125-mile All-Star Race is considerably shorter than any of the NASCAR Cup Series’ points races on short tracks. A longer race with longer segments might produce different strategic choices.

It’s also useful to remember that, although the All-Star Race often has served as an incubator for new ideas, it doesn’t bear the onus of presenting a finished product.

Refinements can come later.

— NASCAR Wire Service —