Goodyear Tire Test Press Conference Transcript

[media-credit name=”” align=”alignright” width=”241″][/media-credit]Goodyear Tire, the official tire of NASCAR, held a two-day tire test on the newly repaved Pocono Raceway on Tuesday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 25. Seven NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series drivers, representing seven race teams, participated in testing and took part in a press conference with local media attending.

The driver(team) lineup included: AJ Allmendinger (Penske Racing), Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports), Matt Crafton (ThorSport Racing), Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing), Joey Logano (Joe Gibbs Racing), Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports) and Jamie McMurray (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates).

Pocono Raceway President/CEO, Brandon Igdalsky: “Thank you all for coming up today. First up is driver of the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra in the Camping World Truck Series, Matt Crafton. Matt, I’ll turn it over to you. What is the difference you see from last year to this year?” Matt Crafton: “One thing, it’s a lot smoother. Lord, it’s got a lot of grip! They did an awesome job with the repaving and the racetrack. We’re already faster than what the track record was by a good bit. They outdid themselves on the pavement. It’s definitely one groove right now, but I’m sure, as you get more racecars on the track, they’ll be running side-by-side, and it’ll be interesting to see. Right now, everyone is running the bottom lane, which is the fastest.”

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How would you compare the last two times you guys were here with the Trucks? Crafton: “One of the things that I talked to one of the officials about was my projection that before the race, I think they’ll need to do what they did in Phoenix, drag tires around it. Right now, it’s just a single route. I stepped a foot out of the groove and you could hear stuff kicking up, and that’s why everybody is running that preferred groove right now. Once they get the track cleaned up, I’m sure the groove will move around some, especially down there in 1 and 2. The trucks right now, last time I was out, I ran pretty much every lap, including the tunnel turn wide open. It was intense, very intense. In the truck, I’m only out of the throttle 30% for a very short period of time. Why I’m doing percentages, I actually have all that data on the truck, so I’m actually seeing how much I’m lifting to see if I’m lying to them or not. It’s very interesting. It will be a great race once they clean up the track. It’s going to be fun.”

Matt, the temperatures are definitely going to change between now, and the race in June. Crafton: “You think so. (Laughs)” Considering you’re wearing a hat I would say so! (Laughs) Do you think that is going to change the way everyone is going to run? Crafton: “I don’t think so. I mean, it might change the set-up a little bit. The track might lose grip because it’s not going to be as cool. That’s going to be one of the biggest things. Last year was pretty cool, as well, when we raced, but it’s just going to lose grip and lose a little bit of time.”

Matt can we get you to talk about your Truck season so far? Crafton: “The first two were absolutely horrendous. It was nothing that was our doing. We got caught up in a wreck at Daytona, imagine that! And then Martinsville, we had an alternator go bad. At Rockingham, had a blast there (by the way), finished third and led a good part of that race. Things are turning around. We’re definitely getting better.”

So Matt you’ve had a lot of success before Pocono got repaved, so when you have something like this, when a track gets repave, is it still a bit of an edge for you because of that past experience or do you not like it because that kind of levels the playing field for everybody else? Crafton: “I mean, the thing is, I thought I was a rookie here. About two years ago was my first time here and I had never seen Pocono, besides TV. I mean that was all I’d seen of this place. When I came down to the race track for the first time, I didn’t make one pace lap around it when I went out there. Everybody always talks about the tunnel turn, and you have no idea how tight that tunnel is. TV doesn’t do it justice at all. I took my crew chief around it (earlier today) in my truck, and I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’ll be wide open through here.’ He goes (jokingly), ‘You’re an idiot. (Laughs) There’s no way.’ I said, ‘I guarantee it.’ It was the third lap, I was about 10% out right there, and he just couldn’t believe that. So, it’s very cool. I love coming to the place. It’s like they always say, it’s like a road course but kind of going in a circle, but it’s a blast. My first year, I finished third. Lots of fun.”

How do you feel about what Goodyear brought you guys these last few days? Crafton: “We just got out there. All of the tires are great. Everything is good there, so far. I think the Cup guys are testing different Goodyear tires, right now.”

How many laps do you project to be able to run flat-out in the tunnel turn? Crafton: “I think it all depends if you’re in traffic. If you have clean air on the nose, you’re going to be able to run quite a few laps all but wide open in the tunnel turn. It takes a lot to make yourself do it really; it’s really a (funny) feeling, to be honest.

Igdalsky: “We’re going to switch over to Kasey and Jaime now, so Matt can go grab some lunch and relax. Welcome driver of the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet, Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. What do you guys think of our track now compared to last year? Are you going flat out through turn 2? (Laughs)” Kahne: “No, I’m not, but the track feels great. I mean as far as the grip, and the way rubber is that we put down a little bit yesterday and this morning, it’s smoother. It still has the same transitions, the same rolling hills in spots that Pocono has always been known for. To me, it’s really good. The biggest thing is figuring out a tire with Goodyear. Now that Goodyear has given us a tire that we’ll be able to race on, we’ll be able to put rubber on the track and move around a little when we come back. I think that is the biggest thing. I think Pocono did a nice job repaving, they had to, and now we have to figure the right tire to make the racing as good as it can be with the fresh track.” McMurray: “I think they did an amazing job on the repave. I was really concerned because the track was so rough and when they did Talladega, it was super smooth. As soon as they repaved Daytona, it still had bumps in it, in different places than what it had before. So, I didn’t know when we got here, if it was going to still be rough, you know smoother, but rough. But, (they did a) really good job on the repave on how smooth the track is. I think the most important thing, when we come back here for the race is, if we can get them to do something like they did at Phoenix, where they drug some tires to try to widen the groove out a little bit. There’s a fairly narrow groove right now. I haven’t really ventured out because you’re going so fast, there’s not really any room for error if you get into the grey where there hasn’t been rubber laid down yet, but the track has a lot of grab. Kasey is having to do all the work with tires. The control tire that we’re on is really nice. I don’t know what they tried, but that tire has a lot of grip. It feels good immediately when you pull out. When they first did the repaves, I remember going to Vegas, and some of those places, and I felt like it was a struggle for Goodyear to give me something that felt good on stickers and full of fuel. It’s come a long way. When I pulled out this morning I couldn’t believe the amount of grip the track had immediately. “ Kahne: “I agree with that and what Jamie was saying about the rubber on the race track. That’s the biggest thing, getting that rubber there. One thing we had at Phoenix, on that big track, is you would go back to the hotel at night and come back in the morning, and even with the rubber there, it was still really slippery when we would take some laps. Here, with the little bit of rubber we put yesterday, and back on it this morning, it didn’t get near as dirty. So, I think the biggest thing is just to get all the dirt and dust off the track that’s out there now. We’ve got that on the bottom lane, we just got to keep working that up and work the entry. If we can get help with that, it will make for a really nice place.”

Kasey, you’re the track record holder here and obviously with the new repave everybody is excited about what will become of the speeds here. What do you think is going to happen come qualifying day? Kasey: “I don’t know. It’s tough to say because when the temperatures come up, when we come back here to race, it’s usually a lot warmer. That will change the grip of the track, but as far as today goes, you know the old track record is 52.16, or 52.18, somewhere in there, and I’ve run a 51.50 today. I would say it’s definitely going to get broke; it’s just by how much. It should be a good bit.”

With the repave and also of the shortening of the race to 400 miles, how much more attractive do these two races become for the driver? We used to hear complaints from driver saying you know it used to seem like a racetrack you didn’t particularly look forward to. Will it become more attractive to all the racers now? McMurray: (Looks at Brandon Igdalsky) “What did it cost to repave it?” Igdalsky: “A lot! (Laughs) In private company, I’ll tell you.” McMurray: “I mean for me, I’m looking forward to the race. I hated this place. It was my least favorite track to come to. I don’t know why, I just never really cared for Pocono. After the few laps today with the speed and grip that it has, from my perspective, other than maybe Denny Hamlin who ran really well here every time, I think most guys will like this a lot more. Being a driver, just a lot more grip. Gosh, I mean certainly everyone will ask you about the tire test when we get to Richmond this weekend and I’ll have nothing but really good things to say about it.” Kahne: “I think it’s good. The thing you can look forward to is as more cars get here, more rubber on the racetrack, you can start moving around the track. You know, this place takes a beating in the winter time, and even in the summer, it’s hot. So, it will widen out quickly and that’s what makes good racing. As long as Goodyear is giving us good tires, that fall of and everything that we look for in a tire, I think the track is going to be great. We’re going to want to come up here and race more often than what maybe we have in the past.”

So, you guys have both had rough starts to your seasons, at least in the beginning. Is it kind of an unexpected bonus to have a tire test like this that can help you beyond just Pocono where you can get the extra track time and come back and have a really good day and help you overall or is it just at Pocono? McMurray: “If there wasn’t two days of testing before the race it would probably be like an advantage, but there’s so much testing before you get back there that I don’t think it’s much of an advantage.” Kahne: “Nope. Me neither, no. It’s nice to test, but were going to get to make plenty of laps here prior to Sunday’s race.”

Jamie you said going back and talking to some of the other drivers they would have questions. How curious are the other guys and drivers? What will they say and what will you tell them? And, do you tell them everything when you go back and start talking about this? McMurray: “I think most guys; the talk before we got here was, after Michigan and running 215 MPH, how fast we would be running into turn 1 here. We don’t really seem to be running tremendously faster overall speed; it’s just that the mid-corner speed is way, way quicker. When you first go out on the track you’ve come to for some many years, you have marks picked out on the wall on where you brake and you kind of know when you get back to the gas. It’s really hard to make your brain, our foot, and butt want to drive in deeper and get back to the gas quicker and know the car will stick. It took me ten laps to just kind of convince myself that you don’t have to brake at the same points you have for the past ten years of racing here. Speeds are the biggest concern after the Michigan test. The tires fall off, and like Kasey said, the most critical thing for us to put on a good show is to have drop off in the tires. That’s hard for Goodyear to do when you get eat and wear issues, but I like the control tire. It’s a good tire.”

Kasey, Jamie alluded to it with coming here for so many years. How tough is it to erase that slate of what you’ve done in the past and start fresh? Kahne: “It’s tough. It’s also tough because the track still feels the same. Like I was saying before, there are these hills, like the rolling hills going into the tunnel turn that lifts and drops when you’re going into the corner. The track still feels the same, but there’s a lot more grip. You kind of have to floor it, or drive past that point, so it’s a lot different.”

Does Pocono Raceway still have the three-most toughest corners in NASCAR? Kahne: “It’s still the three most different corners in NASCAR (laughter). And every one of them can be tough. “

With the bumps being gone, how does the track feel? Kahne: “It felt good.” McMurray: “I think bumps are good, but this (place) was ridiculous with the amount of bumps and the waviness the way the track used to be. This was the track that was most overdue to be repaved. It will develop some bumps again. I feel pretty good about that (now). I’m totally okay with the track not having bumps like it did before. It was time to repave this place.”

Kasey, can you talk a little bit about your season? Kahne: “We kind of got off to a rough start. We didn’t finish the races where we wanted to, but we’ve been qualifying well. We’ve had fast race cars. Every race that something went wrong in, before it happened, we were running in the top five and we were fast. I feel like we’re in good shape. We could be a lot better in points, but I feel as a team, car wise and engine wise, we’re very competitive. We need to keep working at it. I think to make the Chase, we’ll have to win a couple of races, and kind of get that wild card. I think it will be very hard to get to the top 10 from where we are at in the points (because) the competition is so tough these days and so close. We really need to figure out how to win, but we’re definitely not too far off. We have some things to gain. I’ve learned there are some things I need to tweet. These cars have a different balance where they change from practice to qualifying to race. All that stuff is a lot different than (the way) it’s been in the past for me. Getting the balance when the race starts has been the most difficult part for me. We’re getting close and we’ve had a couple of top 10’s the last two weeks, so I think we’re making gains. We still have a ways to go to catch up to our teammates and the other guys who are really running well this year.”

Jamie, you’ve had some changes over the offseason. How has that affected the team’s performance this year? McMurray: “The car have been quite a bit quicker. We honestly have gone from running 20th to 22nd, to running 12th to 14th each week now. If we have a good day, we can finish in the top 10. If we have a rough day, it seems like we finish 15th or 16th now, which is a big improvement from where we were. I think with the amount of changes we made in the offseason, we’ve still developing the simulation program and are trying to find a lot of pieces on the car that we want to stick with. There is still some testing going one. I said in August, I didn’t expect to hire all these people and show up to, not necessarily Daytona, but to Phoenix, the second race, and all of a sudden be back to where we were in 2010. We’re headed in the right direction. Our simulation program is getting better every week. I think any driver will attest to that’s where (the sport) is right now. When you show up, you have to be really close in order to have a good weekend. When they make changes to the car, they seem to correlate to what the computer says. I think if we can keep growing from where we were we started in the offseason, I feel pretty good about it. Juan (Pablo Montoya) had a good car last week, so that’s promising when you have better cars.”

Jamie, how important was it to be able to keep your crew chief through those offseason changes? McMurray: “It’s been important for our team, for sure. We hired so many engineers, that it was nice to be able to have Bono (Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion – crew chief) stay and have a what you would call a ‘racer’ be a part of your team and not have as much of a disruption as what the rest of the organization had seen.”

Jamie, it doesn’t sound like you were overly excited about Pocono, but do you have a sense of relief now knowing the fact that you have a couple of laps under your belt now with the new pavement? McMurray: “The only reason I didn’t like Pocono was because I was slow here every time, even in 2010, at the bigger tracks. At Pocono, I would have 1 or 2 good laps, and then by 20 laps, I would be way off. I just didn’t like it. I didn’t run well. I know most guys would tell you they like tracks they finish well at. It’s not the same Pocono. It’s so much different than what we had. Not just because of the bumps, but because there is not as much tire fall off. I am looking forward to the race. I don’t know how to act more excited to you. I’m very excited!”

Igdalsky: “We’d like to welcome in AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Doge. AJ, please touch on what you think about the new racing surface?” A.J. Allmendinger:” I’m sure it’s no different than what they said. It’s a lot smoother and has a lot more grip. It’s ultimately about finding the right tire combination, which is hard to do when it is cooler out. When we come back here, it will probably be 90 degrees and raining at some point. Then it’ll be 70 degrees. It probably won’t be as cold as it is right now. Overall, it’s fun to come to track and be surprised to find out how much grip level is already from where we started. They did a really good job here paving it. Even though the track was dirty, from the first lap on, it still had a pretty good grip level. From there on, it was just getting the track clean. Today was all about finding the right tire combinations, so far. All the combinations they have are a pretty good choice; it’s just a matter of what they actually use.”

Igdalsky: “We also have Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. I’ll ask you the same question, what are your thoughts about the track?” Aric Almirola: “I’m pleasantly surprised of the track. I ran trucks and ARCA here in 2007. The track has a lot of grip and is fast. I’m just learning. You know I talked to Jamie and he said it was a good thing that I don’t have any preconceived notions about Pocono. I think a lot of people, that have had success, just kind of show up and have figured it out and some didn’t. Denny ran really good here when he first showed up. For me, it’s just a new race track in a Cup car. I didn’t really come in with any expectations, just learning.”

Can you talk a little about how difficult it is to erase how you have raced here in the past and what you are learning during the test? Allmendinger: “You know for me, it’s not that difficult, because I really struggled here last year. You have to come here with the new race track and to learn it. It’s good to get a day-and-a-half in. And, obviously, come back here and get a lot of practice time before we get back out there for the actual race. Trying to get an idea, more than anything, just get out here and try to learn some things. We’re trying to get a baseline to start with. As the weekend goes on, it’s going to change, probably. More than anything, we try to get a baseline to bring back. So far, I have really enjoyed the race track.”

Igdalsky: “Austin Dillon, defending Camping World Truck Series drivers, testing a Truck for Richard Childress Racing, has now joined us. Austin, what are your thoughts on the track and running here with the trucks? And, what are your thoughts about running on the old surface last year to the new surface this year?” Austin Dillon: “Well, the track is very fast. We’re just working on adjusting the new grooves right now. It’s fun. I’m happy to be driving it. It’s like driving a go cart out there. (There is a) lot of grip out there and pretty much wide open for us. Turns 1 and 2 you are gaining a lot of speed. It’s very wide open, especially; the turns are close to wide open. “

AJ, talk a little about your season. Also, what is it like to drive for Roger Penske? Allmendinger: “It’s been really good, except for the finishes. We have had fast race cars; we have just had everything go wrong. Those are problems we need to fix on our race team when it comes to minor mechanical problems that we’ve had. The good thing is, we have been very fast. Last week, we sat at the poll and led until we pitted. Then, we had our problems after that. Our race cars are fast. And, driving for Roger, I’m not as patient as he is. Looking at our finishes, I’m so frustrated with myself and our race team. They deserve to be up there. They are used to being in the front. He keeps telling me to be patient. A guy like that, for me, is an honor to drive for, kind of like driving for Richard Petty. Being able to drive for those guys, back-to-back has been pretty amazing. Roger, from my background, was always the guy I wanted to drive for, in open-wheel racing. And just to be able to drive for him in the Sprint Cup Series has been an honor. I feel lucky every time I get to go to the race shop and to be part of this race team. It’s just an honor. I know when all the bad problems stop, we will be up front.”

Igdalsky: “Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing is also here. Joey, what are your thoughts about the repave?” Joey Logano: “I’m pleasantly surprised on how quick the track came in. We started a little late yesterday, obviously, because of the weather. You look at the track, it looks slick, and it was a little dirty. Once it got cleaned off, the track got quick. Speeds have been getting quicker as expected. I really was expecting it to be ice out there. Now, it has a lot of grip. It will probably get faster come qualifying. You can see the lanes starting to move up a little bit. You can see the right side of the car arching a little more in the corner. That’s all good things for the races with just a couple cars here now. Once you get a series here of 43 cars, it will rubber in a hurry. It will be interesting to see how much it moves around, but right now, it is so far, so good. It still has the same characteristics. It’s still Pocono. Same track, but it’s definitely a lot smoother.”

Joey, we asked a couple of these guys the same question. Past experience here, how do you look at it now? Is it difficult to block out? Everybody has their certain spots their used to running here. How about you? Logano: “Turn 1, my first time out here, I just got murdered. I couldn’t figure out that corner. Last year, I got the poll and led a couple laps before we got a flat tire. Being able to get in there and point your car, you just had no grip. Sliding in there at four-wheel speed, I had to figure out how to get my car pointed. Long Pond Straightaway is very long, and it’s all about getting the throttle down. That part hasn’t changed. But you aren’t four-wheel sliding all the way through there anymore. There is more grip. I kept telling myself, ‘Foot off the break. Foot off the break. Rolling more speed, rolling more speed.’”

What’s the difference between the track last year and this year with the new tires? Logano: “Obviously, the tires are going to be a lot different with the new asphalt. The tires don’t wear out that much. You cool it off and come right back. So, that’s kind of what we expect when we come out here. (Pocono) still got plenty of characteristics. (The) straightaways are long. Restarts have always been crazy here. (But we’ll be) going five-wide as usual.”

Joey you said you won a poll here, Kasey holds the track record. With the new pavement, do you see that being broken? Logano: “Oh, we shattered it already! (Laughs) When we get into qualifying, it is going to be stupid (fast). Obviously, it’s really cold out right now, and it won’t be that cold when we come back here. The speeds are going to be up when as this place rubbers and it’ll just keep getting quicker. Even today, we are picking up speed. So it wasn’t like Phoenix, where we couldn’t find the balance. It (Phoenix) was so loose, you couldn’t drive it. Then as it rubbered up, it was so tight you couldn’t drive it. The track (Pocono) hasn’t gone through that radical change yet, and that’s good. “

For both of you, is there something else that you would like to test instead of tires? Dillon: “I think the biggest thing is the traffic. What it’s going to do in traffic? Because it’s bashing wide open, trucks get packed pretty close to each other and (it’s about) how your truck handles behind another (truck). (It will) be pretty important or you will be slammed to the earth. (It will ) be interesting to see. I kind of want to get with Crafton, run behind him, and see what it does.” Logano: “Our aero platform is a lot more important than it used to be. You change your bump-rubber package and it used to be about getting over those bumps. Now, getting your car to the best aero dynamic position you can and keep it there. We have tried tires and it’s very important for us to come here and collect data. I’ll go back home and talk to my teammates and get back to racing.”

Igdalsky: “Thanks to the drivers and media for joining us for our two-day Goodyear Tire Test. We are looking forward to seeing you all back at ‘The Tricky Triangle’ this summer for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ June 8-10 Pocono 400 & the August 3-5 Pennsylvania 400 race weekends, as well as, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ race weekend from August 3-4.”

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