Thursday, February 12, 2004

NASCAR teams trying to work out tire issues

The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The new tires for the Daytona 500 will get their first major test today, and Ryan Newman hopes he will learn the secret to managing them.

"We're trying to get the feel of the car and understand what the draft is going to be like and what the new tires are going to do," said Newman, winner of a series-high eight races last season.

Two 125-mile qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway should serve as a preview to the NASCAR season-opener Sunday. With tire wear expected to play a major role, Newman knows finding the right chassis setup is important.

"We've tried a few things," he said on the eve of the 50-lap events that set most positions for the 500. "Some of them didn't work, but we learned from them."

Goodyear brought a slightly harder right-side tire to Daytona this year. That has given the cars a different feel - making the drivers think the rear end might slide out from under them in the turns. In response, teams have changed car setups.

Ben Leslie, crew chief for Ricky Rudd, said the tires will last 35 or 36 laps - about as far as a tank of gas will allow.

"If your car is not handling good, you're either going to be forced to take a chance and hope that tire doesn't blow out because of excessive wear, or you'll have to bite the bullet and pit before you actually have to for fuel," Leslie said.

Greg Biffle and Elliott Sadler already won the 500's first two starting spots. Each will start from the pole in one of today's twin qualifiers and can see how the tires will work in race conditions.

"Tires are a big deal," Biffle said. "The guy's car that is handling the best is the one that is going to win Thursday and Sunday."

The 125s will set positions 3-30 for the 500 - 14 from each race.

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