This Sunday, the eight remaining drivers in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup race into Martinsville Speedway to kick off the Eliminator Round. And while drivers aspire to take home one of the track’s iconic grandfather clock trophies, the real prize at Martinsville will be the chance to lock-in a spot in the final four to compete for the Championship.
But before the burnouts and victory lane celebration, drivers will need to successfully navigate the multiple surfaces of NASCAR’s shortest track—a task that places Goodyear tires center stage.
Martinsville is the only oval NASCAR track with multiple surfaces, featuring a combination of asphalt straightaways and concrete turns. This departure from a traditional single surface composition makes tire development critical, as Goodyear’s tire combination needs to deliver superior performance on both surfaces.
Tires react very differently on concrete and asphalt. Concrete traditionally offers less grip, but also produces less wear. Asphalt is the opposite—it offers more grip at the price of increased wear. With these factors in mind, Goodyear engineers must find the balance between grip and wear to help drivers manage the continuous switch between the surfaces.
During practice and qualifying, the track will start to “rubber-in” as a thin layer of rubber is laid into the surface. This will help make the transition between the two surfaces more predictable for the teams—but it’s still a factor they need to be mindful of.
The multiple surfaces aren’t the only dynamics that will challenge drivers at Martinsville. At a half-mile in length, Martinsville is the smallest track on the NASCAR circuit. Subsequently, the length of the corners and the tight turns of the racetrack are unique, making the track shaped more like a paperclip than a traditional oval. This shape requires hard braking going into the slicker concrete turns and smooth acceleration exiting the turns to the asphalt straightaways, so drivers must also manage their vehicle’s shifting weight and force as they circle the track, being mindful of the impact these maneuvers have on their tires.
Teams will be able to refer to past Martinsville race performances as they strategize for Sunday, not only in the handling of their car, but also in their tire performance. Based on previous success at Martinsville, Goodyear will bring a familiar set of NASCAR tires to the track this weekend. The softer left side tire has been in the lineup for a number of years and is used exclusively at this track, while the right side tire was fine tuned to balance grip and wear.
With only four races remaining in the NASCAR season, the winner at Martinsville could very well be the next NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. But they’ll need to master the multi-surfaced track to get there.