EDITORS NOTE: Tire testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway is now complete. The following article was written during the second day of the July 13-14 Goodyear Tire Test at Atlanta Motor Speedway in preparation for the Pep Boys Auto 500.
Three of NASCAR's top-five ranked drivers are currently tire testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway to assist the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company prepare the superlative tire for Atlanta's first Sprint Cup night race, the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Sept. 6.
Currently in the second day of a two-day tire test, NASCAR Sprint Cup stars Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart will continue testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway until 10 p.m. Of the four, three currently sit in the top-five in NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings - Stewart (first in points with 2884 points), Busch (fourth, 2526) and Hamlin (fifth, 2457).
Driver's reactions to testing have been positive, with many providing comments indicating tires for the Labor Day weekend night race will meet expectations. Additionally, the testing drivers have been posting lap speeds in the low-180 mph range.
"We've gone through a few different sets of tires and it's been positive," said Busch, the winner of the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. "I think this evening will be a great opportunity to get into a 30-lap run, a closer simulation to what we will actually be seeing in September.
"I thought the tire in March was just fine," added Busch with a laugh, not-so-subtly alluding to his win in March. "But we're out working here to find the best tire for everybody, as well as keeping it close to what I ran on here in March."
NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Stewart echoed Busch's sentiment and spoke about the importance of driving longer runs on the test tires.
"We found some stuff that's better, but we aren't yet sure how durable it is and how long it will hold up," explained Stewart. "For short runs, it's shown to be a little better. This last half of tonight is going to be important when we start to make longer runs and we'll see if the tires will make it or not."
Of interest in the current tire test at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the drivers are not testing individual compounds and builds, but rather the drivability of pre-selected tire sets.
"We're actually lucky with this test, because we get to work on our car a little more," said Hamlin. "They're basically throwing tire sets at us and saying, ‘Tune around these tires and see what it takes.' For us, we aren't exactly doing the ‘A' versus ‘B' with the compounds, but they are throwing different sets at us and the tires are doing really well."
Of note, each participating driver has a higher-average finish in night races than day races in 2009.
In five-2009 night races, Stewart has the highest average night race finish of the four at 2.4, compared to his season average of 7.6. Of the remaining drivers, Hamlin has an average night race finish of 8.2 (13.4 for the entire season), Busch has an average of 10.6 (12.5) and McMurray's average night race finish is 14.6 (20.2).
Goodyear tire testing at Atlanta Motor Speedway is closed to the public.
For more information on Atlanta Motor Speedway's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series night race, the Pep Boys Auto 500 on Labor Day weekend, visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.