Opening day of the Bristol Motor Speedway race weekend had quite the surprise: A tire issue that recalled memories of the infamous Indianapolis tire debacle in 2008.
Tires failed to lay rubber down on the track and instead turned into a fine dust, causing them to wear out quickly. As a result, Goodyear will bring in approximately 1,200-1,300 new right-side tires from its Charlotte warehouse to hopefully remedy the problem.
But because there are so many unknowns – Nationwide teams will actually start their race on the old tires and switch to the new ones after 25 laps; Sprint Cup teams will get one set for the two practice sessions on Saturday – the Bristol weekend has suddenly turned into a guessing game.
"It's a pretty big mess-up to bring something like that and only having one set of tires tomorrow to practice on," Matt Kenseth said. "It's gonna be whoever guesses the closest."
Tires have suddenly become an unexpected issue at a place where fans don't typically hear about them. In fact, tires could be the No. 1 story heading into the race.
Sprint Cup Series pole-sitter Carl Edwards predicted the tire change "has the potential to turn this field upside-down" because the cars that were fast with the current setup may not be as quick with a different tire.
Similarly, he said, "Guys that were struggling today could be dominant on Sunday. It's going to be very interesting."
Despite the unknowns a different tire will bring, Edwards said the change was necessary – seemingly a unanimous opinion among the drivers.
"I feel pretty confident in the change NASCAR and Goodyear are making with the tires," said Brad Keselowski, who will also run both races. "We won't have any tire issues."
Martin Truex Jr. said it will be "weird" to race on a different set of tires than the teams practiced on, but predicted teams would use their one new set of tires toward the end of the final practice session after already finding the general setup for the car.
Then, he said, they'll just "hope that it doesn't change the balance too much."
"If it does, (we'll) just kind of guess for the race and see what happens," Truex said. "Everybody is in the same boat. Some guys are going to understand the tire or guess a little better with the new tire. We'll just have to see what happens."
Goodyear is bringing a tire with the identical compound that teams used last summer at Bristol. For some reason, Goodyear didn't hold offseason tire testing after changing the tire (NASCAR said the old tire was scrapped because teams wanted more grip and increased wear).
"I don't understand why we changed them," Brian Vickers said. "I think they're making the right decision by changing them back."
One thing is for sure: Everyone will find out together.
Here's the schedule for the rest of the Bristol race weekend, with the different tires noted as "Friday" or "Saturday" tires.
9:40 a.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying (on Friday tires)
10:45 a.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (on Friday tires, except for one set of Saturday tires for both practices)
12 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (on Friday tires, except for one set of Saturday tires for both practices)
2 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (on Friday tires to start, then changed to Saturday tires during a Lap 25 competition caution)
1 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series race (on Saturday tires; enough sets to run a normal race)