Atop the Sprint Cup standings and coming to a track where he's won the last two races, Matt Kenseth should be feeling confident about his chances this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Unfortunately for him, however, he isn't.
A new tire has thrown a curveball at the team that has won seven times this year -- including the April race at Kansas. In a three-hour open test Thursday, Kenseth posted just the 13th-fastest time out of 38 cars and struggled to replicate the speed which has made the No. 20 team a force this season on 1.5-mile tracks.
"I would have rather left everything alone for us, especially after today," Kenseth said Thursday. "I was glad we got the extra practice and of course tomorrow is a new day and we've got a lot of stuff to look at it, but today was kind of a struggle.
"Whenever anything is working good for you, you kind of like to leave everything the same. But, yeah, when you come back, it's the same for everybody and you've just got to figure it out."
The different tire compound is the "multi-zone tread" that Goodyear introduced last month at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It is designed to provide both durability and grip and, in turn, produce better racing on intermediate-sized ovals -- such as Kansas -- that make up the bulk of the Cup schedule.
"I really give Goodyear a lot of credit for bringing this tire here and trying to give us something to lean on these smooth race tracks like this where they have to build a very durable tire," Gordon said. "We build a lot of shoulder heat in the tire because of the high speeds. When we say durable we mainly mean really rock hard.
"So to put some softer compound in there to try to give the car a little bit more forgiveness and grip I love it. It worked really well at Atlanta."
Because of concerns about blowouts on high-speed speedways, Goodyear typically brings harder compound tires to the track. However, these types of tires don't produce much wear and the result is often single-file racing where drivers are challenged to pass due to a lack of grip.
In its debut last month at Atlanta, though, the multi-layered tire proved to be a success with plenty of passing -- and, most importantly, no failures. Atlanta has an old worn surface whereas Kansas was repaved last year, making it unknown if the results will be similar.
There is optimism within the garage, however.
One driver who has quickly adapted to Goodyear's new tire is Carl Edwards, who was second in Thursday's practice session and joked afterward that anything that's bad for Kenseth is good for everyone else. Edwards said there was no noticeable difference between the new tire compound and the old one. He's excited about the possibilities.
"The tire seems to drive really well," Edwards said. "The track changed a lot throughout the session so I think we're gonna see changing track conditions throughout the whole race. It took a lot of rubber and, really, I thought got a lot slicker. I think it's gonna be a two or three-groove race track, which is great for all of us."
A native of nearby Columbia, Mo., Edwards is looking for his first victory on what he considers his home track. A week after finishing 35th and dropping seven spots in the standings to 11th, a win is much-needed if he is going to climb back into championship contention.
"If our speed today is any indication, if we can go out and possibly win this race and win a couple races, and if these guys (Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch) had some trouble, it could happen," Edwards said.
"Anything can happen, so the biggest thing is when I got back to the shop Jimmy Fennig (crew chief) looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Look, I don't quit. We're going here to win this thing and that's it. Until we can't, we will.' So that's all you can do."