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Do Tire Tests Give Drivers an Advantage On Track?

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What’s Happening?

In NASCAR, testing has become increasingly rare as NASCAR wants to save both teams some money and keep teams that can test from gaining too much of an advantage. The only type of testing NASCAR drivers get are Goodyear Tire tests or rules package tests sanctioned by NASCAR. Since only a select group of drivers can participate in each test, does this give drivers an unfair advantage?

  • Testing is much different in NASCAR than it used to be. Teams used to be able to head out to various race tracks and test whatever new components they felt necessary. However, NASCAR slowly made cutbacks to testing, eventually banning testing due to the pandemic in 2020, a ban which was never fully lifted aside from NASCAR or Goodyear-sanctioned tests.
  • During this time, NASCAR also severely limited practice time during race weekends. This means drivers participating in these tests often have significantly more track time than their counterparts. However, is it enough to help them on the track?
  • Fans often wonder how these tests impact the actual races. Conventional wisdom would say that more track time can only help a driver perform better.

A Look at 2024 So Far

Thus far, both in preparation for and during the 2024 season, NASCAR has conducted tests at four different race tracks: a short track package test at Phoenix (December 2023) and three Goodyear tire tests at Sonoma (March 2024), North Wilkesboro (March 2024), and Iowa (May 2024). As of this writing, the Iowa race is scheduled for this weekend, so we can only base it on the previous three tests.

First up is Phoenix, which was to determine which short-track package NASCAR would use in 2024. A total of six drivers participated in the test, two from each manufacturer, and this is how they all finished in the ensuing race at Phoenix in March.

North Carolina Moonshine and Motorsports Trail
DriversQualifying ResultRace Result
Ryan Blaney (Ford)16th5th
Chris Buescher (Ford)14th2nd
Erik Jones (Toyota)4th31st
Christopher Bell (Toyota)13th1st
Kyle Larson (Chevrolet)17th14th
Corey LaJoie (Chevrolet)35th33rd

The results are a mixed bag. Both of the Fords finished in the top five despite failing to make the final qualifying round, and Christopher Bell took home the win. Erik Jones finished 31st but was the only driver to qualify in the top 10. The Chevys struggled big time, as Kyle Larson and Corey LaJoie finished around where they qualified.

Next up was North Wilkesboro, which was repaved in the off-season. Goodyear decided to hold a tire test there, as is typical of a repave, and these are the results.

DriversPractice ResultRace Result
Joey Logano (Ford)12th1st
Ty Gibbs (Toyota)1st13th (WON Open)
William Byron (Chevrolet)11th19th
**The All-Star Race has a unique qualifying procedure, including a pit stop, so we used practice results instead since that is all about the car’s speed.

For the second race in a row, a driver who tested won. Joey Logano led 199 of 200 laps in the All-Star Race. While Ty Gibbs finished the main event outside the top 10, he won The Open, but his poor starting spot for the All-Star Race held him back. William Byron had a mechanical problem, which relegated him to 19th.

The most recent Cup Series race at Sonoma was also a repave. Therefore, another Goodyear tire test happened the same month at North Wilkesboro, which is how those drivers performed.

DriversQualifying ResultRace Result
Josh Berry (Ford)32nd32nd
Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota)21st27th
Ross Chastain (Chevrolet)9th5th

On paper, this is by far the worst performance by drivers who tested prior to a race. Ross Chastain had a solid day, but Martin Truex Jr. was on his way to a second-place finish before running out of fuel on the last lap. Josh Berry was doomed by a crash in Stage two.

So far in 2024, it’s been feast or famine for drivers who tested before a race. Here are the overall stats for each of them combined

WinsTop-5sTop-10sAvg. StartAvg. FinishLaps Led
25515.415.3250

As of this writing, those numbers are comparable to Christopher Bell, the driver who currently sits ninth in NASCAR Cup Series points. He also has two wins, an average finish of 15.6, and 295 laps led.

Testing is not a magic bullet that automatically makes drivers and teams win races. However, it seems that it can only help.

Is This Something NASCAR Needs to Change?

While testing is not a cheat code, these results show that teams with more information, thanks to testing, often take advantage of it. This question was raised on Denny Hamlin’s podcast “Actions Detrimental,” and Hamlin explained his perspective on why Cup Series drivers need to participate in these tests.

You want the Cup driver’s input on when they’re choosing a tire, things like that, on what they think will race the best…You’re going to have too many question marks if you have a non-Cup driver running a Cup car at a tire test. Just not enough experience there.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin later added that if a former Cup driver wants to do a test, they must stay “up to date” on how the cars evolve. No one knows these cars better than the current crop of Cup Series drivers, and Hamlin believes that ultimately helps the test.

It’s important to note that these tests don’t necessarily exist to help the teams get faster. They’re there to give NASCAR the data it needs to produce the most safe and competitive race possible. If NASCAR puts drivers in cars that aren’t racing every week, they’re not getting the best data.

What do you think about all this? Let us know on Discord or X what your take is, and don’t forget you can also follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and even YouTube.

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