Brooklyn — Having trouble figuring out when to cut the grass, water the lawn, or replant part of the garden, with scattered bands of showers moving across a southern swath of the Lower Peninsula?
Imagine trying to win a NASCAR race.
That Michigan weather can play havoc with lots of activity, including the highest echelon of stock car racing.
Goodyear brought a newly-designed tire to Michigan International Speedway this weekend for the first race of the track's 50th anniversary year.
How it works, and the drivers’ ability to accommodate its characteristics in their race strategy, could determine the outcome of the FireKeepers Casino 400, scheduled for about 2 p.m., Sunday.
The tire might widen the racing groove, which drivers have found too narrow, since the fourth repaving of the track in 2011.
But rains passing through the Irish Hills on Saturday will diminish the ability of the tires to do that.
The 2011 repaving reduced the chances to pass, to rally from back in the field, and made racing door-to-door and three-wide more perilous and less effective strategies at the reputed “fastest track in NASCAR,” with its wide, sweeping turns, banked at 18 degrees.
As it reaches the half-century mark, some of the sexiness of MIS is gone due to the seven-year-old repaving.
The drivers and crews would like to see the allure return.
So, would NASCAR.
Goodyear is trying to help, but this weekend's wet weather is not helping heading into the FireKeepers Casino 400.
The 50th annual Cup race at MIS, which began as the Motor State 500 on June 15, 1969, with a nip-and-tuck 150-lap duel between Cale Yarborough and Lee Roy Yarbrough, won by Yarborough, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday.
Asked if the racing groove is finally expanding, the defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., said he hoped so.
“You know,” Truex said. “We’ll have to see. Goodyear’s brought a new tire this weekend. Hopefully, that will help play into that.”
MIS continues to use the Tire Dragon, a tractor and trailer device that drags tires across the asphalt racing surface to grind rubber into imperfections, making the track more grippy.
But that has been going on for several years, without a significant widening of the groove.
“I know they used the Tire Dragon quite a bit this week from basically where we normally run to higher than that, so we’ll just have to see,” Truex said. “It’s definitely been a challenge to work the higher grooves here.
“Because of the way the banking is at this race track, with the bottom groove being the flattest part of the track, you typically don’t run down there throughout the weekend until the race, when you have to have somewhere to go. You have to have an option. So it seems like everybody runs the middle all weekend and then Sunday during the race you start going to the bottom for an option, instead of going to the top. So, we’ll have to see
“It seems like (Turns) 3 and 4 is a little bit more prone to getting wider getting in especially on the entry because of the way the corner’s laid out and on the exit, but it’s been tough to make that third groove work here since they paved it really. I think there’s maybe one or two races where a few guys got it working at some point in the race, but typically it hasn’t been the fastest way to get around here.
“You know,” the defending Cup champ said, “before it was repaved, you could run all over it.”
Goodyear brought a different tire for different reasons than widening the racing groove. But it might have that effect, regardless.
“We tested here a month or so ago,” said Stu Grant, director of global racing for Goodyear. “The objective was to provide a tire setup that wore a little bit more than the 2017 setup.”
The intention emerged for a couple of reasons, Grant said.
“One, in the course of a fuel run, as the tires wear out, additional fall-off provides for some better racing,” he said. “Because you have some comers and goers over the course of a fuel run, guys that pit out of sequence can pick up a second or so advantage.”
It results in more passing and competitive racing for the fans.
“One of our other objectives in providing a tire with increased wear was to reduce some of the tires' heat,” Grant said.
Cooler tires provide more adhesion.
“This is a very fast race track,” Grant said. “It’s very smooth. It’s a race track that generates a lot of heat in the tires.”
With more wear, greater fall-off and less heat, Goodyear figures Sunday's racing should be more competitive, with more passing and a chance for drivers to mount a rally late in stages and in the full race.
And, there may be a byproduct, Grant said.
“Now, the other thing that happens with that is, with the additional wear, is you get more rubber down on the race track faster, and that, as Martin Truex indicated, can give you a wider groove,” he said.
“A groove can widen up at any race track as the tires wear. But a setup that wears a little bit faster can widen a race track out at a faster pace.”
Not cooperating with the overall program is the Michigan weather.
After it was cool and sunny and then warm and cloudy Friday, everyone woke up to rain Saturday.
It rained long enough and often enough to wash away some of the rubber the tires rubbed into the surface of the oval.
The rains also cancelled the third practice session for the Cup race and qualifying for the Xfinity race.
Less rubber from the tires wore into the track, and some got washed away.
Does it stymie Goodyear’s initiative?
“It does in the short run,” Grant said. “The rain will wash the rubber off.”
But the Xfinity race did finally start about three hours late. And the early laps of the FireKeepers Casino 400 will grind some rubber back in, enhancing the grip.
“You lose a little bit, obviously, but you can pick it back up as the cars get out there and you put more rubber back into the race track,” Grant said.
Forecast for flexibility
How it all works out will be interesting to see.
The sense is, there will be plenty of questions in the minds of drivers and crews going into the race, and some answers coming fairly early.
But the answers may well evolve over the course of the race.
The drivers and crews that adapt best likely have the best chance to win.
Kurt Busch qualified first, and he thinks it is because his crew handled the new Goodyear tires well.
“The guys tweaked on the tires the right amount,” said Busch, who averaged 203.361 mph, one of 11 drivers over 200 mph.
Even more impressive is the pace the drivers are carrying in the broad, banked turns of Michigan International Speedway. Some were entering turns at 210 mph in qualifying and practice.
“It is a new compound, left and right side, and we didn’t want to get caught up too much in chasing the tires,” Busch said of the stretegic decision not to mess with the rubber. “We went with status quo. I think it is because of the speed that I like here and Texas and the balance we had in our car in qualifying. Now, we need to translate that to race speed.
“I enjoy qualifying here. It is a pleasure to have one of these Fords and have Yates power under the hood.”
Roush Yates Engines, owned by Jack Roush and Doug Yates, is the sole supplier of NASCAR engines to Ford.
“To go 217 mph, to haul the mail going into the corner, I love that feeling,” Busch said.
The kind of racing fans see Sunday will depend much on whether other cars can race with Busch through the corners or have to drop off because of the narrow racing groove.
Who wins might be determined by which driver and team best manage their tires, the permutations in performance based on wear, the lower heat and, perhaps, a slightly enhanced racing groove.
One upon a time at “the fastest track in NASCAR,” everyone could just fly through the corners.
It is not that way, anymore, despite the Tire Dragon, and the best intentions of Goodyear.
“Hopefully as it wears, it will continue to move up — continue to give more options,” Truex said, of the stubbornly-narrow racing groove at MIS.
“The geometry of the race track and the way the banking is, I would think at some point it’s going to lend itself to it being wider and being able to run higher and make those higher grooves work.
“But so far it’s been a challenge, with the pavement not wearing very fast.”
NASCAR at MIS
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday