An important but sometimes overlooked part of NASCAR racing is tire wear. Cars obviously need tires to run, but because of the demands of racing a heavy car at high speeds for hours on end during a NASCAR race, many fans may wonder just how long NASCAR tires actually last.
NASCAR tires last between 40 and 60 laps at big tracks and between 100 and 120 laps at short tracks, or around 60-80 miles. Some track surfaces wear tires differently than others, however, and this is where pit strategy comes into play. Pit crews can change a set of tires in under 15 seconds.
Tire wear and strategy can play a big role in deciding which driver wins a race. In the article below, we will discuss the average distance tires last, the different factors that alter this number at various racetracks, and everything else you need to know about NASCAR tires.
How Many Laps Do NASCAR Tires Last?
NASCAR tires generally only last about 60 to 80 miles, or 40-60 laps. The 40-60 lap number is the standard for 1.5-mile tracks, NASCAR’s most common layout. This number changes for short tracks, where tires can stay on for 100-120 laps, the approximate length of a fuel run.
Tires may be in rough shape before reaching the 40-60 lap window at some tracks, but teams sometimes decide they cannot afford to risk track position and pit sooner. NASCAR caps the number of tire sets teams can use during a race, so they cannot change tires an unlimited number of times and must strategize accordingly.
Tire Fall Off
Some tracks degrade tires fast, leading to cars running noticeably slower near the end of a run than they do at the start with fresh tires. In these scenarios, teams will change four tires every time without fail. However, some tracks show little fall off and the rubber stays intact. This could be because of the surface, Goodyear delivering a highly durable tire, or a combination of the two.
When tires hold up well, teams may elect not to change all four tires every time down pit road. Crew chiefs may decide to only add fuel or only change tires on one side of the car. They do this to improve track position, gaining spots on cars changing all four and hoping the old tires can hang on long enough to make the gamble pay off.
How Many Miles Do NASCAR Tires Last?
A set of NASCAR tires lasts between 60 and 80 miles. This number changes slightly between short tracks (0.5-0.75 miles), intermediate tracks (around 1.5 miles) and superspeedways (two miles and over). NASCAR road course lengths very greatly, ranging between 2.5 miles and 4 miles.
The number of miles NASCAR tires last depends a lot on the racing surface and racing conditions. Racing at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour generates a lot of heat, which wears down the tires. On smoother tracks, this heat will not be as great as on rougher surfaces, so the tires may last longer.
Why Do NASCAR Tires Wear Out So Fast?
NASCAR tires wear out so fast because of the track surface and the tire compound Goodyear brings to the race. Some tracks with newer surfaces are kinder to tires than older, worn-out surfaces. Goodyear plans accordingly, trying to strike a balance between a good race tire and a safe one.
Many drivers prefer a tire that shows wear and falloff over the course of a run. This puts more control in their hands by forcing them to adjust their driving lines as the tires fade. It can also lead to more exciting racing as fans watch drivers struggle with changing driving conditions over the course of a tire run.
Different Track Surfaces
Darlington Raceway is known to act almost as a cheese-grater, grinding rubber up and leading teams to pit for tires at every available chance. If a caution flies only eight or ten laps into a tire run, teams will pit for a brand-new set because the speed fall-off is massive. Speeds drop so much during a run at Darlington that mediocre cars racing many laps down with fresh tires can pass the leader on old tires.
Pit strategy becomes important at tracks like these. Teams sometimes elect to short pit, meaning they stop much sooner than a full fuel run calls for. They do this because running on fresh tires is a great advantage versus the leaders running on old, worn-out ones. The downside, however, is if a caution flies before everyone pits, the short pitter may be trapped laps down.
Daytona and Talladega are two tracks that often fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. Tires are much less of an issue here, and it’s common for teams to forgo fresh tires altogether or only change two tires during pit stops. While teams never run the whole race on one set, they can pick their spots at tracks like these, leading to interesting strategy calls that often shuffle positions.
Intensity Plays A Part
Drivers racing in intense on-track battles can burn the “good” off their tires quicker than others in more stable running position, like the leader with a comfortable advantage. For example, say a driver with a fast car must take a penalty and restart in 22nd. The driver maneuvers through the field because of the well-handling car but stagnates around 7th.
This driver, by battling hard in traffic to return to contention, has used the tires up more quickly than those running up front. The tires may not degrade to the point of needing to make an unscheduled pit stop, but their relative deterioration makes it difficult for the driver to make up more time to the leaders with “easier” laps on their tires. You can hear drivers lament this during broadcasts.
The Effect Of Competition Cautions In NASCAR
NASCAR will sometimes call a competition caution roughly halfway through the first fuel run when it wants to give teams an opportunity to check tire wear. This does not happen every race. Most often, it occurs when practice is cancelled or hindered by on-track incidents that don’t allow teams to run enough laps at speed to properly estimate what tire wear will be during the race.
This can be a safety issue for NASCAR. Officials understandably want to avoid having tire failures cause enormous crashes (some of the most violent wrecks occur when a tire fails heading into a corner with drivers carrying lots of speed). By giving teams a chance to gauge tire wear early, NASCAR hopes teams can figure out how to alleviate excessive wear and prevent unnecessary impacts.
One bizarre version of this occurred during the 2008 Brickyard 400. NASCAR was forced to call competition cautions every 10-12 laps (25-30 miles) if one did not occur naturally because of repeated tire failures during practice and the race. A combination of the tires Goodyear supplied, the rough Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the new 2008 racecar created unprecedented tire wear conditions.
NASCAR made pit stops mandatory during the cautions as the tire was essentially not raceable for an extended period. The longest green flag run that day was only 13 laps at a track that often saw green flag pit stops. One-third of the race ran under caution. Goodyear conducted tests in the months following the race to identify the issue and its 2009 tire for Indianapolis had no similar problems.
Do NASCAR Tires Get Reused?
Some NASCAR tires are reused on the track. These are called “scuffs” and they have one heat cycle in them, which is ideally two laps at speed. These are often the tires cars qualify on and are changed before the race. When these are put back on the car, they have more initial grip than fresh tires.
Scuffs with more laps can also be used as a last resort for teams who have run out of tires by the end of a race. Goodyear caps the number of tire sets distributed to each team for a race weekend, and at tracks with high tire wear, teams can run out of new tires before their last pit stop. In these instances, older scuffs are deemed better than running completely worn tires.
But what happens to NASCAR tires after the race is complete? We know even scuffed tires can be a big competitive disadvantage compared to new tires, so tires are not reused at other races. NASCAR has a recycling partnership with Liberty Tire to properly dispose its used tires in an environmentally friendly way.
The used tires are loaded up after the race and shipped to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in North Carolina where they are inspected. Once inspection is complete, they travel down the street to the Liberty Tire Recycling Center where they are ground down to a specific size depending on what they are being transferred into.
Some uses for recycled NASCAR tires include rubberized mulch, tire derived fuel, and crumb rubber. Liberty Tire says it recycles over 300,000 used NASCAR tires per year across all NASCAR-sanctioned series. However, you can also buy used NASCAR tires from various places before they get recycled!
NASCAR tires last between 60 and 80 miles, depending on the track surface, racing conditions, and the compounds Goodyear uses. Tire wear helps dictate the flow and competitive nature of a race. Teams must monitor tire wear throughout a race and strategize accordingly.
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