You may not know that NASCAR uses different tires than those seen on the average road car. It is also easy to note that these tires wear down much faster than their road counterparts. But this may leave you wondering what tires NASCAR cars use.
NASCAR uses slick Goodyear tires and they have been NASCAR’s predominant tire manufacturer since 1954 with few exceptions. They also supply different tire compounds for NASCAR depending on whether the next race takes place at a short track, road course, or superspeedway.
Below, we will reveal why the anatomy of NASCAR tires differs from their street legal equivalents, most notably their lack of tread. We will also discuss how long Goodyear has been making NASCAR tires, and how the company survived the ultimate test in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.
When you take one look at NASCAR tires, you can tell they are different from anything seen in a regular passenger vehicle. And while the tires boast some similarities, they are made from different materials than those seen on road cars. The only real similarity between NASCAR and passenger car tires is that they are radial.
NASCAR tires wear down much faster, which necessitates multiple tire changes throughout a race. Pit crews also fill NASCAR tires with nitrogen, which is said to be dry, while normal air contains moisture. This negates volatile changes in tire pressure when the tires heat up, which helps with car handling and helps prevent tire failures.
Before 2022, if a racing event took place on a track greater than one mile NASCAR used special tires that contained inner-liners, which is an inner, smaller tire inside the outer tire. The inner liner helped the driver maintain control of their car in the event their outer tire blew.
Starting with the Next Gen car, NASCAR switched to an 18-inch tire with a bead diameter. This, coupled with a lower sidewall, has negated the need for the inner-liners.
When you look at each NASCAR track, you will notice that each surface is different. Some tracks have asphalt surfaces, but others have cement. As of 2021, NASCAR even runs dirt track races at Bristol Motor Speedway, adding yet another surface.
Each surface causes tires to wear differently. Remember the 2008 Brickyard 400 and how fast those tires wore down? That is one extreme. There are extremes to the other end of the spectrum where tires don’t run down so fast.
To help combat the wear and tear different surfaces have on tires, NASCAR only allows certain tire compounds on each track. So, while the tires look similar regardless of where the cars are racing, know that you are looking at drastically different compounds at different events.
Goodyear is one of the most recognizable names in NASCAR, as they have supplied tires to the organization for decades. With NASCAR’s help, the tire experts at Goodyear help determine which tire compounds fit best with each track.
They also know that the inside tires and outside tires wear differently. So, the components that makeup tires on the outside of the car (closer to the wall) may differ from those used to make the inside tires (closer to the apron).
Goodyear first partnered with NASCAR in 1954. Since 1997, they have supplied tires for NASCAR’s top three series, which include the Xfinity and the Truck Series. They make each tire by hand, and before shipping them to the track, Goodyear puts each tire through an inspection.
It is a long, lengthy, and tough process to create tires fit for a NASCAR race. For this reason, Goodyear recognizes its employees by placing the employee’s name on each tire that they make. So, if you see writing on those Goodyear Eagles, that’s the company recognizing their employees.
NASCAR has trusted Goodyear with its tires for 7 decades. In short, NASCAR follows an “if it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it” mentality. Throughout the years we have seen NASCAR make many innovations and switch sponsorships numerous times. But they also hold true to their roots.
You still see the three-pedal, manual transmission today instead of the seven and ten-speed automatic transmissions that creep into some racing series. Despite certain specifications, NASCAR also isn’t a true spec series, nor have they ever been.
Based on driver feedback, NASCAR has no reason to become a fully-fledged spec series or switch to auto-transmission. The same mentality holds true for its Goodyear tires. They have mostly maintained a good relationship with the company, so there is no need to switch.
However, this isn’t to say NASCAR has never considered switching from Goodyear. If you are a NASCAR historian, you may have heard of something called the Tire Wars. If you have not heard of this historic era of NASCAR, the next section provides you with a brief rundown.
When Sir James Goldsmith got involved with Goodyear in 1986, NASCAR was unsure of what the company’s future held if a hostile takeover occurred, forcing them to formulate a backup plan. This plan came in the form of Hoosier, who joined the NASCAR circuit in 1988.
Hoosier tires were initially faster, but Goodyear’s were more durable. This prompted Goodyear to pour funds into making faster tires following dominant performances at Rockingham from Morgan Shepherd and Neil Bonnet, both of whom switched to Hoosier.
While Hoosier’s tires proved to be the better product, asevidenced by dominant performances by Bill Elliott and Darrell Waltrip, drivers who used them were also involved in horrific crashes.
Before the 1988 Coca-Cola 600, all but one driver ran on Hoosier tires because Goodyear’s were too soft for the track surface. Unfortunately, Bonnet, Harry Gant, and Rick Wilson all suffered injuries in crashes resulting from tire failures.
While NASCAR disqualified Goodyear tires for the summer Pocono race because the tires were too wide, Hoosier suffered the same fate later that year at Watkins Glen. Tire failures persisted for both companies throughout the year, and Hoosier drivers ended up winning just nine of 29 races.
However, Hoosier stormed back in early 1989, winning the first four races while Goodyear dealt with a major setback given its tire failures during practice sessions leading up to that year’s Daytona 500.
However, Goodyear developed the new radial tire, which proved to be both faster and more durable than Hoosier’s. Debuting at the North Wilkesboro Speedway, Goodyear regained the lead over Hoosier and never looked back, forcing the latter to shut down its NASCAR program.
While Hoosier lost the first Tire War, they returned to the NASCAR circuit in 1991 to supply tires to the Busch Grand National Series. In 1994, they set their sights back on the Winston Cup Series, hoping to avoid the same setbacks that occurred in 1989.
Hoosier spent the next few years developing their own radial tires and now they believed they were in a prime position to keep up with Goodyear. However, Neil Bonnett and Randy Orr were both killed using cars that contained Hoosier tires, initially damaging the company’s reputation.
However, further investigation showed Hoosier’s tires met NASCAR’s regulations and they were not the cause of either death. Yet throughout the season, tire failures from both Hoosier and Goodyear resulted in serious crashes, the most notable being Ernie Irvan’s (Goodyear) horrifying wreck.
Several drivers castigated the Tire Wars,stating multiple companies trying to outdo one another was unsafe for the sport. Hoosier eventually left again because of the higher production costs and waning support.
NASCAR rolled out its Next Gen car in 2022 and with it we saw a plethora of changes. The cars ran higher, comprising improved aerodynamics and downforce to help keep them from going airborne, plus a new five-speed manual transmission.
The cars better resemble their street legal road equivalents, and they feature a cool rear view camera and different driver positioning inside the cockpit. And with the new cars came new tires from Goodyear.
Goodyear’s new tire for the Next Gen car included 18-inch bead diameter tips, plus tread compounds that allow for more grip. The thicker diameter plus low-profile sidewall negated the need for inner liners.
This marked a massive change from the traditional 15-inch tire. And while the tire debuted in 2022, it took NASCAR two seasons’ worth of testing. It marked Goodyear’s biggest change to NASCAR’s tires since they moved from bias to radial tires in the early 1990s.
For NASCAR fans who wanted to see NASCAR move closer to their manufacturers’ street legal counterparts, the switch to 18-inch tires marked an even more welcome change. When you walk into any dealership, the Mustangs, Camaros, and Camrys all feature 18-inch tires.
If you ever watched a NASCAR race, you may get frustrated when it rains and they red flag the event. Sometimes, the race is postponed for the following day, but other times, they get back to racing a few hours later after they dry the track.
And while this is beyond frustrating, NASCAR needs to stop racing during the rain for a reason. For one, when traveling at such high speeds, it is easy for cars to go airborne in wet weather regardless of how much downforce technology has improved.
Another reason NASCAR delays races because of rain is that they have treadless tires. The next time you look at a NASCAR car, notice its tires. They do not look anything like those you find in a dealership next to their 18-inch diameter.
The better the tread, the more traction they get on the road during inclement weather. However, in dry conditions, more tread does not mean more traction. Instead, the more a tire touches the track, the better the traction. Ideally, the whole tire will touch the track, allowing NASCAR cars to maximize their traction.
All NASCAR cars do use the same tires during a race. The compounds used may vary between races, but every car uses the same tires during a given event. This is in contrast to other motorsports like Formula 1 and IndyCar, where various tire compounds may be used within the same race.
NASCAR strives to provide an equal playing field for its drivers, teams, and organizations. They do this through specifications for car design, engines, and tires. Before NASCAR manufacturers can build an engine, NASCAR must approve it. The same thing goes for any changes organizations and teams may be interested in making.
While there have been instances where NASCAR cars have not used the same tires, such as during the Tire Wars outlined in the above sections, NASCAR cars use the same tires during a given race. However, those tire components change at different tracks.
Just because the compounds change, each NASCAR team uses the same type of tires for their cars throughout a given race. The compounds you see for one team at a short track are used by all teams. The same holds true for the compounds at a superspeedway.
NASCAR’s goal is to keep the cars running efficiently, but they also want to keep their drivers safe. This explains why you see different types of tires at different tracks.
Although cars all use the same sets of tires, they may go through as many as eight of those sets during an event, if not more. With different components used depending on the track, sometimes tires wear down faster, necessitating more tire changes throughout the race.
The next time you watch a race at a superspeedway, note the number of tire changes made compared to those made on road courses or short tracks. You probably won’t notice the different components from track to track, but you will notice how many sets of tires the average car goes through depending on the event.
NASCAR has used Goodyear tires throughout its history with a few notable exceptions, which occurred during the Tire Wars in 1988, 1989, and 1994. The Next Gen tires are wider in diameter than their predecessors, and NASCAR, to achieve maximum contact patch area and traction, uses treadless tires.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.