LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — The most intriguing wrinkle for the Chase may not be which championship contenders are in or out after each elimination round.
It could be if NASCAR decides to use a package responsible for a race that drew nothing but rave reviews from the drivers.
Goodyear has not been informed that the race package that was such a hit last week at Kentucky Speedway will be used for the 10 races that determine the Sprint Cup champion.
Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said the manufacturer would need to know in about a week if NASCAR would proceed with a request for soft tires that are typically paired with a lower-downforce aerodynamic package
Stucker said Goodyear typically needed 90 days from the date of the decision to produce the appropriate tires needed for each race. The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“We haven’t had that serious conversation yet because that really hasn’t been proposed to us,” Stucker said Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “So we’d have to kind of sit down and see what our options might be.”
NASCAR used lower downforce — which was specifically recommended by the drivers — last week at Kentucky and it produced perhaps the best racing of the season. There were 2,665 green-flag passes throughout the field, compared with 1,147 last year at Kentucky. There were also a record 22 green-flag passes for the lead, up from the record of 19 set in 2011.
Goodyear, though, did not have enough time to make the kind of tires needed to match the aero package. It hardly mattered to the drivers who raved about the product.
“We didn’t have the full tire that we wanted, we didn’t have the full package and it was better,” Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano said.
Teams participated in a three-day test this week at Chicagoland that gave drivers feedback on both tires and aero packages. Stucker said the tires used for the Chase opener at Chicagoland also line up for championship races at Texas Motor Speedway and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“They tested tires at Chicago that came apart,” driver Greg Biffle said. “At about 24-25 laps, the tires blistered and split and cords came out.”
Stucker said Goodyear tested a softer tire with the lower-downforce package at Chicagoland.
“Chicago caught us a little bit. We have to go back and look at that,” Stucker said.
Stucker also said Goodyear will stick with the tires selected following a tire test in April at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for next weekend’s race at the Brickyard.
NASCAR again will use the lower-downforce package on Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway and Goodyear has a softer tire set for the race.
But Goodyear knew that change was coming months ago. If changes are ahead for the Chase, Goodyear will need to know — soon.
“I think everyone understands by the nature of how much product we have to produce, and the time it takes to produce them, we’re not as flexible as everyone else is,” Stucker said. “I think everybody recognizes that. We’re trying to move things around and be as flexible as we can. So, we’ll react as we need to.”
Here are some things to keep an eye on for Sunday’s race.
SOPHOMORE SLUMP: Kyle Larson hoped a return to New Hampshire could start to reverse a sophomore slump for a driver once considered NASCAR’s next big thing.
Larson, who finished 39th and 35th in the last two races, has only one top-five finish and five top 10s driving for team owner Chip Ganassi.
Larson had eight top-five and 17 top-10 finishes last season, and his blistering results in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship had him hopeful he would emerge as a championship contender in 2015.
He finished third and second in his two New Hampshire races last season.
“I don’t know if it’s a horsepower thing, or whatever,” Larson said. “But, we’re getting quicker and quicker every week. We just need to find bigger gains to getting more speed.”
Larson might be having second thoughts about not competing in the Eldora Speedway half-mile dirt track race for the Truck Series race on Wednesday night.
“I told Tony (Stewart) if he could promise me it would be rough and hooked-up, I’d run,” Larson said. “He said he couldn’t promise me that and so I’m not running. But, now it looks like it’s going to rain on Tuesday, so the track will probably be hooked-up and rough on Wednesday. So, as it gets closer, I’m wishing I was racing it.”
ANOTHER ROUND: Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer had another run-in at the track.
Bowyer and Gordon, who clashed in a 2012 race at Phoenix, connected during practice Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Bowyer pulled the No. 15 into his stall when he ran into the right rear of the No. 24 when Gordon backed out of the stall.
The No. 24 sustained severe damage and his crew furiously worked at repairs to avoid moving to a backup car and dropping to the back of the field for Sunday’s race. Gordon’s car did not return to the track for the first practice session but he returned to the track for the second practice of the day.
Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer during the November 2012 race at Phoenix International Raceway in retaliation for an incident earlier in the season that cost Gordon a win at Martinsville. The Phoenix wreck triggered a garage-area melee between the drivers’ crews and earned Gordon a $100,000 fine from NASCAR.
Gordon qualified 23rd for Sunday’s race and is still looking for his first win in what is his final, full season.
“I don’t want to say it can’t get worse, but I know it can So, I’m not going to say that,” Gordon said. But hopefully this will all pay off for us (Sunday).”
WINNER, WINNER, LOBSTER DINNER: The winner of Sunday’s race traditionally receives Loudon the Lobster — yes, that’s its name — a 20-plus pounder that rivals any catch of the day.
Most winners break out the butter and truly enjoy the taste of victory.
Not Kurt Busch. When he won at this track in 2008, Busch wanted to keep the win, but give back the trophy.
“I tried to donate it back to the Boston Aquarium. I didn’t want to eat the poor guy,” he said. “But I learned that, when you are on the bottom of the ocean for 80 years and you are dragged up to the surface, you are not all that happy. The stress and turmoil for the lobster, he wasn’t going to make it anyway. We probably should have cooked him up, dipped him in butter and celebrated.”