NASCAR Bristol 2024

F1 shows why NASCAR will struggle to recreate yesterday’s ‘Canada 2010’ drama

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway turned out to be one that the sport’s drivers, teams and fans will remember for years to come.

The tiny, 0.85-kilometre high-banked concrete oval has been notorious for decades for producing a wild style of racing – but yesterday’s 500-lap encounter was on another level.

As the highest level of stock car racing, NASCAR visits a great variety of ovals in addition to a handful of road and street tracks. From superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega to medium-sized ovals like Charlotte or Atlanta, cramped and chaotic short tracks like Martinsville, NASCAR’s Cup drivers have the full breadth of their driving talents tested like few other major racing series. But Bristol is unique.

Over the last 10 ten years or so, the famed short track in Tennessee has lost its lustre as far as racing excitement has been concerned. Following a reprofiling to add progressive banking to its corners which was met with heavy criticism, the track’s original configuration was restored. But it never quite recaptured the magic of the nineties and early 2000s.

For the last three years, the earliest of the two Cup races held at Bristol on the NASCAR calendar were run on dirt – a novelty for the premier level of stock car racing not seen since the seventies. However, even a change of surface was not welcomed by many of the series’ elite drivers. Cup champions Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson were all public in their criticism, with Harvick branding the transition to dirt “ridiculous”.

In 2024, both of Bristol’s races returned to their original concrete layouts once more. And last weekend’s race provided a spectacle that many NASCAR fans raved about.

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What made Sunday’s race so exciting?

Soon after the race began, the 36-strong field realised they faced a challenging afternoon. Tyres showed extreme levels of wear, almost like setting tyre wear scaling to ‘2x’ rate on a racing game. Some drivers pitted for fresh rubber – either two or four tyres – after the first caution period on lap 25, not even ten minutes into the race.

The heavy degradation saw drivers burn through their tyres. Kyle Busch’s right-rear tyre became so worn he radioed in his concerns that it may let go completely – only for it to do exactly that a few laps later.

With drivers pitting more frequently than they had expected to before the race, some teams warned they would not have enough sets of new tyres to last the 500 laps without extended yellow flag running. During the second of the race’s three stages, NASCAR’s leadership made an executive decision to allocate each car an additional set of fresh tyres held spare by Goodyear.

The 3hr 20m race became one of tyre management, with some coping far better than others. When the chequered flag flew at the end of the 500th lap, Denny Hamlin took victory by one second from Martin Truex Jnr with only five cars on the lead lap after 54 lead changes throughout the race – a track record by a wide margin.

Despite admitting he had to throw his pre-race strategy out of the window early on and improvise as the race went on, Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart hailed the race.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “It was a blast. I’m not just saying that because we won. I’m saying that because it was fun to have to do something so unrefined.”

“Maybe I’m biased, but if you weren’t entertained in that race, then you probably need to do something else.”

NASCAR’s leadership was also pleased by the product it had unintentionally provided its fans. Senior vice-president of innovation and racing development, John Probst, called Sunday a “record-setting day” for NASCAR.

“I know the race teams are probably pretty worn out right now,” Probst said. “Certainly had some anxiety around some tyre wear and things like that. But all-in-all, I think it was probably one of the best short track races I’ve ever seen.”

But not everyone was positive about the race – particularly fifth-place finisher Kyle Larson.

“I hope I never have to run another race that again!” he laughed. “It was kind of fun to do it – hopefully one time.”

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What happened to the tyres?

For the first Bristol race of the 2024 season, NASCAR tyre suppliers Goodyear turned up to the track with the same construction of tyres that they had brought for last September’s Cup race at the circuit, which was also run on concrete. Goodyear had tested a softer compound of tyre at the Bristol circuit prior to the September race and achieved their target for that weekend.

NASCAR Bristol 2024
The pit lane was busy throughout Sunday’s race
NASCAR has two main junior categories besides the top level Cup series – the second-tier Xfinity series and the tertiary Trucks series. Following the completion of the Truck race on Saturday, track workers laid down a resin onto the bottom lane of the banking in a bid to provide more grip to drivers and encourage them to take multiple racing lines around the circuit to improve racing. This is not unusual and is not dissimilar to the ‘second groove’ practice sessions utilised in IndyCar around certain oval circuits to try and prevent races being dominated by a single racing line.

However, the resin used was not the same ‘PJ1’ compound used previously by NASCAR at other tracks. The new resin had a demonstrable impact on tyre degradation over the race, which left Goodyear scratching their heads.

“That’s what we’re really trying to figure out,” said Goodyear’s racing director Greg Stucker. “I think one difference with the race track is the application of the resin instead of PJ1. We’re trying to understand how much impact that’s having.

“This was the same package that we raced here very successfully in the fall. The goal was to generate more tyre wear and we did that at the right level.

“We really didn’t have any concerns coming here this weekend. The weather’s been good. So that’s what we’re trying to understand – exactly why the racetrack is behaving differently than it did last fall.”

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F1’s Canada catalyst

This latest NASCAR race has clear parallels with one of the most memorable and consequential grands prix of the 21st Century – the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

High tyre wear led to great racing in Canada 2010
In the last season of Bridgestone acting as Formula 1’s exclusive tyre supplier, drivers had durable and predictable tyres to race on. While the two compound rule was still in effect, tyre strategy typically saw drivers starting on the soft compound before an early stop for hard tyres to see them to the finish.

But at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the super-soft and medium compounds proved ill-suited to the recently resurfaced track, leading to extreme and unexpected tyre wear. All drivers made at least two tyre changes while the majority made three throughout a breathless race with 61 total pitstops, five separate leaders and over 60 on-track overtakes. The race scored an average rating of 8.67/10 from RaceFans readers – making it one of the most popular dry grands prix of recent years.

Such was the positive reaction to the race, incoming 2011 tyre suppliers Pirelli were encouraged by the FIA and Formula 1 itself to make tyres that would deliberately intend to invoke the same levels of degradation seen in Montreal. As a result, all 14 seasons of Pirelli’s exclusive tyre supply to F1 have seen tyre management become a key component of racing – to the criticism of fans and drivers on occasion.

Last year, Pirelli won an extension to their exclusive contract with the FIA to supply tyres to the world championship from 2025 to 2027. In their invitation to tender, the governing body explicitly called for the successful applicant to retain the performance ‘cliff’ in their dry compounds for the following three seasons.

However, despite the use of high-degradation tyres in the sport, some fans have expressed dissatisfaction with the level of on-track racing in modern Formula 1, which continues to rely heavily on DRS-assisted passes. Pirelli’s motorsport director, Mario Isola, is keen to keep high-degradation tyres into the future.

“You can have two different situations,” Isola said. “We reduce degradation, or we try to eliminate the condition so drivers can just push from lap one to the back of the race. But everybody’s going to push – not just the drivers in the back.

“So the point is that why many years ago, but also now, we have been asked to have some degradation. Because you can make a difference and you can encourage overtaking if you have degradation. If you have no degradation, you have just a train of cars – reflecting qualifying, basically.”

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Forcing teams to think on their feet

While NASCAR’s Bristol race was a thoroughly entertaining spectacle, it’s only natural that fans and even drivers want to see more like it. But although a combination of soft tyres and on-track resin might seem a simple recipe for increasing the racing action, it is never quite that simple in motorsport.

Teams are typically well prepared for all eventualities
The key ingredient yesterday’s NASCAR race and the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix share that made both enthralling to watch was not an unusual track surface or ill-suited tyres – it was that drivers and teams were unprepared for the track conditions.

For decades, Formula 1 has been a sport where each team meticulously plans out their set-ups and strategy long in advance of race weekend. Through telemetry, data simulations and countless meetings between engineers, mechanics, strategists and drivers over a race weekend, teams do the maximum possible to understand and control every possible variable as much as they can. After three hours of practice and a qualifying session and hours of simulator work carried out by a third driver back at the factory, F1 teams have terabytes of data to assist drivers to keep their car and tyres happy and the pit wall to make the crucial calls when it counts.

Though NASCAR’s Cup cars are nowhere near as sophisticated as their F1 counterparts, teams are no less prepared. Thousands of laps of running around the same circuits run year-in, year-out means NASCAR is as data-driven as any other motorsport. From strategy calls to mid-race car adjustments, drivers can rely on their teams to make well-informed decisions throughout the race, knowing they’ll be backed up with data and evidence, rather than a gut feeling.

But that was not the case in Bristol, just like on that Sunday in Montreal all those years ago. When faced with what they had not expected, drivers and teams had to react, improvise and try unconventional strategies in order to succeed. However, over the years in Formula 1, teams figured out how best to manage their high-wear tyres just like they figured out the V6 turbo hybrid power units, porpoising and all the other challenges they face out on track. Even if NASCAR pursues a similar approach with their tyres as F1, it’s inevitable their talented teams will do the same.

Perhaps Alpine driver Esteban Ocon said it best back in 2020. When the F1 field arrived at Istanbul Park for the Turkish Grand Prix, the freshly laid surface offered as much grip as oil on an ice rink. At the end of a challenging weekend where rain added to the headache for teams and drivers and produced an eventful and exciting race, Ocon summed it up well.

“As soon as conditions are tricky, it makes for a spicy race,” he said. “That’s always been the case and that will always be the case.”

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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6 comments on “F1 shows why NASCAR will struggle to recreate yesterday’s ‘Canada 2010’ drama”

  1. Heavily relying on DRS is debatable, given the so-called DRS train effect is very prominent these days & on almost all circuits.

  2. Cue NASCAR mandating chocolate tyres to try and liven up the races.

    When someone is NASCAR refers to something as unrefined, you know you’re just about at the bottom of the barrel.

  3. Great write-up highlighting exactly the issue with the tyres and where it stems from, great that there’s another series now discovering the catalyst for F1’s current woe’s and the similar level of excitement.

    Come to think of it, this is actually a really interesting lesson that applies to game design itself (sports are just games after all). They’re always more interesting and therefore fun, when strategies and tactics aren’t optimised. That’s why new circuits are usually so fun regardless of the layout.

    1. Time to install sprinklers 😏

  4. My first and only in-person F1 race was Canada 2010. It was so good!!

  5. The problem with Pirelli lies in the low quality of their rubber, evident even after 14 seasons in the sport, as they still haven’t matched the standard set by Bridgestone in 2010. In the past, teams freely adjusted camber, tyre pressure, and swapped tyres between sessions, tactics now banned to accommodate Pirelli.

    Previously, drivers could push whenever they want, with other limiting factors like reliability, engine management, and fuel saving, rather than tyres. Not to mention that the era of 2010-2011 saw an insane level of downforce with i the double diffuser, blown diffuser, and large wings, and the tyres performed just fine.

    Today’s tyres are overly sensitive, requiring drivers to cautiously navigate out laps in qualifying to remain within their optimal range. Furthermore, regarding the wet weather tyres. Who Asked Pirelli to produce such subpar rubber ?

    it was that drivers and teams were unprepared for the track conditions

    Spot on ! Back then simulations weren’t as advanced as they are today, often leaving teams uncertain about their setups upon arriving at tracks. Nowadays, free practices are used to confirm what has been developed on the simulator. IIRC, improvements began around 2013 when RBR arrived at tracks with minimal practice runs, yet their setups were perfectly dialed in for the race.

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