One tire-ing day: Dale Jr. joins drivers in Dover test

DOVER — Five Monster Energy Series drivers took turns piling up laps and accumulating data during a Goodyear tire test at Dover International Speedway on Tuesday.

Of those five, the test was perhaps the most important to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth.

Earnhardt, set to retire at the end of the season, will be making his final start on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval when the Monster Energy Series returns to race at the Monster Mile on Oct. 1.

He’d love to go out in style with a victory at Dover, but he also knows his team is facing long odds in his farewell season.

“You know, there’s a limited amount of races left,” said Earnhardt, who on Monday announced he will be joining NBC as a commentator for its NASCAR coverage next year. “I’m going to miss driving the car and being around my team, so these are the final few moments of doing all that.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his Nationwide Chevrolet during Goodyear Tire test at Dover International Speedway Tuesday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“There’s only just a few races left and they’ll go by pretty quickly. So trying to capitalize on the opportunity to have fun in the car and enjoy that little bit of driving that’s left is something you think about.”

Earnhardt’s team and the others were busy throughout the day at Dover. Not only were they testing for Goodyear, they were also compiling data that they don’t normally have time to gather during the hectic pace of a race weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr surrounded by reporters and cameras at Dover International Speedway during testing for Goodyear Tires.

“Goodyear’s learning a lot,” said Earnhardt. “They are gaining a lot of great information. A lot of drivers wouldn’t mind a change to the tire.”

Earnhardt admitted that responsibilities outside of the race car have been difficult to manage since he announced his impending retirement.

“It’s been easy for me to focus on the races,” he said. “It’s harder to focus on the other responsibilities outside the car.”

Meanwhile, Kenseth, at 45-years-old, will not be returning to his current ride with Joe Gibbs Racing next season and does not appear to have any solid offers on the table.

Matt Kenseth during Goodyear tire test at Dover International Speedway Tuesday.

The 2003 Cup Series champion needs to return to victory lane to spark some attention.

Maybe the test at Dover will lead to a change in Kenseth’s fortunes, but he’s not so sure.

“Testing’s OK,” he said. “When you leave and you feel like you learned something then you feel good about it.

“Unfortunately, more times than not, you go here and go through stuff and as soon as you think something is good you come back (for the race) and find out that it’s not.”

Matt Kenseth in the infield medical center at Dover International Speedway Tuesday.

Kenseth, a three-time Dover winner, made his first career Cup Series start at the Monster Mile back in 1998 when he filled in for Bill Elliott, who was attending his father’s funeral on the day of the race. He drove to a respectable sixth-place finish.

He’s enjoyed coming to the track ever since.

“Dover’s just unique,” Kenseth said. “There’s no other track like this on the circuit. It’s high-banked and a true oval. It’s really unique, real fast and very unforgiving. It’s a fun track and a challenging track.”

Earnhardt and Kenseth were joined in Dover’s tire test by Chris Buescher, Landon Cassill and Joey Logano.

The collective goal for the participating drivers was simple: find a tire that will allow for the most competitive race on Dover’s concrete racing surface in October.

“This test is for Goodyear, mainly,” Logano said. “We’re just trying to see if we can get a good tire that can put on a good race here at Dover and try to give our cars a little more grip, allow the track to rubber in and make sure the cars can move around.

“That’s kind of the main goal when you come to a tire test – try to find a tire that will allow us to put on a great race.”

Logano said the drivers all tried three different rubber compounds in the test on Tuesday morning, including the baseline tire that the drivers raced with at Dover in June, along with two other options.

“One (of the options) was really bad and one was really good,” he said. “I think everyone’s on the same page.”

What might be seen as a mundane chore for a NASCAR competitor, driving around in one-mile circles all alone on the race track, is actually quite fun, according to Logano.

Joey Logano pilots his Ford around the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway Tuesday.

“Dover is the most fun track to run by yourself,” Logano said. “It’s fun in traffic as well, but it’s one of those places that you can feel the speed because you’re going around it very quick.
“There’s lots of load in the corner and you feel like your hauling the mail around this place.”

Joey Logano being interviewed by media Tuesday.

Logano added not to underestimate the importance of acquiring data, other than just for the Goodyear engineers, at the test.

“Anytime we’re here (testing), we’re collecting data on our cars,” he said. “There are a lot of things that we don’t get to do on race weekend.

“We’re making tire changes obviously, but we can also make some changes to our cars in between runs with Goodyear. It’s very valuable, anytime you can get on the race track.”

These times are especially valuable to Earnhardt these days — as his time as a NASCAR driver is quickly running out.

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