BRISTOL, Tenn. — Carl Edwards had every reason to believe he had one of the best cars at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Then Goodyear called for a rare tire change in the middle of a race weekend, sending every team back to square one in their preparations for today's race.
"The tire is a lot slower and it's going to be a little more difficult to drive," said Edwards, who is on the pole. "It's a challenge for everybody."
Goodyear learned there was a problem Friday when the tires did not lay enough rubber on the track surface. The right-side tires were subjected to considerable wear and lasted only about 30 laps before they began to disintegrate into a powdery substance.
So Goodyear called for nearly 1,300 right-side tires to be shipped to Bristol from North Carolina, and they arrived in time for Saturday's practice. Teams were given only one set to use over the two practice sessions.
"It's not an optimal situation for anybody," four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said. "I feel like Goodyear is responding quickly and has created a safer environment for us. But anytime you change the tire the second day into the weekend, it's going to be a pretty major change. And it has been. The car balance is completely different, the grip level is completely different."
The tire now being used was raced at California and Kansas last year, and has the same outer tread as the tire raced at Bristol last August. But there was no testing data on the tires for use at Bristol, and teams need that information to properly set the handling of the car.
How were teams preparing?
"A lot of reading and a little bit of guessing," said Greg Erwin, crew chief for Greg Biffle. "The car doesn't drive anything like it did most of the day (Friday)."
Biffle qualified his Ford second behind his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, but didn't get much work in Saturday because of a flat in one of the new right-side tires. Since teams had only one set to use, he wasn't able to finish the practice.
"We ran over something and we only got one set of tires, so there's nothing we can do about it," Biffle said. "We got a flat so unfortunately we didn't get a fair shake at it like everybody else."
But it's not as if Biffle or anyone else could even measure themselves against the competition.
Although speeds were registered — Tony Stewart was fastest in the first practice, Mark Martin paced the second — nobody knew for certain who was using which tires. It's believed most teams saved the new tires for the final practice session. But how long they used them and during which portion of the hourlong session was not that easy to figure.
"That new tire, at very best, is probably three- or four-tenths a lap slower," Erwin said.
Gordon said the speed was down enough to "get your attention, and not make you very happy."
"But once we get out there and we're all the same — it took me a little while to understand I just needed to slow the car down because the grip had changed. Once I did that, I thought we were pretty good against the competition. Probably even better than we were with the other tire."
And that's the issue for everyone. Some cars improved with the new tire, others fell off from where they ran Friday. In any case, there wasn't enough time to figure it all out.
"It feels like no matter how much practice they give us (at Bristol), you feel like you never have enough time," Gordon said. "Things happen in a hurry here. It gets tense. It's a short track. It creates even more intensity."
But it doesn't mean Sunday will be a bust.
"I think we're going to see some great racing," Gordon said.