Jeff Gordon insists this year's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard will be a real race, not a seven-lap sprint to the finish line like last year.
He guarantees it.
After rain washed out most of Goodyear's final tire testing day at Indianapolis, the four-time Cup champion gave the manufacturer's new, softer tires an unwavering endorsement for one of NASCAR's biggest races.
"I'm 100 percent confident," he said Tuesday. "I ran this tire as hard as I possibly could, and this is a dead issue. This race might come down to a lot of things _ fuel, pit strategy, a double-file restart _ but it is not going to come down to a 10-lap shootout on whose tires can last the longest."
Race organizers and Goodyear could not have hoped for a stronger statement from one of the series most recognizable drivers, nor could they have chosen a better time for Gordon to make it.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Joie Chitwood said ticket sales for the July 26 race are lagging from last year, even after cutting prices in February. The combination of a recession and concerns over a repeat of last year's tire debacle are at least partly to blame, Chitwood said.
Excessive tire wear forced race officials to throw competition cautions every 10 to 12 laps last July. The longest green flag run was 13 laps. The fiasco left drivers and fans upset, forced NASCAR to apologize and sent Goodyear into full redevelopment mode.
So after 11 months of testing, Gordon, former Cup champ Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne spent Tuesday debunking any lingering concerns.
"It's night and day difference," Busch said. "The ability to make more than 10 laps has been refreshing. I'm amazed at how much better the tire feels. It doesn't have as much powder, and it feels sticky when they take it off the car."
Goodyear, based in Akron, Ohio, spared no expense to fix the problem.
Race tire sales director Greg Stucker could not calculate how much money or how many man-hours were spent resolving the problem but acknowledged that tires for Indianapolis were discussed every day since late July.
Stucker said Goodyear conducted seven tire tests at Indy since the race, accumulating more than 13,000 miles on the Indy track. That number does not count testing done in the laboratory where the company even ground a test track in exactly the same manner as Indy's surface.
For Goodyear's racing division, getting it right at Indy was the No. 1 priority.
"We've got our name on the sidewall of every tire, so I think it's very important to our whole company," Stucker said.
Despite all the work, drivers were concerned as recently as last month that Goodyear still hadn't figured it out.
Those impressions changed earlier this month when drivers like Kahne and points leader Tony Stewart returned for the next-to-last test at Indy two weeks ago.
"I feel Goodyear worked really hard through all these tests," said Kahne, a regular participant in the tire tests. "But until about two weeks ago, they didn't have a tire for this race. I'm confident now. We ran five laps on these tires and it rubbered in and was ready to go. Last year, it never rubbered in."
The proof showed up Monday.
Teams were running 20-lap intervals late in the afternoon and projected they could have gone 35 to 40 laps on the new tires. Gordon suggested he could have run 50, and Carl Edwards ran multiple segments Monday, totaling 33 or 34 laps, before running out of fuel.
"As far as I'm concerned, I think we're ready to race," Kahne said.