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Encouraging tire tests at Atlanta

HAMPTON - Two days of testing new tires left Greg Biffle optimistic that Atlanta Motor Speedway will be ready for some old-fashioned side-by-side racing in March.

Biffle said he was pushing new Goodyear tires at speeds faster than normal qualifying times on Tuesday and Wednesday, less than one year after Tony Stewart and other drivers were sharply critical of tires provided for the race in Atlanta last March.

Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya were encouraged that the March 6-8 Kobalt Tools 500 race weekend will produce better racing.

Biffle said the tires 'really forced the cars off the race track' at two races in Atlanta last year.

'Most of the cars ran in the middle to the top,' Biffle said. 'Not many cars ran on the bottom or were that successful on more than five laps.'

Biffle, who finished third in the points race last year, said he was able to stay low on turns after 20 laps this week.

'That tire will hook around the bottom of the race track and not just slide off the bottom,' he said.

'That's the old Atlanta to me. That's the way it used to be. I really like that. I'm sure there's continued improvement ... but what we've got so far looks very promising for the race in March.'

Stewart finished second last year but called the Goodyear product 'the most pathetic racing tire I've ever been on in my professional career.'

Stewart wasn't the only driver to complain last year about the poor traction on the Atlanta Motor Speedway's 1.54-mile high-banked oval that is notorious for wearing down the rubber faster than most tracks on the Cup circuit.

Even Kyle Busch, the winner of the race last March, said 'It's the worst I've ever felt in a race car, and I won the race.'

Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark said Wednesday his track 'is not the easiest track surface to develop tires for.'

'I don't think it's any secret there were some issues here last March,' Clark said.

Testing this week came in unusually cold temperatures which helped the tires grip the track. Biffle said the cold weather helped the cars run faster and 'actually produce higher tire wear than normal conditions.'

'They've got a left-side compound and construction that puts a lot of drive-ability back in the car,' Biffle said.

Biffle said he ran a lap Wednesday morning in 29.50 seconds, about a half-second faster than last year's pole-winning pace.

'So it was very, very fast,' he said. 'Faster than qualifying speeds. That is a lot of punishment on a tire and this tire seemed like it was holding up very well.'

Montoya also was encouraged, though he warned the tires will slip more in warmer weather.

'I think the setup when we come back will be very different,' Montoya said, adding in this week's testing 'a lot of times we're running stupidly fast, it's like qualifying time with every lap.

'I don't mind. It's a lot of fun, but it's not very realistic. When you get here with the race and the heat, you will be sliding a lot more. We're just trying to find a tire that is a little bit more predictable.'

Montoya said Goodyear tested 'a lot of different tires' and said 'most of them actually are a little bit better, all in a little different way.

'It's pretty encouraging to see they're doing something to help us.'

Sam Hornish Jr. and Scott Speed also drove their cars on the test laps.

Biffle said no one wants to see a repeat of last year's race, where fans watch drivers limited on the track and agitated off the track.

'The fans don't want to see a bad race and see the drivers complain about it,' he said. 'It actually wasn't that bad a race for the fans. NASCAR, Goodyear, Atlanta Motor Speedway, everybody is doing their part to make sure we're going to put on a good race for the fans.'