NASCAR Notes: Where The Rubber Met The Road And Then Fell Off Of The Wheel
BY DAVE GRAYSON
Okay, everyone from Goodyear engineers, NASCAR officials, crew chiefs, car chiefs, drivers, the media and the fans have had some time to digest the issue of tire wear that was presented during last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway.
The situation was not good. In the aftermath of the race it was reported that the rash of flat tires impacted nearly 50 per cent of the starting field and was a factor in five of the seven caution flags in the race.
I’m not going to even pretend to be an expert on tire wear or handling packages for a stock car. However I, like many of you, have now had time to carefully listen to and digest some of the theories from those who are experts in these matters. I, like many of you, have questions and opinions.
SHOULD GOODYEAR BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TIRE WEAR DURING THIS RACE?
Actually no, they shouldn’t. It’s been Goodyear’s long time policy of issuing pre race tire reports to all of the teams. That report clearly indicated that the recommended tire pressure for the Goodyear Eagles used for this race should be 22 PSI, (pounds per square inch), in the left front, 20 PSI in the left rear, 45 PSI in the right front and 42 PSI in the right rear tire.
Prior to, and during, the Auto Club 400 there were multiple reports that said many of the teams were running very low tire pressures on the left side to improve tire grip and speed. Those reports said that some of these left front and rear tire pressures were as low 11 to 14 PSI. That’s a big gamble taken by crew and car chiefs prior to the race. The fact that the extraordinary amount of negative tire wear during the practice sessions alone should have been taken as an indication that running such low tire pressure might turn out to be a huge mistake. Goodyear engineers made it a point to go on record and warn the teams about the potential impacts of the low pressure.
The final finish order for the Auto Club 400 clearly indicated that those teams who heeded the warning wound up reaping the benefits. The most obvious example was race winner Kyle Busch. Dave Rogers, the crew chief for Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, made it clear he was not comfortable with running low tire pressures and chose a more conservative approach for his tires. We all saw how well that turned out.
Yet another example was Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team. The team reportedly experimented with tire pressures during Friday’s practice session and the resulting flat tire made crew chief Daniel Knost adopt a more conservative approach. The result was Kurt Busch became a major player during the final laps of the race and finished third.
By the way, the theory that said Goodyear was not directly responsible for all of those flat tires was supported by Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition, who later said he felt the aggressive set ups used by the teams were the root of the problems.
WAS THERE ANYTHING GOODYEAR COULD HAVE DONE PRIOR TO THE RACE TO ADDRESS THE POTENTIAL TIRE PROBLEM.
Actually, yes there was. A Goodyear tire, mandated by NASCAR, on the Thursday prior to the race weekend would have likely revealed the potential problem and made the teams realize that the conservative approach to tire pressures was definitely in order.
Goodyear brought the same tires to the Auto Club event that was used in past races. Their right side tires, code D-4408, have been used at the track since the 2011 race while the left side tires, code D-4522, was introduced to the track last year.
The gray area here lies in the fact that these tires were bolted onto a brand new race car that wasn’t available during the last two Auto Club events. NASCAR’s new stock car came with advanced aerodynamic packages, including a higher rear spoiler, which created an increase in down force and speed. The new rules package for these new cars also provided the teams with new levels of leeway in the areas of tire camber which could have easily impacted tire wear.
A day long tire test would have addressed any and all issues associated with the new car that was scheduled to race on a massive two mile oval where the cars often hits speeds in excess of 200 MPH on the straightaways.
WERE THERE DRIVERS ANGRY AT GOODYEAR?
Yes. Many of the teams that were impacted by the rash of flat tires in this race were considered to be prominent pre race favorites. Chief among them was Jimmie Johnson. With seven laps remaining in the race, Johnson had a two second plus lead on the field and was clearly on his way to the win. That was all ruined by a sudden, left front, flat tire. You had to admire Johnson’s calm demeanor after the race. He simply said that their demise came from “an issue not of our making.” He never once pointed the finger of blame at Goodyear, but you could literally see the flames of hell dancing in the man’s eyes.
Tire wear also impacted Jeff Gordon who inherited the lead from his team mate Johnson. Gordon was dealing with his own potential tire issue and was running a safe and conservative pace while trying to nurse the car to victory lane. That unraveled with two laps remaining when Clint Bowyer’s flat tire, and subsequent spin out, brought out a caution flag and a need for the teams to enter pit road for fresh tires prior to the green white checker finish. The drama of that final restart saw Gordon get shuffled to 13th. An angry Gordon later said that “Goodyear was not fully prepared” for this race and added “the situation was just uncalled for.”
WERE THERE OTHER SOURCES CONNECTED TO THESE FLAT TIRES?
According to Dale Earnhardt Jr there was and the culprit was the track surface. Earnhardt’s tire woes came early, on lap 41, when a flat left side tire sent him into the wall. He spent a miserable afternoon salvaging a 12th place finish.
Earnhardt blamed the massive bumps on the track’s surface, especially on the back stretch, as being the culprit behind the tire wear. He pointed out that the track’s rough surface was damaging the tires where the sidewall and tread are put together. He suggested that it was time to repave the speedway or, at the very least, repave the backstretch. Having said that, Earnhardt also made it clear that he didn’t think Goodyear wasn’t responsible for the problems and he actually felt bad for the tire company.
WILL THERE BE A PROPOSED SOLOUTION TO ALLEVIATE THIS SITUATION.
Absolutely. Both NASCAR and Goodyear have an outstanding reputation for making quick work of addressing all issues regarding safety. If their research determines that a specific situation requires attention then they will make quick work of resolving that issue.
One precautionary program is the aforementioned additional tire testing. The NASCAR schedule indicates that, in the next several weeks, there will be races at the 1.5 mile venues at Texas, Kansas and Charlotte plus the spring race at the massive Talladega Super Speedway. A tire test at either Texas or Kansas would be helpful. Testing at Talladega, with its high speed levels and tight racing, and Charlotte, with its annual 600 mile event, could turn out to be crucial.