Tires were the word of the day Sunday as several contenders suffered issues during the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Auto Club 400 in Fontana California. The issues actually began to show during practices earlier in the weekend as Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. were among those suffering tire issues prior to the actual race.
Sunday the issues arose early. On lap 18 Kevin Harvick lost a left rear tire forcing the first of seven cautions, at least five of which were related to tire issues. Others suffering blown tires included Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and with only a few laps to go, race leader Jimmie Johnson who lost a tire, the lead and the race. Brad Keselowski suffered tire issues twice Sunday and finished 26th. Despite Goodyear officials indicating that the issues were being caused by teams who used aggressive setups and air pressure, Keselowski seemed to put the blame on the tire manufacturer.
“If air pressure was the issue then it is a pretty simple fix,” Keselowski said Sunday after the race. “You just enforce a minimum rule”
“If air pressure was the issue we would have blown this many tires last year because it is all the same air pressure settings as last year,” he added. “ If anything we were more conservative after the issues yesterday. I am not going to say it wasn’t a factor but at the end of the day you can’t add 500-600 pounds of down force to a race car along with a track that has bumps like you are on a freeway in Michigan. The tires just aren’t made for it. There is not enough margin in the cars and tires to do that and that is what we saw today.”
Keselowski said the issues seen Sunday might not be over.
“This tire didn’t have any margin,” Keselowski said. “We have probably a half a dozen tires remaining that have no margin and I would expect similar issues through the season. No margin from last year and we have increased the demand significantly. If you are going to fix it you either have to change the margin on the tire or put the cars back to their configuration last year where they were less harsh on the tires.”
Jeff Gordon also fell victim to the issues. After Johnson lost a tire and Gordon inherited the lead, he was ahead by three seconds. Around him cars began to lose tries and finally with only two laps to go, Clint Bowyer spun bringing out the final caution and erasing Gordon’s lead. He finished the day 13th and put the blame squarely on Goodyear.
“I hate Goodyear was not prepared today for what happened,” Gordon said. “They are so good at what they do and that is just uncalled for. We were having a tire issue there on that last long run and I just backed off. When I saw the No. 48 had issues I was just hoping we would make it to the end and I was just going as slow as I possibly could trying to maintain the lead and cars were just blowing tires left and right all around me. It’s unfortunate that was happening.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered tire issues. He brought out the second caution while running in ninth after he hit the wall in turn 2 on lap 41 with a flat left front tire. He finished the day 12th. Earnhardt said the problems stemmed not from the tires, but from the track itself.
“To be honest with you, the back straightaway is very rough and I think the tire can’t handle the load that it goes through on that back straightaway,” Earnhardt said. “And it’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together. There ain’t another race track on the circuit besides Kentucky that has bumps like that. They’re incredible huge, huge bumps. And I think that plays a big role in it because the tire must see astronomical loads through that section of the race track that it never sees any other time at any other circuit.”
“So, I don’t think it’s good to cycle a tire through bumps like that,” he added.” I think that’s why the tire comes apart. I think that’s why a left rear here and a left front there and it’s not air pressure and things like that. We’re moving air pressure around and it ain’t saving the tire. There’s bumps on the back straightaway that get worse and worse.”
Earnhardt said the solution might be for the track to repave the backstretch and get rid of the bumps.
“I feel bad for Goodyear. I think the tire is fine. I like the tire. It’s just those bumps,” Earnhardt said. “If you watch the cars go through there in slow motion, it shouldn’t be like that.
“And grinding them, they tried to grind them and they’re huge. You’d have to grind into the ground into the dirt to get those damn things to move,” he added laughing.
Kurt Busch suffered no issues Sunday and finished third. He also said that Goodyear isn’t to blame and the solution could be to have NASCAR step in set some limits.
“Goodyear is doing a good job,” Busch said. “It's the same type of tire. But here's what we have. We have faster cars, more downforce, and NASCAR is allowing us to put whatever cambers we want into the cars, and therefore it's up to the team's discretion if you're going to have a problem or not. I've been in this game 15 years, and normally NASCAR mandates what certain air pressures you have to run and what cambers you have to run not to have a black eye for Goodyear, by no means is this problem for Goodyear, it's actually a thumbs up for NASCAR allowing the teams to get aggressive in all areas.”