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'Best-case scenario': Drivers supportive of tires

June 17, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com



'Best-case scenario': Drivers supportive of tires
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Hardly smooth sailing, but Goodyear's quick adjustment earns praise from drivers

For as much grief as Tony Stewart has given Goodyear over its choices of tires in seasons past, he was more than complimentary after Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Faced with increasing concerns over tires blistering at high speeds on the newly repaved two-mile oval, Goodyear and NASCAR agreed to have 1,200 replacement tires transported from North Carolina in time for a 75-minute practice Saturday night.

Don't tread on me


Tires were praised, then tossed, then replaced, then got mixed reviews. A look at the weekend for Goodyear.

There were some blistering and chunking problems reported during the event, but nothing close to what was predicted had harder left-side tires not been trucked in at the last minute. The original tires -- which were tested in April and uniformly applauded during testing and practice earlier in the weekend -- proved to be incredibly fast but couldn't dissipate enough heat to keep from blistering.

Marcos Ambrose won the pole at a speed not seen since the advent of the restrictor plate era, but NASCAR officials weren't willing to forsake safety. So Goodyear's crew had a hectic Saturday transporting the tires into the infield via pickup trucks and then having to mount hundreds of tires under a time pressure.

"We need to give 100 percent credit to Goodyear for this weekend," Stewart said after finishing second. "I mean, what they had to do ... Friday night, it was a hard decision to make. It was for the betterment of all of us as drivers and teams and for the sport.

"So every one of us needs to walk through the garage and stop at Goodyear and shake every one of their guys' hands."

Stewart's crew did report a right rear tire blister after his Lap 80 stop -- the longest green-flag run of the day up to that point. But as the race wore on, Stewart didn't seem to have any further issues, other than he couldn't maintain the same pace throughout an entire green-flag run.

Two top-five finishers did mention tire issues after they climbed from their cars: Greg Biffle, who finished fourth, and fifth-place Jimmie Johnson. Biffle was the fastest car on the track for much of the first half of the race, but started having to ease off the throttle in an effort to conserve tire wear.

"It's been a long time since I've had a car where I couldn't use all of it," Biffle said. "I could definitely run a lap time. I could run faster than the leaders even, but I just couldn't stay in the gas.

"I was burning the right rear up; I was chunking the right rear apart. So I just had to drive about 80 percent and take care of it. That hurts for a race car driver, because we want to just bury the gas pedal and go. But I just couldn't do it. I had to take care of the car to make it to the end."

Johnson started at the back of the pack after a pre-race engine change. He moved into the top 20 within 30 laps and cracked the top 10 with 50 laps remaining. It seemed like he might have a chance to chase down Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his Hendrick teammate.

But Johnson found himself not only fighting with tire problems but a fuel tank that was nearly empty.

"Man, we were coming," Johnson said. "We were really flying. And then I blistered the right rear again and had to just hang on and let some guys go.

"And then I ran out of fuel going into Turn 3 and coasted around and made it to the finish line."

Joey Logano wound up crashing out of the race, but admitted he had tire issues before that. Unlike Biffle and Johnson, his problems were with the right front tire.

"I was good, good, good, and then it blistered and then it started to chunk apart," Logano said. "We got lucky that we didn't blow a right front there. [We] just [are] going to have to come back and tire test and then come back with something else."

But problems weren't widespread. For third-place Matt Kenseth, the biggest issues came on cold tires.

"We really didn't have any tire problems," Kenseth said. "It was just hard for me on four new tires to restart. So I just had to keep two warm tires on it all the time. That was the biggest thing for me. I had no tire issues."

Jeff Gordon, who finished sixth, initially thought he had escaped the blistering issues. But a post-race inspection of his final set of tires showed some problems with the right rear, perhaps the reason why Gordon felt the handling of the car went off quickly over the final green-flag run.

But like Stewart, Gordon appreciated what the tire manufacturer handled what was a no-win situation.

"The track's just smooth and grippy, and it's going to be fast," Gordon said. "And there's not a tire in the world that can handle that. So today was the best-case scenario."

Watch the highlights from the Quicken Loans 400 here: