Team Penske, others run into tire issues at Fontana
March 22, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
FONTANA, Calif. -- A rash of tire issues during Saturday’s final practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway forced Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. to back-up cars after blown tires put their cars into the wall and heightened concerns about tire performance for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
There were 10 tire issues Saturday -- including four for Team Penske alone. Chip Ganassi Racing driver Jamie McMurray had a similar tire problem in Friday’s opening practice.
Instead of turning laps, Logano spent much of Saturday’s final practice in his garage stall as the Penske squad surveyed the damage and ultimately decided to get the back-up No. 22 AAA Southern California Ford out. Instead of the seventh place starting position he earned in qualifying, Logano will roll off along with Truex from the rear of the grid.
“We have an issue, for sure; I’m really concerned,’’ said Logano, who didn’t get any practice in the back-up. “I had two of them [tires] go down today and [teammate] Brad (Keselowski) had two and now I have a new car.
“I am definitely concerned about tomorrow. I think Goodyear should be more concerned than I am. There are 43 of us out there that can have the issue.”
Goodyear engineers and executives were very visible Saturday, looking over the blown tires and discussing the situation with both drivers and crew members.
Goodyear Director of Race Tire Sales Greg Stucker addressed the concerns with reporters later in the afternoon and felt confident the problem came down to teams finding the right air pressures.
All of the incidents involved left side tires and came with teams admittedly running lower than the Goodyear-recommended 22-pounds of pressure in the left front and 20-pounds in the left rear. Lower air pressure creates more grip for the cars and helps their handling, but it also creates a delicate and volatile situation around the famously bumpy California 2-mile speedway.
“Everything we can glean from talking to the teams that have had issues is one common denominator: air pressure,’’ Stucker said. “And we recognize everyone tries to be as aggressive as possible here on air pressure. That’s always been the case and continues to be.
“Everyone that has had issues has been below our minimum pressures, but there are a lot of guys below our minimums making it work, too. So it’s not just air pressure, it’s whatever else is under the race car.
“It’s the same package we’ve run here for years. I think everyone is being aggressive and trying to get as much grip as possible.”
After practice concluded, team owner Roger Penske went into Brad Keselowski’s garage and the two managed a smile despite the challenging afternoon.
“I think we’re going to be fine,’’ Penske said. “This is part of racing. Just a matter of taking the time and making sure we get it right.’’
The situation is particularly frustrating for this team considering Keselowski -- who will start from the front row -- and Logano are considered race favorites. But like their leader, both drivers were optimistic about race day.
“I’m pretty concerned,’’ Keselowski allowed. “From the team side, it’s the same tire and same setup we used last year. But the cars are a lot faster and the loads a lot higher so we’re learning.
“Unfortunately today we learned the hard way, but that’s better than not learning at all and experiencing it on Sunday. We’ll get it figured out and be ready for tomorrow."