Drivers voice opinions on tire issues at Fontana
March 23, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
FONTANA, Calif. -- Largely dependent on their final outcome in Sunday’s race, drivers were either fully satisfied with the tires supplied to them at Auto Club Speedway or extremely frustrated by the volatility.
By some estimates there were about 20 blown or flat tires in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 -- including four within one two-lap span late in the race. There was a similar rash of left side tire issues during Saturday’s practices, something Goodyear attributed to teams running air pressures much lower than the company recommended.
Race winner Kyle Busch said neither he nor his two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had any issues with tires.
“I don’t know what it’s a testament to, but our team believes it’s too low of air pressure and that’s what those were doing to get them to wear funny and essentially blow out during the run,’’ Busch said. “It’s sort of like playing with fire. If you pour too much gas on it or let too much air out of it, the thing is going to go boom.”
His crew chief, Dave Rogers, conceded he intentionally played it safe -- and was ultimately rewarded.
“I think we lacked some speed on the stopwatch and I was pretty confident that I could drop left-side air pressure and pick some of that speed up,’’ Rogers said. “But it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t worth putting the car in jeopardy, putting Kyle in jeopardy, so we played it conservative and today just worked out for us.’’
That’s exactly what Goodyear’s Director of Racing Tire Sales Greg Stucker suggested to teams following Saturday’s practice.
“It’s really no different than what we talked about yesterday in practice,’’ Stucker said Sunday. “The vast majority of issues today have been left rears although we’ve had some left fronts so obviously it’s the application of whatever particular suspension adjustments or settings are. Plus guys were being very, very aggressive with air pressures to get as much grip as possible. Given the situation, air pressure is the tool they can adjust. Some guys made the adjustments and others haven’t.’’
After the race, NASCAR’s Vice President for Competition Robin Pemberton said he was comfortable with the tire that Goodyear supplied and echoed the thought that teams had the flexibility to run the proper air pressures.
“Over the past few years we've been on a path to add mechanical grip, give more options to the teams,’’ Pemberton said. “We've opened up camber rules for grip in both the front and the rear of the car. They have a lot of tools to use if they choose to do so.
“But the tires weren't wearing. At some parts of the race the tires were abused a little bit, so I guess that's why the failures.’’
Jimmie Johnson was not among the group of drivers that had tire issues in practice. But unfortunately for the six-time champ, a problem arose at the worse possible time: while he was leading the race with six laps to go in regulation.
It is the second straight week Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy had a tire issue while running up front. He was running second at Bristol last week when a tire came apart.
“It's unfortunate since we were the leader at the race and looked like we were going to win at our home track,’’ Johnson said Sunday. “When anything happens (with tires), it's the team's fault and that's the standard response back to all of us when a tire goes down. I guess we're all at fault this weekend.
“We haven't had one problem all weekend long, from the practices through the race. (Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was giving me tire updates and all, that was the least amount of pressure I had because I had a nice margin on the 24 and was just kind of managing things up front. Really shocked to have a problem like that.
“I think there's maybe something bigger. These cars are much different this year, faster, and maybe that means they're more abusive on the tire and something needs to be addressed there. It seems like a few weeks in a row that there's been some issues. Maybe there's a bigger picture there that needs to be investigated.”
Penske driver Brad Keselowski would agree.
“There were a lot of reasons why we blew a tire today or two or five over the weekend and the field did,’’ said Keselowski, whose Penske Racing team had four blown tires in Saturday’s practice, too.
“I don’t know what to really say about it. As a driver you are left between the choice of driving your car to the limit and blowing a tire out or being a 'wuss' and saving it. I saved it as best as I could and probably, arguably, was not following the 100-percent rule until the last run. That is what you had to do. It was the box we were all forced into today.
“I pushed it hard on the last run and I was one of at least three guys that blew a tire. It was really unfortunate. If I didn’t push the car hard I wasn’t going to have a good day. It was a matter of who blew it first. “
Keselowski clarified on Twitter following the race that it wasn’t a matter of wear, but “more like massive unpredictable failures caused by increased demands” such as “greater heat, higher load and faster speeds created this season.’’
Pemberton acknowledged there were going to be some teams and drivers unhappy with Sunday’s tire situation, but expressed his confidence in Goodyear’s effort.
“We've talked to Goodyear,’’ Pemberton said. “We have asked, the competitors have asked, for them to bring more aggressive tires, to bring tires that they need to manage and want to ‑‑ how they use them and how they get the most out of them. At this point in time I think Goodyear, it's the same tire that we've run on in the past. Just the car is a little bit different.
“But as always, we'll get back and we'll look at it, but right now I think Goodyear has done a pretty good job with it."