In tire tiff, myriad reasons for problems
March 25, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Bruce: Combination of factors the culprit for Fontana issues
When it comes to an issue involving two or more individuals in NASCAR, it's safe to assume the truth lies somewhere in between.
Flat tires stymied the efforts of at least a dozen teams at various times during Sunday's Auto Club 400.
Two or three teams having problems during the course of a race isn't unusual. When nearly one-third of the field suffers a similar fate, eyebrows get raised in a hurry.
But just because the same problem hit a larger number of teams, did that mean there was something wrong with the product -- in this case the tires supplied by Goodyear -- or was it simply a matter of more teams playing it fast and loose with things such as chassis setups and air pressures?
Probably a little bit of both.
Specific tire pressures are recommended but not regulated during a race. Lower air pressures provide additional grip, but can also hasten tire wear and lead to failure.
At Auto Club, Goodyear's race-day recommendation was 22 psi for the left front, 20 psi for the left rear. Some teams were running as low as 14 psi, according to at least one NASCAR official.
There were some drivers, however, who insisted there was no funny business taking place. Same air pressures as the year before, they said.
The compound and construction of the tires were the same as those run the previous year as well, according to Goodyear, so why the rash of incidents?
What changed were the cars. The combination of a new rules package and the continued development of the Generation-6 car have resulted in increased downforce and higher speeds this year. And that puts more strain on every piece of the car, including the tires.
Even the washboard-like backstretch of the 2-mile track bore some of the blame, according to those who may or may not have had fillings jarred loose at 200 mph.
Not everyone had tire problems. Race winner Kyle Busch ran in the top 10 for practically the entire race. If the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was "taking care of his equipment," he was doing so at an impressive pace.
Teammate Matt Kenseth also had no issues, starting on the pole and running in the top 10 for the duration.
Pushing the limits is a way of life in NASCAR, where teams have little tolerance for tolerances.
From the way the cars are built to the way they're driven, everything is pushed to the nth degree. If you aren't looking for any and every advantage, the guy who just passed you probably is.
It's not so different for Goodyear, tasked with the job of finding the perfect balance between tires that provide maximum grip with minimal wear. The tires can't be so soft that they don't last a full fuel run, nor can they be so hard that they have no grip.
But the fact that Goodyear seemed to expect similar results this year in spite of the increased forces being placed on cars shouldn't be ignored.
There's no way to guarantee that a one- or two-day tire test at Auto Club would have alerted Goodyear officials that there could be an issue with this year's tire selection. Race conditions are completely different from a tire test.
But the fact that the rules package has significantly altered the landscape would seem to indicate the need for some sort of on-track testing activity.
Goodyear officials monitored previous preseason tests with the new car, but their first official tire test takes place this week at Sonoma Raceway. The timing of the arrival of the rules package, they said, limited what they could do as far as testing and tire selection heading into the 2014 season.
That, of course, is of little comfort to those who fell by the wayside on Sunday.