RELATED: Watkins Glen race results
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Elton Sawyer, NASCAR Vice President of Officiating and Technical Inspection, said Sunday morning that the odd explosion involving Derrike Cope's car Saturday at Watkins Glen International was a result of excessive brake heat with little place to escape forcing a dramatic tire failure.
Cope's No. 70 Chevrolet slowed to a stop in a cut-through area at the 2.45-mile road course's chicane during Saturday's Zippo 200 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The front end of the car then sustained severe damage in the blowout, sending up a cloud of brake dust and bringing out the last of the race's eight caution flags.
NASCAR competition officials impounded the car after the race, with Sawyer -- who was named to his post July 12 -- and XFINITY Series director Wayne Auton investigating the issue alongside Goodyear tire engineers in the Watkins Glen garage.
Sawyer said that Cope's No. 70 had made contact with another car one or two laps before the incident, causing a vibration and brake issue on his car's right-front corner. When his brake pedal started to lose its effect, Cope indicated he was looking for a place to pull off the course.
The contact broke the brake caliper where it attached to the spindle, Sawyer said, creating excessive heat to melt the bead on the right-front tire's inner sidewall.
"As soon as the vehicle comes to a stop, you've got all that radiant heat and it's just sitting there at the soft point of the sidewall, which is where it basically explodes," Sawyer said.
Sawyer said that NASCAR did not take the car back to its Research & Development Center in North Carolina, releasing the car to the team after at-track investigation and adding that competition officials would review the issue further.
"We'll look into it as we always do," Sawyer said. "We'll get back and get with the guys at the R&D Center and say, 'here's what happened.' We've got plenty of photographs and documentation, so we'll look into it. But I think it's when you're at a high-speed place where there's high braking, like a Martinsville, we see beads all the time. The situation here was when the vehicle came to a stop, there's no air moving, so it's probably the biggest issue."
Cope was evaluated and released from the infield care center after the incident.
"In 35 years of racing, I don't think I've ever seen that transpire before," Cope told NBCSN after Saturday's evaluation. "We were just trying to survive and get through this thing so next week we could kind of work on this thing. I lost the brake pedal going into Turn 1, and I knew something happened to a piston or whatever so I just went easy down there and got off the end down there and started coming to a stop, and the whole thing just blew the hood off. And I don't know really what it was. It looked like the shocks were all intact and the tires were up, so I don't know really what exploded."
The incident was also a new one on Sawyer, too, who competed for parts of 20 seasons in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
"That may be the first," Sawyer said. "We see tires blow all the time, but they're at speed, they go down, so we don't usually see it in a static situation like that."