By admin | March 21, 2010
By Richard Allen
As many races do, the Food City 500 at the Bristol Motor Speedway came down to tires. For that matter, tires played a major role over the course of the entire event.
On the last pit stop, which resulted in a restart with ten laps to go, Kurt Busch and his crew opted to change four tires as did Jimmie Johnsonâ€™s #48 team. The cars of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart were given only two tires in order to grab track position with such a short distance remaining. As it turned out, Johnsonâ€™s four tire gamble paid off with a victory. At the same time, Buschâ€™s four tire gamble resulted in a 3rd place finish after the #2 car had dominated much of the race.
The first place team is in somewhat of an unenviable position in regard to late race cautions. If they take two tires then get passed by someone who took four they will be second guessed. If they choose four tires and lose track position they will be second guessed. The second scenario is what happened with Buschâ€™s team.
Johnsonâ€™s crew chief, Chad Knaus, remarked after the race that his decision was an easy one. He figured his car would exit pit road somewhere between 4th and 8th spot but that the four new tires would provide enough traction to get around the drivers with two older tires.
As it turned out, the decision by Knaus proved to be the right call because Kensethâ€™s restart was a poor one, which held Busch up long enough for Johnson to get ahead of the #2 Dodge and go on to victory.
Besides the debate over how many tires should be taken, tires were a factor in todayâ€™s race in another way. Numerous cars blew right front tires throughout the day. And this is not the first weekend that has been true.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t mind one weekend without a blown tire,â€ Denny Hamlin remarked via twitter after the race. â€œSo far weâ€™re three for five.â€
Kyle Busch also blew a right front which sent his car bouncing off the outside wall. However, the younger Busch did not immediately blame tire manufacturer Goodyear after his incident. â€œI blew the tire out because Iâ€™ve had to be on the brakes too much,â€ he said with disgust over his in-car radio.
Last race in Atlanta there were tire issues as well as numerous tires that had worn down to the cords during long runs. In some cases the excessive wear caused unscheduled pit stops. Tire failures also led to accidents on the AMS track as well.
Some of the tire issues were attributed to punctures in Atlanta. No doubt, the tire issues in Bristol will be blamed on poor setups.
Whatever the cause, the last two races on the Sprint Cup schedule raise many of the same questions on the same issues as have been discussed before in recent NASCAR history.
Are the teams pushing the envelope a bit too much on setups and creating their own tire problems? Kyle Buschâ€™s comment today indicates that is at least a possibility.
Are the tires provided by Goodyear not up to the challenge? Weâ€™ve heard Tony Stewartâ€™s thoughts on that possiblity before.
Is the Car of Tomorrow part of the problem? Since the carâ€™s inception there have been numerous races in which tires have been at issue.
The fact is, the last two races have been among the best non-restrictor plate races NASCAR has had in some time. There has been good competition and excitement. Part of the reason for that has to be that the tires are finally allowing for enough grip that drivers can race rather than just hold on. So, it would seem as though it is up to the teams to find a way to get their cars to work around the tire as long as the tire is providing competitive racing.
As I have said so many times before, if NASCAR would get away from all the sameness they mandate and let teams have more freedom in areas such as shocks, springs and other aspects of car setups it would make for better racing and would allow for getting the most out of the tires. Then, the drivers and crews could come up with the combinations to allow for speed and safety.
Tires are a huge part of racing. The last couple of weeks have seen some tire failures but there has also been good competition and strategy. Hopefully, the latter can continue.
Follow @RacingWithRich on twitter.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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