Don’t Blame Goodyear

by March 24, 2014

Whether it be on the racing surface or on social media applications, Goodyear took a hefty thrashing during and after the Auto Club 400.

Throughout the entirety of the race weekend, the Goodyear Eagles used on the Sprint Cup cars were going flat at a rather alarming rate. The wear on the tires was so severe during Sunday’s race that individual cars would hit pit road a dozen times throughout the 200-lap event.

Which brings about the question – is Goodyear really to blame for the on-track adversities in Fontana?

The answer? A resounding no. All angry mob members may now drop their pitchforks and put out their torches.

The tire compound that the manufacturer brought to the track for usage this weekend was the same used for last year’s Auto Club 400. Last year’s race was the sixth-generation car’s first ever visit to Fontana and yet barely any dramatics involving the tires took place.

So, what changed?

Over the course of the off-season, NASCAR made rule changes that effected the downforce on the cars, changing the size of the rear spoiler and making changes to the suspensions the cars had. The greater amounts of downforce on the vehicles puts a heavier load on the tires, increasing the rate of wear.

NASCAR has also become more lenient on regulating the air pressure and camber of the tires, allowing crew chiefs to make rather aggressive changes to the setup of the tires.

Despite there being no limit to the amount of air pressure a tire could have, Goodyear issued a warning to all teams that the recommended minimum amount of air pressure on the left-side tires be 22 pounds per square inch. For some teams, the warning fell on deaf ears as some teams took to running air pressure levels half of that.

“I think everyone is trying to be aggressive and get as much as grip as possible,” Goodyear’s Greg Stucker said on Saturday. “A couple of guys had more problems than others.”

Kurt Busch was one of those drivers to have a tire problem in practice, though his team would learn from their practice issue and later switch to a more conservative approach for Sunday. The change paid off greatly for the No. 41 team as they would go on to finish third in the race.

“We were lucky, we had our tire problem with two minutes to go in practice yesterday, and that allowed us to go into a conservative approach overnight,” Busch said. “I’m glad that we had that. Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise to blow a tire and to not pay a penalty by spinning and wrecking your primary car.”

Issues plagued many drivers throughout the day, including the past four 2014 race winners – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and Carl Edwards. Jimmie Johnson had to pit from the lead on lap 193 for a left front tire that went flat on him after leading for over the half the race.

While drivers such as Keselowski and Jeff Gordon pointed the finger at the tires, Earnhardt Jr. had his eye on a different suspect, the race track itself.

“To be honest with you, the back straightaway is very rough and I think the tire can’t handle the load that it goes through on that back straightaway,” this year’s Daytona 500 said. “And it’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together.”

Through its 18 years of operating as a circuit on the NASCAR calendar, Auto Club Speedway has never gone through a repaving. The lack of a repave has allowed for multiple grooves to be made into the race track but has also made for a rather bumpy ride around the entire track, not just the back straightaway. The rough nature of the track also eats away at the tires throughout the course of a run.

For some fans, a single culprit is needed to point the finger at in this week’s edition of the NASCAR blame game. However, there isn’t just one single person/thing to blame for the number of tire failures during the race; it’s more a mixture of several different variables.

The brunt of the blame, however, should be laid at the feet of the crew chiefs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the crew chiefs are merely doing their job – setting up a race car to go as fast as legally possible. Yes, it is the technical equivalent of playing with fire by making adjustments such as running incredibly low air pressures or using near-maximum amounts of grille tape during qualifying runs, but it’s with these risks that brings the reward of success.

Motorsport has been run on the concept of risk equals reward since the very first races were held in the late-19th century. Thus, should we really fault the race teams themselves for continuing on their never-ending pursuit for speed?

Logically, it makes a lot more sense to do that than to blame it on a tire that worked perfectly fine last year.