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Tire fiasco ruins Allstate 400, Johnson wins for 2nd time

by Tim Wohlford
Sunday, July 27, 2008

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Tires worn to the cord after just 3 laps.  During the race tires exploded at will

In a fiasco not worthy of Indy, Jimmie Johnson won the 2008 Brickyard 400.  Coming in second was Carl Edwards, followed by Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler.  Severe tire wear issues forced a competition caution every 10 laps for the entire race. 

There were a total of 11 cautions for a record 52 laps, limiting the race average speed to 115.117 mph, the second-slowest Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in history, slightly more than Wilbur Shaw's 1937 Indy 500-winning speed.

It happens.  Once in a while, a race will be scheduled only to find out mid-weekend that something is horribly wrong.  Pavement might come up (Michigan, 1991), or tires explode (Daytona, 1999 and Indy, 2005), or the formula simply wrong (Texas, 2001).  This weekend's Brickyard 400 was one such forgettable weekend, with tire wear problems preventing anything resembling a good race.  At a track where Firestone's IRL tires proved to be almost bulletproof, Goodyear brought a tire that dissolved into clouds of $1,704 (the cost of the lease for a set of tires) dust in as little as 3 laps.  Carl Edwards later commented that he only could go 80% in the 10-lap runs held today.

The night before the race, NASCAR announced that Goodyear brought its entire stock of Pocono tires -- which it also runs at Bristol -- to Indy, in case the tires they originally brought proved to be totally unworkable.  The plan presented by NASCAR to the teams was to have competition cautions on laps 10 and 20, with a red-flag stoppage -- and conversion en masse to Pocono tires -- should the tire be totally unworkable.  Each team had at least 10 sets for today's race, plus any left over from Saturday's practice, which means that the crews had to get 16 laps per set.  All of this was to be played out in front of NASCAR's largest race of the year in terms of attendance.

On lap 4, Michael Waltrip spun, collecting Paul Menard in the process.  Some teams elected to stay out, and pit during the next competition caution that was originally planned for lap 10 but got moved to lap 14.  Waltrip finished last in spite of returning to the track, while Menard finished 41st.

On lap 14, Kurt Bush lost the back end of his car in turn 4, and took out Kevin Harvick while spinning.  Junior and Leffler didn't pit in a gambit for position, but both quickly regretted that decision when the green flag flew again.  Earnhardt pitted for tires on lap 26, which answered any questions about how long tires would last.  Leffler likewise was forced to pit under green, and both fell one lap down.  Harvick finished 37th, Kurt finished 40th, Leffler 32nd, and Earnhardt 12th.

NASCAR promptly moved the competition caution to lap 30 to compensate, but a tire explosion by Juan Pablo Montoya as well as a tire problem by Mark Martin led to a caution on lap 28.  At this point, tires seemed to last around 12 laps before someone ran into problems.  Many of the right side tires that came off during this round of pit stops showed massive amounts of cords.  Montoya's quest to be a three-time Indy winner -- once each in Indy, F1 and NASCAR -- was finished, and he wound up 39th.

The competition caution flag flew on lap 47, just as Matt Kenseth's right rear tire exploded.  Mark Martin was forced to pit a lap earlier with tire problems, but this proved to be an advantage since he didn't fall a lap down in the process.  Once again many of the teams reported at least one tire with cords showing, including most of the top teams.  NASCAR promptly called another competition caution for lap 64, only 10 laps after the green flag flew.  As it turned out, the 10-lap run was to be the standard for the rest of the day.  Kenseth finished 38th, and Martin 31st.

The race went without incident to lap 64, and tire wear didn't get any better.  NASCAR announced that teams would not be allowed to use the harder Pocono tires once they were down to two sets of tires.  Most teams reported 4-5 sets left when the green flag flew on lap 70, trying to hang on until the next competition caution on lap 81.

Long forgotten was the running order -- at the halfway mark it was Jimmie Johnson, followed by Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, AJ Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler, and that is how they ran when the competition lap flew on lap 81.  At the stop, the tires were completely worn, and it was again obvious that tire wear still wasn't improving as the race progressed.  The average race speed, with all of the cautions, remained around 115 mph, which is a speed that the open wheel cars averaged when Eddie Rickenbacker owned IMS.  Certainly no teams were running at full speed at this point, since there was little chance of going a lap down in only 10 laps, and a large chance of crashing if the tire wear wasn't managed.  After the race, Carl Edwards commented that he only could go 80% in the 10-lap runs held today.

The green flag flew on 87, with the next caution scheduled for lap 97.  Martin Truex and Carl Edwards were first-second in a 2-tire gambit, but quickly faded once the race resumed.  Tony Stewart also tried a 2-tire stop, and he quickly faded from his top-5 position.  NASCAR also started closing the pits before competition cautions to prevent road race-style gambits for early pitting.  Bobby Labonte's front right tire didn't even make the 10 laps, and was forced to pit shortly before the caution.  Gales of laughter were heard in the press area when Goodyear advertised on the ESPN their "track-tested technology."

At lap 100, track officials extended the cautions as they swept up the rubber dust in order to keep it out of the radiators of the cars.  The rubber were not the infamous "marbles" of most other races, but rather something more like dust, looking all the world like brake dust or black desert sand when it blew around the track. 

The green flag flew on lap 106, but came out just as quickly as Brian Vickers' motor blew up in turn 1.  Average speed at restart was around 111 mph on lap 111, with a competition caution scheduled for 25 miles down the road.

All day long the two cars to beat were Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.  They'd been the class of the field all weekend, and they seemed to effortlessly move back to the front when anyone tried a 2-tire stop.  Also hanging around the front was Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and AJ Allmendinger.  Allmendinger finished 10th, and it seems as though he's now strongly on track to become a top NASCAR driver in the near future. 

Notable for their absence from the top five was the Gibbs cars, who seemed to have permanent residence in the second five except for 2-tire gambits.  When the race was re-racked for another 10 lap run (lap 128), Denny Hamlin was in the lead with one such gambit.  To the surprise of everyone he managed to actually stretch the lead on Jimmie Johnson. 

Some have accused of NASCAR of manufacturing a shootout at the end of some races, but in this case, there was no doubt.  The green flew again on lap 140, with NASCAR announcing that the final competition caution would come on lap 150, resulting in a 6-7 lap shootout.  Incredibly, the amount of tire dust at this late stage was equal to the start of the race, with tire wear scarcely better than practice the day before. 

Jimmie Johnson leads his teammate Jeff Gordon
The last pit stop showcased the true heroes of today's event -- the pit crews who endured hot, humid Indiana weather, breathing tons of tire dust as they performed tire changes every 10 laps.  When the dust settled, Jimmie Johnson came out first, followed by Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, and Elliott Sadler, and the crowd rose to their feet for the green on lap 154, arguably the only racing of the day.  Edwards made it close, but Johnson showed that he was the class of the field.  In a fitting end to the race, the weekend's best car/driver won, and the rear tires on Johnson's car blew during the burnout.

"The first three-quarters of the race, it seemed that we could really run any pace that we needed to and pass guys, kind of control the race," Johnson said. "But at the end, I don't know if the No. 11 and No. 99 were just kind of waiting for the right time to get aggressive with their race pace. Those guys really matched our pace and were tough to race with.

"I was behind the No. 11. I thought I could get by him maybe two stops from the end. I blistered the right rear tire, wore it out trying to get by him. Chad (Knaus, No. 48 crew chief) had a great strategy to keep four tires on the car, keep those left sides as fresh as possible. I got up to, I guess, second or third for that last pit stop, we had an awesome pit stop, got us out, off we went.

"Carl put a lot of pressure on me at the end there. I have to commend him, how hard he was driving. I think it was a good race there at the end. Those last seven laps were white-knuckle, to say the least."

At the end of the race, a Goodyear representative was swarmed in a media frenzy in the press room.  Obviously they can talk about the difficulties of running at Indy, but the truth remains that their reputation suffered a blow even greater than Tony Stewart's condemnation of their tires earlier in the year.  Domestically, it is far worse than the 2005 Michelin F1 fiasco at Indy. 

NASCAR moves to Pocono for next Sunday's Pennsylvania 500.

Notes

- In 1939, Wilbur Shaw won the Indy 500 with an average speed very close to today's winning speed.  Two years previous, he'd run only slightly slower in his 1937 win.  These were the years described as the "junkyard formula" years. 

- You can't hide 'em.  Perhaps more than any previous NASCAR event at Indy, the empty seats were obvious even to TV commentators.  NASCAR has had trouble selling out events over the past 2 years, even before fuel prices went to $4 per gallon.  Word in the press room is that only Bristol is a sellout these days. 

- Likewise, the number of media seemed to be down as well.  Indy's press room was only about 70% full, including lots of spots reserved to people who didn't show for one reason or the other.  Many outlets are downsizing staffs and slashing travel budgets, and NASCAR makes Indy a challenge to cover if you're not one of the broadcast media. 

- Assuming that teams used 22 sets of tires this weekend, the cars that made the race racked up a total tire bill of over $1.6 million for the weekend. 

Results

FIN

ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 1 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 195/10 160 Running
2 9 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 175/5 160 Running
3 23 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Office 170/5 160 Running
4 6 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Stanley 165/5 160 Running
5 8 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 155/0 160 Running
6 5 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont 155/5 160 Running
7 4 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser / LifeLock 146/0 160 Running
8 12 16 Greg Biffle Ford DISH Network / DishDVRs 142/0 160 Running
9 32 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Prilosec OTC 143/5 160 Running
10 26 84 A.J. Allmendinger Toyota Red Bull 139/5 160 Running
11 2 8 Mark Martin Chevrolet U.S. Army 130/0 160 Running
12 11 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard / AMP Energy 132/5 160 Running
13 3 12 Ryan Newman Dodge Alltel 124/0 160 Running
14 16 6 David Ragan Ford AAA Insurance 121/0 160 Running
15 19 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 123/5 160 Running
16 27 43 Bobby Labonte Dodge Cheerios / Totino's Pizza Rolls 115/0 160 Running
17 22 41 Reed Sorenson Dodge Target 112/0 160 Running
18 15 10 Patrick Carpentier * Dodge Sears Auto Center / Valvoline 109/0 160 Running
19 40 07 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Jack Daniel's 106/0 160 Running
20 20 38 David Gilliland Ford FreeCreditReport.com 103/0 160 Running
21 38 77 Sam Hornish Jr. * Dodge Mobil 1 100/0 160 Running
22 24 147 Marcos Ambrose Ford Little Debbie 97/0 160 Running
23 14 20 Tony Stewart Toyota The Home Depot 94/0 160 Running
24 25 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Cub Cadet 96/5 160 Running
25 35 66 Scott Riggs Chevrolet State Water Heaters 93/5 160 Running
26 31 5 Casey Mears Chevrolet CARQUEST / Kellogg's 85/0 160 Running
27 43 45 Terry Labonte Dodge Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil 82/0 160 Running
28 36 78 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet Furniture Row/ DenverMattress.com 79/0 160 Running
29 39 96 J.J. Yeley Toyota DLP HDTV 76/0 160 Running
30 33 44 David Reutimann Toyota UPS 73/0 160 Running
31 42 01 Regan Smith * Chevrolet Principal Financial Group 75/5 160 Running
32 21 70 Jason Leffler Chevrolet Hunt Brothers Pizza 67/0 160 Running
33 29 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Johns Manville / Menards 64/0 160 Running
34 41 22 Dave Blaney Toyota Caterpillar 66/5 160 Running
35 30 00 Michael McDowell * Toyota Champion Mortgage 63/5 160 Running
36 28 28 Travis Kvapil Ford Hitachi Power Tools 60/5 160 Running
37 18 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 52/0 147 Running
38 10 17 Matt Kenseth Ford DEWALT 49/0 143 Running
39 13 42 Juan Montoya Dodge Big Red Slim Pack 46/0 124 In Pit
40 7 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 43/0 118 Running
41 37 15 Paul Menard Chevrolet Johns Manville / Menards 40/0 117 Running
42 17 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 42/5 93 Out of Race
43 34 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA AUTO PARTS 34/0 90 Running

Quotes

BRIAN VICKERS (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota): "We never can afford to take a points hit. It's a tough day out there. The Red Bull team blew an engine. We dropped a cylinder. They tried to take the parts out so we could continue to run, but it didn't last. I've got to stop and just apologize to the fans. We got some awesome, awesome fans that come out here and watch these races. I don't want to point the finger at anybody; it's a culmination of a lot of things that took place today that caused the problem we're seeing with the tires. We as a sport should have done better. I'm embarrassed; I'm sure a lot of people are. But we appreciate everybody staying here today, watching the race and sticking behind us."

JAMIE McMURRAY (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford): "It is just frustrating. They said the track was getting better in Happy Hour, but we didn't see that. It never really did take rubber, so I got really mad in the middle because they were letting us run until the tires were blowing up. I was like, 'You can't put us in that situation.' You have to throw the tire before we blow a tire because if someone gets hurt we could have prevented that. Thankfully, they let us run about 12 laps, and then they'd throw the caution. Just about every time the caution would come out, the lap before I would be like, 'I am done.' There it is. That's an odd way to race." (Was that a race for the fans?): "I don't know. I didn't watch it. I drove it, so it would be hard for me to say. Certainly, that wasn't the right tire. They've been critical of Goodyear at Atlanta, but at least at Atlanta we could drive our cars and run more than 10 laps. I'm just shocked they did a tire test and this is what they ended up with." (Should this track be a mandatory test?): "I think that is a good idea, because if we can get 40 to 50 cars here, they could lay enough rubber down and know if they are going to have this problem again."

PATRICK CARPENTIER (No. 10 Valvoline Dodge): (About the amount of cautions): "We had no choice. At one point, I was like, 'Just let us run, and if we feel a vibration we'll come in (to the pits).' A lot of guys would have kept crashing anyway. They had no choice. They wanted to run the race so the fans get a finish. They are going to work on it. Either they need to work on the track or the tires a little bit more, but they'll get it figured out. With that car, it is very hard. The center of gravity is so high that it kills the car." (Does your team ever prepare for a scenario like today?): "No. I'm proud of my guys. The car was fantastic. The Sears Auto Center/Valvoline Dodge was fast. The guys did a great job in the pits all day. I was really proud of them. They kept moving me forward every time. It was good because we'd move forward. It gave me some practice with the pit stops. I hope for the fans it wasn't too bad. I don't think it was all Goodyear's fault. They were good to run the race. They had some spare tires, and everybody made it to the end. It was a bit boring, but at least the end was exciting. It was good for them."

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 42 Wrigley's Big Red Slim Pack Dodge): "We were unlucky. We blew a right rear tire and that was it."

CASEY MEARS (No. 5 Kellogg's-Carquest Chevrolet): "We just had a long day. Tires were blowing out left and right, and you couldn't really pass. We just got stuck in the back and never really made any ground."

MARK MARTIN (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet): "It was frustrating. It wasn't bad, because they started to throw the cautions soon enough. At the beginning, it wasn't soon enough. But at the end, they started throwing it sooner. And of course we got caught twice, but after they got the hang of it and saw that it was going to take 10 lap runs only, it was OK." (About getting into rhythm when there are so many stops): "It's unfortunate that it worked out that way. I hate it for this U.S. Army team. We had a monster motor in there today and we had a great race car. Probably a top-five car. Probably nothing for Jimmie Johnson, so I wasn't going to be able to back up my prediction, but we had a lot better car than we finished because we pushed a little hard a little soon and got caught twice out on tires, and we had to pit under the green. It was just hard to make your way back up through there." (About who's to blame for poor racing): "Everybody did the best they could today. There is no blame. Everybody did the best they could. It's an unfortunate circumstance."

KASEY KAHNE (No. 9 Budweiser/Lifelock Dodge): "We had one of the exhaust pipes break coming off of the engine. We lost a lot of power, but that's the way it goes. I wish we could have run 30 laps straight, but we couldn't today. It seemed like all of the teams did a great job taking care of that, especially our Budweiser team. I feel like they did awesome all day. There's nothing you can do about it now, and everyone did awesome for what we were dealt with. When they do another tire test, they should probably learn something from it instead of bringing us back on something that you can't race on."

TRAVIS KVAPIL (No. 28 HITACHI Power Tools Ford): "For the first half of the race, we were just trying to survive and make sure that we were there at the end of the day. We worked on the car, but we never really got the car any better. Track position is really critical, and we were just kind of caught in the back. It's really a big disappointment for our 28 team. It wasn't very good racing, that's for sure. NASCAR really didn't do a very good job in getting prepared for this race."

A.J. ALLMENDINGER (No. 84 Red Bull Toyota): "My crew chief made great calls all day. He kept me up front, which was key. Once we got up there, the car was pretty good. The last stop, we lost a couple of spots, which hurt us on the restart. Once we got back in that 10th-place range, it was really hard to do anything. All around, it was a great day. It was good for points, and now we go to Pocono, where we had a good race earlier this year. It's a little frustrating that we couldn't run for 30 laps straight, but I made most of my time in the last couple of laps when guys were really hurting their tires. It's just the race you have to race. In some ways, it's tough, but everybody's doing the same thing. You just have to figure out the right strategy, which Jimmie (Johnson) did, and just stay up front all day. The last two laps of each run were not fun. I was hanging on and praying that the right rear didn't blow out. The first eight laps were fun, but the last two laps weren't as fun."

ELLIOTT SADLER (No. 19 Stanley Dodge): "This is a great weekend for us to bring a new car here and qualify sixth, and run in the top seven or eight the whole day. I actually got pushed back to 13th or 14th with 40 laps to go and passed a lot of cars to come back to the front. I'm just proud of my guys. It's pretty cool to come out with a new car, and get a good run in a Stanley Dodge. We've had a lot of bad luck for Stanley this year. I'm so proud of my guys to finish a good race here at the Brickyard."

DALE EARNHARDT JR. (No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet): "I've never seen nothing like it. But I was glad that it got finished with relatively no chaos. NASCAR did what they had to do. I was proud of the way NASCAR handled it. I mean, that was the only way we could put on a race today. People are going to complain it didn't go the way it was supposed to go down. But with the way things were today, that was the best NASCAR could do. It was actually kind of a fun show, I'm sure, to watch. We weren't seeing the tires come in, and we weren't seeing that track come in. The tires were still going about 10 laps, maybe 12 at the end. But they did what was right and I'm proud of them." (About his race): "I thought we had the lucky dog the first time. I feel like we should have got it. The guy on pit road got it and had a flat tire. When the lights come on and he ain't even a lap down, I don't know how that works. We were running out of time trying to get through the pack. The car was really, really good in the middle part of the race. We made some changes in lieu of the tire situation that hurt the car, especially in the traffic. We should have left it alone. The track got better in the late hours of the day, and a lot of shade came in to the front straightaway. You could keep the right sides in the shade all the way down the front straightaway. We should have probably left it alone. I think we had a few flats. I don't think it was just one. That was terrible at the start of the race. That was very, very frustrating. But there was no way around it. I helped tire test here. Blame it all on me if you want to. But when I was here they were wearing out five laps, too."

RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 Alltel Dodge): "It was a ridiculous race. There was no racing involved other than the mandatory cautions, which was ridiculous."

JEFF BURTON (No. 31 Prilosec OTC Chevrolet): "We struggled really hard in practice. Early in the race, we were really good. The slower the pace, the better we were. I think the sun kind of going behind the clouds and the pace picking up there at the end wasn't what we needed. Our car just doesn't have speed."

GREG BIFFLE (No. 16 Dish Network Ford): "It was pretty good. We got really loose the middle part of the race, three-quarters of the way through, and lost all of our track position and fought there at the end to get back to finish eighth. We had a little better car than that. We're happy with the top 10." (About the tire situation): "Goodyear is in a tough position. One thing we ought to keep in mind is we keep making these cars faster and faster and faster. And it's Goodyear's job to slow it down. They had a tire that was a second-and-a-half a lap faster, but NASCAR and everybody doesn't want us going that fast. There are certain speeds that these cars race good at. Long story short: They're having to control the speed and try and get us a tire that'll stay under us." (Have you ever driven in a race like this?): "Yeah, Charlotte was like that. Not so many (competition yellows), but it was a shorter track so probably about the same amount of mileage. About every 20 laps, we had to put tires on. It all depended on how you drove. If you drove real hard, you'd cord 'em. If you drove easy, it wouldn't be so bad. That's what it was like today." (Was there anything else that could have been done?): "Maybe something they could have done is let us pit under green or something like that to give the fans a little more show or something. That might have been an option."

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet): "I've never seen anything like this. I really hate that it happened at the Brickyard. It's such a big race. I think all of us are disappointed with what happened here today. It was a great eight-lap shootout there at the end. I hate we didn't get the track position we needed there at the end. That hurt us. I felt like we were as good as Jimmie, but we were really a second-place car because they had the track position. They had that number-one pit stall, and it was hard to beat those guys with that." (What do you make of the tire situation?) "It's embarrassing, and it's disappointing. I don't know where to start, really. We've got ourselves into a position here where obviously something's going to have to be done."

SAM HORNISH JR. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge): "The big thing for me was just continuing to move forward. I felt like I raced pretty hard today, maybe a little bit more so than some of the other guys. At the end, we pretty much held our own". (Is that the dirtiest you've ever been coming out of a race car?): "Dirtiest on asphalt, I'm sure of that. Can't even wipe you're eyes off because you have all of this black stuff all over you. It is what it is." (Comparing this to his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2000): "First time with an IndyCar, I didn't even finish, so it's a lot better than that. I think we had a little bit better car than where we finished. We'll improve on it and it will be better next year."

MATT KENSETH (No. 17 DeWalt Ford): (How bad out there was it?): "It was bad. It was actually embarrassing, it really was. I apologize to the fans. You can't really blame NASCAR. After yesterday, we knew this was probably how it was going to be. We knew it wasn't going to get any better. We knew we could only run about seven or eight laps on the tires. I don't know what they could have done differently. They did the best with the situation they were in. We knew it was going to be like this yesterday." (How do you change your strategy for the last races?): "Well, we won't really change it. We will run as hard as we can. We had a really great car today; it was just harder to run right rears than other people. There wasn't really anything we could do about it (today). It was the tires' fault. Didn't see much of a race today, so just kind of disappointed right now."

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 43 Cheerios/Totinos Dodge): (About the tire situation): "Well, we used a lot of them. It was hard for us to get in a rhythm and race, so for us it wasn't very good because you'd run 10 laps and I'd just start screaming because the right rear tire was gone. And I'd look at the 26 tire, I could see it, and I said, 'What's mine look like?' and they said, 'Like the 26 tire.' And I went, 'OK, that's all I need to know,' because his looked bad enough. So you just couldn't get in a rhythm. It was unfortunate that it happened that way." (About your race): "Finished 26th, got caught on pit road for speeding, went back to 34th, came back to 16th here at the end. We had a better car than that most of the day. We just lost track position. We had one set of tires that just gave up on us." (Have you ever had a race like this?): "No, that was a first. You can't race. Well, you can race for 10 laps, and then you just scream because the tires are fixing to blow out. Not very good, not very fun."

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