It would have been easy to blame Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. for all the flats that occurred during the racing weekend at Auto Club Speedway.
For most, however, the blowouts really were a positive testament to NASCAR’s new focus on winning.
The sanctioning body said it was happy with the rubber compound used by Goodyear for the Auto Club 400. It was up to the teams to figure out how to keep them from coming apart.
Many teams went too far with aggressive setups and low tire pressures to gain an advantage. A lot of them lost the gamble.
Each race winner essentially gets a golden ticket into the Chase for the Championship in the fall. That’s why teams pushed past the edge with their strategies.
“By no means is this a problem for Goodyear,” Kurt Busch said. “It’s actually a thumbs up for NASCAR allowing the teams to get aggressive in all areas.”
NASCAR relaxed many of its restrictions on front-end suspensions.
Teams are allowed to drop the front bumper area as low as they want.
The risk they take is getting it so low it drags on the pavement.
Teams also are allowed to be creative with their alignments and air pressures. Most of the teams that had trouble had their left-side rear tires cambered to gain more traction in the turns. In simpler terms, the tires weren’t square to the ground with the top bowed out more than the bottom.
Another way to gain speed was to drop air pressure. Goodyear suggested a minimum pressure of 22 psi. Some teams ran half that much.
And many had flats.
With victories becoming so important, the rewards now out-weigh the risks.
“You’ve made your bed before the race starts,” Busch said.
Many argue it also puts success back in the hands of mechanics
“I would think that if you’re in this garage area you’re paid to be aggressive and you’d want to take everything to the limit,” said NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton. “We know that winning is going to trump everything this year, and I think guys are more aggressive.
“So if they had too much camber – they’ve got a lot of choices. So if they had too much and it abused the tire, that’s what happens.”
Kyle Busch’s team took a conservative approach with its setup. While Busch gave up a little bit of speed, he gained durability that led to a victory.
“You put 12 pounds in left sides and you’re going 200 miles an hour in California, you might have a left side tire problem,” said Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers. “That’s awful low.”
There were a dozen blowouts in practice leading up to the main event. There also were at least 10 more flats during the race, including race leader Jimmie Johnson.
Others who had tire problems were: Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Marcos Ambrose and two for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Although he was leading, Jeff Gordon said one of his tires was on the verge of coming apart at the end of the race. So he slowed down.
“We were having a tire issue there on that last long run and I just backed off,” Gordon said. “When I saw the No. 48 (Johnson) had issues I was just hoping we would make it to the end and I was just going as slow as I possibly could trying to maintain the lead and cars were just blowing tires left and right all around me.”
It certainly wasn’t a typical follow-the-leader finish that’s become all-too-familiar in the past couple years.
“I think the fans won today, too,” Kyle Busch said. “Holy cow, what do you expect when you get a green-white-checkered finish and everybody has to come down pit road for tires? That right there is a Days of Thunder thing right there. There were two laps to go and everybody is going to pit. Unbelievable day.”
More importantly, it might be an early signal that NASCAR’s greater emphasis on winning has everyone pushing even harder to the edge – and beyond.