NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR, Goodyear bricked this one bad

INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson won the Allstate 40 at the Brickyard.

At least I think there was 40 miles of green-flag racing. I went for coffee during the green-flag periods so I wouldn't miss any scintillating tire changes.

Racing understatement of the year: It was not a good day for NASCAR on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One reporter, while questioning a NASCAR vice president, called the race a disaster. I won't go that far. The term disaster should be reserved for floods, hurricanes, Lindsay Lohan's love life, that sort of thing.

But this was definitely a fiasco. The tires provided by Goodyear for the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard disintegrated every dozen laps or so. They failed to “rubberize” the Speedway's track so that subsequent tires could last longer. And they ultimately forced NASCAR to rely heavily on competition yellows.

Competition yellows were used to slow the race down in the interest of safety and to keep drivers from having to finish the second half of the race pedaling their cars barefoot like Fred Flintstone.

“It made for a long and slow day, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.

If it's a long and slow day for the winner, imagine how the other drivers and their fans felt.

Some fans felt robbed, and rightfully so, since the longest stretch of green-flag racing was 12 laps. There was a parade lap. Then there was a parade race.

NASCAR put out the competition yellows periodically until the very end, leaving a scant seven laps (a little more than 17 miles) for the sprint to the finish. Johnson, who won the pole, used the opportune spot of the first pit stall to his advantage and held off Carl Edwards to win his second Brickyard race.

Johnson and his crew deserve credit for analyzing the oddity of the situation, figuring out how best to deal with it, and making the right calls to win.

NASCAR has exactly one year to fix this before it loses credibility. The blame lies first with Goodyear, certainly. It designed the tires with the assurance they would work well, especially as the day wore on. But blame should also be directed at NASCAR, along with its team owners, for not requiring more extensive testing.

The car (formerly the Car of Tomorrow) being used by NASCAR had not run previously at the Speedway, except for limited testing, including some laps by Johnson's teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The new car puts a heavier load on the right side tires, causing quicker wear, especially at the banked Brickyard. Everyone involved made an educated guess that the tires would “rubberize” the track as the race went on, allowing longer runs on the tires. But the tires turned to relative dust instead.

“I've never seen anything like this,” four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon said. “I really hate that it happened here at the Brickyard, it's such as big race.” Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition, said he would not put the blame solely on Goodyear. He also disagreed with the suggestion that the Speedway needed to alter the surface. A similar tire issue led to a six-car U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race in 2005, where 14 teams refused to participate because of tire-safety concerns.

Goodyear's director of race tire sales Greg Stucker said he didn't yet have an answer about why the NASCAR tires didn't last as anticipated. Give him points for honesty, at least.

Speedway president Joie Chitwood said the facility would be made available for more testing if needed. It's needed.

“It's fair to say we won't do the same thing next year we did this year,” Pemberton said. “It's fair to say we'll put our best foot forward and do a better job.” Johnson realized, as the post-race interviews continued, that this year's race might end up being remembered for something other than his second win.

Johnson said he felt there was some good racing in the event. Again, that might have been while I was getting coffee. The media room only had 6-ounce cups and it took nearly two minutes to return to my seat.

“I don't know who won that one with six cars,” Johnson said of a Formula One race with a limited field that was held at Indianapolis, “but the trophy's at his house and he's a happy man. This is going to be sitting at my house, and I'm a happy man.”

Michael Schumacher won the infamous F1 race. But the U.S. Grand Prix was never the same, and it's no longer part of the Indy scene.

The public relations hit on NASCAR won't be as heavy. All qualified cars competed, there was a final sprint to the finish and Johnson kissed the bricks in traditional style. It still looked like a race from time to time.

Next year, however, NASCAR must be ready when the rubber hits the Brickyard road, and find a way to make it stick. A money-back guarantee to the fans wouldn't hurt, either.

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