Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Monday, July 28, 2008

Not Your Local Short Track

I would imagine even the racing world's biggest optimist (guilty as charged) would have to be embarrased following Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

I won't print the word I really have in my head to describe the mess, in the interest of decorum, but suffice it to say, this was easily the worst race of the year, and if I was one of the 200,000 people who paid for a ticket, I'd likely be demanding my money back.

Competition cautions every 10 laps isn't racing. Running a 2.5-mile track at three-quarter speed to conserve the tires isn't racing. A series of short-sprint heat races might work at the local Saturday night short track, but that shouldn't happen to what some believe is NASCAR's second-largest event behind the Daytona 500.

It's embarrassing, inexcusable. NASCAR and Goodyear should both be ashamed of themselves. For this sort of thing to happen at Charlotte or Dover would be bad enough, but at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? A place in which purists even today feel stock cars have no place? How does something like this happen?

Granted, on race day NASCAR did the best it could to ensure the drivers' safety -- which should always be priority number one. If there was no way these cars could go more than 12 laps on a set of tires, then NASCAR had to act accordingly.

Problem is, it should've never gotten to this point. Most years, NASCAR and Goodyear conduct a full tire test at Indy. The special grooves in the race track being what they are, Goodyear needs data to create a safe yet competitive tire -- which, most years, isn't an issue. Sure, the tires wear to the chords after five laps on Friday, but as the weekend progresses, the rubber fills in the grooves and by race time on Sunday, the problem's gone.

Only that didn't happen this time. The track shaved off the tire rubber until it was a fine powder, and instead of that rubber laying down on the track, it stuck to the back of the cars, only to be deposited in pit road or the garage area. NASCAR and Goodyear were left scratching their heads, wondering why the rubber wasn't setting on the track. Drivers and crews were left tiptoeing though what should be one of the series' marquee events.

This year's "tire test" consisted of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers and Kurt Busch running a series of laps at the Brickyard. Even then, in April, the problem was evident -- Earnhardt's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., said they couldn't run any more than six laps to a time before the right sides gave way.

NASCAR and Goodyear's response? "Oh, it'll get better when we're here for the race."

NASCAR said a full-field test wouldn't have made a difference, but I'm not so convinced. Perhaps it's hindsight, an undeniable feeling of "Well, you should've done something!" Rather than wait until race weekend to bust out extra sets, unloading the Pocono-compound tire and throwing the caution flag every 10 laps, NASCAR and Goodyear should've been proactive, taking the data from that test in April to create a safer, more competitive tire.

Now we're left with a year of questions and watching as the sanctioning body and its only tire provider try to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen next year.

Texas Motor Speedway probably has the right idea; before an event at the track, president Eddie Gossage hooks about 10 to 12 race tires to the back of a pickup before dragging them along the surface. It's an old-school idea -- one Darrell Waltrip advocated Sunday night on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain -- but I think it would've helped this time around.

Particularly since teams only got a combined four hours of practice time for the race.

Another option that is being discussed is moving the Nationwide Series and Craftsman Truck events from nearby O'Reilly Raceway Park to the Brickyard so those races could help lay down some rubber. I'm not sure how I feel about this move, considering ORP is a staple of both series and I rather enjoy the action on the short track (Kyle Busch's dominating win in the Nationwide race Saturday night notwithstanding).

That said, something has to be done. Not only to ensure this doesn't happen again this season -- this is the second time this year Goodyear has come under fire for an inferior product -- but to make sure it never happens again. ESPN touted the Brickyard as one of NASCAR's "majors" all weekend, and to have an event reduced to a series of heat races at a place of such importance and magnitude is simply inexcusable.

Oh, FYI: Jimmie Johnson won the race, capturing his second Brickyard title. To give you an idea of how bad this tire situation was, just watch his reaction. Sure, he was happy to win, but such a muted celebration after winning one of the series' marquee events tells me even he knew how horribly things were screwed up.

The winner of the Brickyard is often immortalized. This year, the race winner will be but a mere footnote as we examine the mistakes made by NASCAR and Goodyear.

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