Mar 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EDT
After today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway was marked by a string of tire failures, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton told reporters afterwards that the blame for the failures should not be put at Goodyear’s feet.
With seven laps to go, race leader Jimmie Johnson lost his chance to win when the left-front tire went down on his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Three more tire failures ensued in the next five laps to set up the green-white-checkered finish of the race, which was won by Kyle Busch.
Multiple other drivers including Kevin Harvick (who lost two left rear tires alone), Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Danica Patrick also suffered tire failures at some point during today’s race.
But Pemberton believes that aggressive setups on the part of the teams were at the root of those problems.
“Over the past few years, we’ve been on a path to add mechanical grip, give more options to the teams,” he explained. “We’ve opened up camber rules for grip in both the front and the rear of the car. They have a lot of tools to use if they choose to do so.
“But the tires weren’t wearing. At some parts of the race, the tires were abused a little bit, so I guess that’s why the failures.”
Pemberton also said the teams asked for “aggressive tires” from Goodyear that they would need to manage and figure out how to get the most out of. Additionally, he said that some teams were running Goodyear tires with as low as 14 pounds of air, well below their recommended cold tire reading of 22 pounds.
Nonetheless, some of the drivers had different emotions on the subject following the race at Fontana.
Jeff Gordon was able to inherit the lead from Johnson after his tire failure, but had fallen farther behind Johnson prior to the incident because of a tire issue on his own car.
“I hate Goodyear was not prepared today for what happened,” said Gordon, who wound up finishing 13th after losing out badly on the G-W-C restart. “They are so good at what they do and that is just uncalled for. We were having a tire issue there on that last long run and I just backed off.
“When I saw the No. 48 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.”
But neither his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., or third-place finisher Kurt Busch would pin the blame on Goodyear.
Earnhardt, who finished, 12th, felt that ACS’ bumpy layout – particularly its backstretch – had more than a little to do with the failures.
“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,” he said. “And it’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together.
“…I feel bad for Goodyear. I think the tire is fine. I like the tire. It’s just those bumps. If you watch the cars go through there in slow motion, it shouldn’t be like that.”
Kurt Busch also noted NASCAR’s decision to give the teams more leeway in determining their mechanical set-ups.
“By no means is this a problem for Goodyear,” he said of the situation. “It’s just a thumbs-up for NASCAR for allowing teams to get aggressive in all areas.”