Monday, July 28, 2008

Competition cautionary tale

What a disgrace.

There’s not much more that needs to be said about Sunday’s debacle at the Brickyard. From start to competition caution to finish, NASCAR and Goodyear screwed up by giving fans and ESPN one of the worst races in recent memory. How else do you describe the racing that was never permitted to go longer than 12 laps? NASCAR made the right decision by throwing the yellow flag every 10 laps, but the Brickyard 400 had more the appearance of an exhibition event rather than a critical race just before the Chase for the Cup. Could you imagine this happening during NASCAR's playoffs?

The real questions is: How could this happen? We’ve seen significant problems develop in the past at other tracks. The first that comes to mind happened at Texas when a poor design in Turn 1 led to opening lap crashes in 1997 and 98. Back then, several drivers predicted problems there during preseason testing.

But why wasn’t there extensive testing done at Indy with the new car? Three drivers apparently did minor testing there in April, which showed excessive tire wear, but NASCAR made no changes. The COT’s different weight distribution appeared to rip the right rear tire apart, which now begs the question if Goodyear will be forced to test at all the remaining Chase tracks. Goodyear should know better by now after Tony Stewart scolded the tire company in March.

Tire issues are nothing new to Indy. The U.S. Grand Prix Formula One race in 2005 also turned into a joke when most of the competitors deemed the tires to be unsafe and only six of the 20 drivers started the race. That, too, was a disgrace and it effectively killed F1 racing in America.

There’s some drivers grumbling that Sprint Cup cars don’t belong on Indy’s unique layout. It should have us all wondering if NASCAR on the bricks will also be halted. That would be a shame, too, because even though the racing isn’t spectacular, NASCAR belongs at the most hallowed speedway. Unfortunately, it might be time to move on if NASCAR and Goodyear can’t figure out what went wrong. Otherwise, if I want to watch a dozen 10-lap heat races I’ll go to my local short track.

3 comments:

Roger said...

Mike, do you have any insight into how Goodyear does their work? You mentioned some April testing at Indy. Apparently, they have a different rubber compound for each track. What are the inputs used to determine the makeup of the compound? In most cases, the Goodyear engineers apparently make good selections, leading to an acceptable tire for the track in question. In this case, they failed miserably. Are all four tires made of the same compound, or are different compounds used for each of the four mounts?

Do I understand correctly the track has very small grooves carved into the racing surface? Was this the track surface when the F1 debacle happened a couple of years ago? If that is the way it always has been, why do the IRL cars not have a problem? I realize they are much lighter, and therefore have different tire issues.

I wonder how much different the 2008 tire used at Indy was from the 2007 model. Everybody seems to understand the weight distribution on the COT is much different, and we hear so much about how setups effect tire wear. With all the know-how and experience in the NASCAR brain trust, one has to wonder how this matter wasn't screened out earlier.

You are right -- why wouldn't Goodyear and NASCAR do extensive testing at all remaining tracks long before the event is scheduled. This one cost them dearly, and they have to feel the heat to "get it right" for the rest of the season.

Mike Jones said...

Goodyear apparently tested in April with three drivers and Team Red Bull did a private test there as well. The tires originally used were of a harder compound, which would have survived longer than 10 laps, but the cars were too difficult to control. So Goodyear switched to the softer tire that turned into a disaster because they still don't have a feel for what is needed with the COT. Interesting story by ESPN's Terry Blount suggesting Goodyear has to completely redesign the tire for these new cars... or else.

http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/nascar/cup/columns/story?columnist=blount_terry&id=3507981

I don't think these are the same problems F1 faced in 2005 because the track has been resurfaced and those cars use different tire companies (I think Firestone and BF Goodrich).

But make no mistake about Sunday's debacle. This is extremely serious and has to open some eyes. This simply can't happen again. Otherwise, we'll be staying home or turning the channel. Did anyone else notice how many empty seats there were Sunday

http://sports.espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3507905

Mike Jones said...

The link to that Blount story didn't work, so go to www.rpm.espn.com and click on his link "BLOUNT" below the picture of Robin Pemberton and the bewildered Goodyear official...