Tires a Hot Topic

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson had a left-front tire go flat while leading seven laps from the scheduled finish. (Photo: Getty Images)

FONTANA, Calif. - Jimmie Johnson rarely speaks negatively in public settings, but he made his point shortly after he lost Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway because of a flat left-front tire while leading seven laps from the scheduled finish.

"A lot of people seemed to have some issues out of their control today," Johnson said after placing 24th on a day where about a dozen different teams had tire problems in the Auto Club 400.  Among those having tire issues were all four drivers who had won before Sunday’s race - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.

A Goodyear official said it was not a tire problem but aggressive setups by teams, noting that not all had problems.

"Every left-side tire that we’ve seen gone down or had issues with is kind of the same characteristics as (Saturday)," Greg Stucker, director of race tire sales for Goodyear, said about 20 laps from the finish.  "The common denominator is being aggressive on air pressure.  You’re in race conditions so everybody is running a little bit harder.  It’s not surprising that you see a few more if people haven’t made adjustment from where they were (Saturday)."

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, defended Goodyear.

"We'll get back and we'll look at it but right now, I think Goodyear has done a pretty good job with it," he said.

Johnson expected such comments.

"When anything happens, it’s the teams’ fault," Johnson said.  "That’s the standard response back to all of us when a tire goes down, so I guess we’re all at fault this weekend."

The tire is the same that has run at this track since 2012, but the car is different.  Rules changes have increased speed and downforce, making the left-side tires work harder.  Auto Club Speedway has minimal grip so teams use low air pressures to help provide grip for cars.  Goodyear recommends an air pressure of 22 pounds in the left-front and 20 pounds in the left-rear.  Pemberton said teams were running as low as 14 pounds of air pressure.

Keselowski left frustrated after a weekend of blown tires for him and teammate Joey Logano.

"There were a lot of reasons why we blew a tire today or two or five over the weekend, and the field did," Keselowski said after finishing 26th.  "I don’t know what to really say about it.  As a driver, you're left with the choice of driving your car to the limit and blowing a tire or being a wuss and saving it.

"I saved it as best I could and probably, arguably, was not following the 100-percent rule until the last run.  That's what you had to do.  It was the box we were all forced into.  I pushed it hard on the last run and I was one of at least three guys that blew a tire.  It was really unfortunate.  If I didn’t push the car hard, I wasn’t going to have a good day.  It was a matter of who blew it first.  I was the second one to blow it, but I didn’t blow a tire big enough to get a yellow."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., though, said the tire problems weren’t Goodyear’s fault. Earnhardt blamed the rough track sufrace on the backstretch.

“We were putting air in our tires because we thought maybe the tire was just not (doing well with) low air, but that wasn’t the issue,’’ Earnhardt said after his 12th-place finish. “We almost had one come apart again – they got the tire off before it tore up.

“Honestly, and this isn’t very inexpensive, but the back straightaway is pretty rough and the tire can’t handle the load it goes through on that back straightaway. It’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and the tread are put together.

“There ain’t another racetrack on the circuit besides Kentucky that has bumps like that. They’re incredible, huge, huge bumps – and I think that plays a huge role in it.’ They don’t need to pave the racetrack – just pave the back straightaway. It’s not very cheap, but I bet you we won’t have any tire problems anymore.’’

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