It was like running the Kentucky Derby and stopping at every quarter pole to check the horses' shoes as Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports repeated as champion at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday (July 27th) by winning a series of ...
It was like running the Kentucky Derby and stopping at every quarter pole to check the horses' shoes as Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports repeated as champion at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday (July 27th) by winning a series of eleven-lap interval runs at the Brickyard 400 before a large crowd of mostly-patient race patrons.
"We made a great stop at the end, and had a great car," said the thirty-three year old Californian who trailed going into the last of eleven 'competition yellows' staged by NASCAR out of concern for the excessive wear of the Goodyear tires. "Hendrick Motorsports is coming back. We're getting there."
It was only the second time the Brickyard race has been won from the pole, a feat also achieved by Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing in 2003. Johnson won this race previously in 2006 ahead of Matt Kenseth and Harvick before he went on the notch his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon (who finished fifth) were clearly the best of the field of forty-three cars at the Brickyard on Sunday, often running one-two over the 2.5 mile oval in Speedway, Indiana. However, neither could build a lead and hold it as the repeated mandatory yellows allowed the field to rebunch behind them at a regular interval.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Gordon, who's won this race four previous times. "I hate that this happened here at the Brickyard, it's such a big race. I think all of us are disappointed for what happened here today."
The race will no doubt reignite the controversy over the product of the tire manufacturer's efforts at producing a suitable race tire for the Cup series' new car; and reinforce the criticisms it suffered following the infamous "Goodyear doesn't give a crap about tire quality" line delivered by Tony Stewart after the fourth round of racing at Atlanta Speedway earlier this year.
Second-place finisher Carl Edwards, driving the No. 99 Ford of Roush Fenway Racing, offered an apologetic tone to the fans calling the tire incident a 'debacle' in his post-race remarks: "It was a long day. Personally, to the fans, we did our best; I know they didn't want to see a race like this. At least we got to run at the end. It's got to get better."
"The folks who make the tires are responsible," said Edwards of his Goodyear rubber. "It turned into a dust instead of laying into the race track. It is what it is."
Flat tires, worn tires and blown tires influenced the way the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was run today as officials restrained competition in the interest of safety before the quarter of a million fans who patiently watched this unusual spectacle play itself out and into the history books.
NASCAR organizers conducted the race in eleven-lap stages, repeatedly throwing the yellow flag to slow the cars and bring them into the pits for tire-changes as the right-side wear, in particular, took its toll on the softish competition compound chosen for the event.
"We were put in a box with these tires," said third-place Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing and driver of the No. 11 Toyota. "The car is hard on the tires and the track doesn't take rubber well anyway. It's hard to get a good race tire from testing here and that's the circumstances we were given. NASCAR prevented a dangerous situation by putting the cautions out."
Elliott Sadler, who started on the third row alongside Gordon, was fourth in the Gillett Evernham Motorsports No. 19 Dodge. Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top ten in the 160-lap, 400 mile race. Fan favorite (and front-row starter alongside Johnson) Mark Martin was eleventh in the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Incorporated Chevy.
The Goodyear rubber shredded so badly that radio spotters high above the racing surface reported bits of tire debris in and on their clothing and the Speedway sent huge track-cleaning machines onto the track to clear the accumulated detritus with each yellow flag period.
Ironically, Goodyear collaborated with NASCAR drivers in a tire test in April at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in which Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr preferred the better-handling tire to a more durable compound under consideration for use on the especially gritty, almost sandpaper-like, diamond-ground surface of the 2.5 mile oval.
Vickers apologized to fans for the missed chance saying post-race, "We have the best fans and they came out today to see us race, and we couldn't do it. It's an embarrassment, and I apologize to them for this race."
NASCAR's vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton, said, "This isn't the first time we've raced here and we've been able to accomplish a race in the past. We'll learn from this experience and try to do a better job next weekend.
"You can criticize all you want, but the surface here has to be anticipated. We have challenges here because of such dramatic changes in grip as the track rubbers in," he continued. "When Goodyear did their test they felt they were 'on-target'. We felt the tire would come to us on race day. It didn't happen."
Penske Racing driver and native Hoosier Ryan Newman summed up the feelings of others by concluding his thirteenth-place day tersely with, "It was a ridiculous race. "There was no racing involved other than the mandatory cautions, which is ridiculous."
Memories trackside recollected the 2005 tire failure that turned the United States Grand Prix into no more than a Ferrari test session when the entire twenty-two car Formula 1 field, save the six Bridgestone-runners, withdrew from the contest on the parade lap effectively defaulting at the recommendation of their Michelin tire-makers.
On this occasion, though, the grandstands remained relatively quiet with only a smattering of 'boos' heard with each successive caution period. The USGP crowd of 2005, made up of many who traveled from other countries to experience the Grand Prix at the Speedway, quickly turned ugly and required extra security to restrain.
The tire constructor Michelin later compensated ticket-holders to the farcical affair by purchasing twenty thousand tickets to the following year's USGP and offering them free to the affected fans.
The race result did little to change the Cup championship standings as Kyle Busch (who finished fifteenth, immediately behind David Ragan) continues to lead with 3004 points, 253 to the better of Dale Earnhardt Jr (who finished twelfth in the race).