Brickyard 400 - Tires, tires, tires!

Brickyard 400 - Tires, tires, tires!

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was host to the United States Grand Prix eight times. The Grand Prix circuit traverses the globe, racing in exotic places, and fashionable places like Monaco and the twisty street circuit through the tiny ...

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was host to the United States Grand Prix eight times. The Grand Prix circuit traverses the globe, racing in exotic places, and fashionable places like Monaco and the twisty street circuit through the tiny principality. On its sixth visit to Indianapolis, in 2005, a situation arose with Michelin tires, which ultimately forced the Michelin shod teams to withdraw from the race. Fingers were pointed at the Speedway, teams, drivers, manufacturers and the FIA, the sport's governing body.

Tire wear.
Photo by Action Sports Photography.

Finger-pointing returned to the Speedway at the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard this weekend. Replace Michelin with Goodyear and many of the other factors remain the same, except the race went on.

In the world of IndyCar and NASCAR racing, Indianapolis is known as a flat track. The nine-degree banking is barely perceptible to the average auto racing fan. When drivers talk about the track's unique characteristics, they're usually compared to Pocono, which is relatively flat too.

After Ralf Schumacher suffered a tire failure and crashed during practice for the 2005 USGP, Michelin informed their customer teams that they could not guarantee the safety of their tires. Michelin determined that the high-speed high banking Turn 13 was the problem. Turn 13 was actually Turn one of the oval, run in reverse direction. Turn one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been in place since 1909. The surface has changed over the years but the banking has remained the same.

Several options were proposed to remedy the problem including obtaining a new spec tire and altering the circuit by adding a chicane. The finger pointing continued until the field made their reconnaissance lap to set the starting grid. As the cars rounded the final corner, only the Bridgestone cars made their way to their starting positions. The Michelin cars pulled into the pits and the 2005 United States Grand Prix was contested by six cars.

Despite the FIA, the teams' and manufacturer's inability to agree on a solution, Michelin ultimately stepped up to the plate, taking responsibility for the fiasco. Michelin fully supported a special ticket deal for the 2006 USGP. Although the FIA eventually determined that Michelin was not fully to blame, from the fan's perspective, the damage was done.

Fast forward to 2008, and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, held at that same track. The same track that has been located at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in Indianapolis for almost 100 years. The same track that NASCAR has held 14 previous races.

The finger-pointing started quietly. Whispers about the Goodyear tires started in practice when the drivers noticed the track was not taking rubber. Yet no one considered not running the race. All the drivers qualified to start the race took the green flag and raced hard until they realized the tire problem was worse than expected.

"It's the same for everybody," is a cliche often heard in racing circles. Hence the game plan was altered, from flat out competition to survival mode.

In a quote released by Ford, Matt Kenseth was one of the first drivers to admit to experiencing a tire related problem. On lap 48, Kenseth spun on the backstretch after losing a tire. "It's a really disappointing situation," said Kenseth. This is one of the two biggest races of the year, and to never have this tire here before and not come and do an open test and to work on these things and work on the tires, it's pretty disappointing.

"I feel bad for the fans; we're running three-quarters speed because we're worried about the tires blowing out and they got blown out every eight laps."

Kenseth explained that he didn't get much notice before the tire failed, "it started shaking about three seconds before it blew out."

NASCAR tried to make the best of the situation by restating their commitment to safety. But by lap 104, the longest stretch of green flag racing was 12 laps.

That statistic didn't change and the finger pointing continued.

Some blamed the track, but the track has been the same for the last three races. The surface was treated using a diamond grinding method in 2005, but NASCAR has held three races on the same surface.

Some blamed Goodyear and their tires, but Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of race tire sales said they used the same compound tire as last year. A competition yellow was shown early in last years race but those tires were determined to be fit for competition.

The last variable in the equation is NASCAR's new "Car of tomorrow," run at Indianapolis for the first time.

Stucker was quick to sum up the problem, "It's the package. We have to look at the whole package, work with the teams and evaluate what happened. We don't like to race this way."

Denny Hamlin, who finished third, said his tires would last about 8 laps. "I could run hard, but I was going to pay for it in the end," NASCAR planned a competition caution on lap 10 but the first caution period occurred on fourth lap. Five laps after going green the race was stopped for another wreck. Competition cautions supplemented those caused by wrecks. As Hamlin put it, if there wasn't a competition yellow, there would have been a yellow for a wreck. When they had a competition caution, "I was ready to pit because I was about to wreck."

The fans will ultimately determine how the 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is recorded in history. Those in attendance may only remember the final dash to the checkered with Jimmie Johnson chased to the flag by Carl Edwards. Others may remember the race as the race that was marred by 11 caution periods, with the longest stretch of green lasting just 12 laps.

After finishing second, Carl Edwards said, "The pay is the same and the trophy is the same so I don't care if we race ten laps at a time."

The fans care and they will draw the bottom line as to how the 2008 Brickyard race is remembered.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Ralf Schumacher , Jimmie Johnson , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin