Motorsport.com dives deeper into the influx of loose wheels at Bristol, which ruined the nights of many top runners in the field.
Jeff Gordon’s final race at Bristol Motor Speedway started with a lot of fanfare — and a section of seats on the backstretch named in his honor.
Unfortunately, for the four-time Cup champion— and five-time winner at the 0.533-mile track — the weekend ended with a 20th-place finish. Gordon was foiled by loose wheels that relinquished the No. 24 Axalta Chevy to the pits late in the race.
If you're going to have a weakness, if you're borderline on having wheels torqued every week, it's going to show up here
No. 22 crew chief Todd Gordon (race-winner)
Gordon reported his first loose tire on Lap 407. Seventeen laps earlier, Gordon had restarted second but dropped to fifth as his handling was compromised. When he was forced to pit, Gordon fell to 19th.
As he worked his way back to 17th, Gordon had another loose wheel with 24 laps to go.
“I got another (expletive) loose tire,” Gordon said before he returned to the pits.
Loose wheels a common problem at Bristol
Gordon finished four laps down in 20th — but he wasn’t the only driver to have issues with loose tires. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also experienced problems throughout the night.
I still tonight don’t know exactly what happened — and I really don’t want to. I don’t want to have a personal opinion
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
At the start of the season, NASCAR told teams inspectors would no longer penalize crews that failed to secure five lugnuts on the wheels when the cars left pit road. Following the decision in February, former Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth on Saturday night, said teams would “push it until we hit the limit.”
"I expect wheels to fall off race cars, there's no doubt about that," Keselowski said.
Although there were no wheels rolling off the race cars, for Gordon, Busch, Truex Jr. or Earnhardt Jr., that “limit” might have come at Thunder Valley. Yet despite multiple issues in the pits, Earnhardt doesn’t want the responsibility of reprimanding his crew.
“I’m going to let Greg (Ives, crew chief) handle that,” Earnhardt said of the miscues on pit road. “I’m out on the racetrack and I don’t really know whether it’s an issue with equipment. I still tonight don’t know exactly what happened — and I really don’t want to. I don’t want to have a personal opinion.
“I’ve got friendships with these guys. (Front tire changer David) Mayo, on the front, I’ve got a real good friendship with him where he’s in our Madden league with T.J. (Majors, spotter). So I don’t want to get on that side of it because I’m not going to make that decision anyways.”
Pushing the limit in the pits
Todd Gordon, winning crew chief of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford, acknowledged that haste in the pits could factor into the rash of problems on the track but added the roughness of Bristol exacerbated the issue.
“This place itself is rough on wheels,” Gordon said. “It's just a place that you've got so much lateral load in the car and there's so much drive and brake, it's 500 laps of a lot of load on especially the rear wheels, so you'll see ‑‑ if you're going to have a weakness, if you're borderline on having wheels torqued every week, it's going to show up here.
“You've got a lot of gear in the car and you've got a lot of acceleration, a lot of deceleration, a lot of lateral load. It's a really, really high lateral load place with all of the banking that's in the corners and running right up there in the grip strip up there at the wall.
“I'm sure that the lug nut rule has a slight impact on that, but I'd say there's a bigger impact of this racetrack is just rough on rear wheels.”