The Frontstretch: Tires at Talladega: What Caused the Failures? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 7, 2008

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Tires at Talladega: What Caused the Failures?

The Yellow Stripe · Phil Allaway · Tuesday October 7, 2008


Editor’s Note: Our regular rookie columnist Danny Peters is off this Tuesday, so we filled his spot with another freshman! Newsletter contributor Philip Allaway writes this edition of The Yellow Stripe in his place. However, look for your favorite British expert to be back online wext week!

This past weekend’s on-track action at Talladega Superspeedway will be remembered for three notable things. One is the shear number of lead changes (64, the most since the Talladega 500 in July, 1984). Another is the now infamous judgment call that gave Tony Stewart the victory and dropkicked Regan Smith back to 18th. But the one underreported factor that was prevalent all weekend were Goodyear tires — as well as their propensity to fail once again on the top level of racing competition they work for.

Many of the commentators almost made it sound like a new issue at Talladega, but there have been a fair number of tire failures at the 2.66-mile track since the resurfacing two years ago. Also, this issue did not seem to be Goodyear’s fault. If it were simply a Goodyear issue, then the ARCA race would not have been affected by tire issues. But it was, and the ARCA Series runs Hoosiers instead.

In fact, the ARCA RE/MAX Series’ ARCA RE/MAX 250 was marred by multiple blown tires. A right rear blowout on Brian Scott’s No. 16 caused “The Big One” in Turn 1 on lap 12. That particular crash eliminated 11 cars from the race and damaged a couple of others… and it wasn’t the only crash caused by tire failure.

Former Motocross overlord Ricky Carmichael, making his ARCA RE/MAX Series debut, had an explosive tire failure on lap 50. The failure destroyed his right rear fender and sent his No. 33 on a long slide. Points contender Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. also had a tire let go on the backstretch. The resulting spin saw the No. 99 get airborne and nearly flip before setting down. Even points leader (and future Cup Series rookie) Scott Speed was not immune to the tire issues, blowing one late in the race and almost saving it before hitting the wall in the tri-oval.

Goodyear representatives basically didn’t have a definitive answer for why all of these tire problems were occurring. ESPN, to their credit, interviewed Goodyear representative Rick Heinrich during the race. He admitted on air that Goodyear was almost 100 percent positive that David Reutimann’s tire failure was caused by a basic cut. For the others, he said that those tires would have to be analyzed back at Goodyear’s lab in Akron, Ohio. If any news comes out about those tires, we’ll have it right here on the Frontstretch this week.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., after seeing the issues not only with his own car on Friday but in the ARCA race as well, opined that there could be an issue with the track surface. It’s a surface at Talladega that, since the 2006 repave, has been glass-smooth but resulted in more abrasive wear. Indeed, if the track surface is the real problem, then we could be looking at a somewhat similar issue to what happened at Indianapolis — only not as extreme. However, the track surface at Talladega was not diamond ground like at Indianapolis. Thus, there are no grooves that could cut and/or flatten tires — leaving us in search of a better explanation.

Also, since the issues occurred in both the Sprint Cup and ARCA RE/MAX Series, it cannot be tied solely to the CoT.

Looks like we’re talking in circles. Now, I’m not technically inclined — I’m more of a historical nut, to be honest — but, I’ll try to propose some kind of an explanation.

First, some historical context.

In 1987, during ESPN’s broadcast of the now-infamous Winston 500*, then-ESPN pit reporter Dick Berggren talked about the tires that were being used at Talladega. He explained that the tires had very thin tread in order to dissipate the massive heat that gets built up with 210 mph speeds. That race had relatively few tire failures, but most, if not all, of the failures (including Bobby Allison’s scary lap 22 crash) were caused by metal cutting tires. There were no outright blowouts at speed from wear.

Now, I know the Cup cars do not run 210 mph at Talladega anymore, but according to ESPN’s RaceCast (available for free at the fastest race lap was set by Juan Pablo Montoya at 200.561 mph. That’s an average, and not exactly tortoise speed. In fact, those speeds are high enough that even the most minimal amount of contact — however slight — could cut a tire down faster than it would take to pull the car to pit road for fresh rubber.

Tire temperatures are never mentioned at Talladega because tires were always seen as being a non-issue. But perhaps the tread thickness has increased since 1987, and thus, tire temperatures are much higher now because heat cannot escape as easily as before.

We have seen a situation very similar to this recently.

Think back to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 2005, after the “levigation” of the track. If you remember that incident, the track levigation increased the speeds significantly (pole speeds were over 193 mph), while smoothing out the notoriously bumpy 11-year-old pavement. However, this caused the tire temperatures to reach unheard of levels on the super-quick one and a half mile facility. The tires simply could not take this heat and began to fail after 25-30 laps. However, unlike Sunday’s display, it never got any better.

It’s blown tires like this one, off of Denny Hamlin’s car, which left NASCAR scurrying for answers and Goodyear simply scratching its head.

Yes, the finish of the Coca-Cola 600 that year was a classic, but it came after an all-time Sprint Cup Series record 22 cautions at the track. A very unpopular decision to use the same tires in October of that year led to a similar wreckfest, with 17 more cautions. The track has been repaved since, but the tire problems did not go away immediately, and the 2006 races were run using 13-gallon fuel cells due to concerns with durability.

My personal opinion on these issues is that both Goodyear and Hoosier need to look into how well their tires dissipate heat under constant high speeds. A particular emphasis should be paid to tread thickness and how much heat that the tires build up. This can likely be done in the two-tire manufacturer’s factories on a dyno, as opposed to on-track testing.

Because when that testing fails on race day, you get a public reaction of the worst kind.

* NASCAR currently has a contract with TeamMarketingDVD, a division of WaxWorks. As a result of that contract, TeamMarketingDVD puts out single disc DVDs and DVD sets. Nine races have been re-mastered and released. The 1987 Winston 500 is one of these races, and I purchased it through

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10/07/2008 05:24 AM

It used to be that engines were the major factor in cars not finishing a race . But technology and testing of engine components , along with new materials and innovative manufacturing techniques solved that problem very nicely . Now , its almost a surprise when a driver has an engine failure . The same can’t be said for tire failures , which have long been the deciding factor in the outcome of races , cars blowing tires , drivers caught up in the aftermath of cars blowing tires , constant long cautions and numerous red flags to clean up after cars blowing tires , and tires that blister or simply wear out too soon . A driver can’t pass because he has more laps on his tires than the other car . Should that really be a factor ? A driver suddenly falls off of the pace because he got a bad set of tires during the last pit stop . Tires that seemingly have to have a perfectly clean and smooth surface or they blow out . When you stop to consider how poor quality race tires have affected every race that NASCAR has ever run , its time to make a decision . Goodyear needs to build a safe , reliable racing tire , and if they can’t they need to be moved aside and let someone else do it . There is no other form of racing on earth that has the tire problems that NASCAR does . Not even close . Goodyear has drifted along for many years making NASCAR race tires that only meet the minimum requirements . Its time for them or someone else to bring radical materials and construction ideas to the NASCAR tire . Its time to stop worrying only about the profit margin , and worry instead about making the race tire do everything its supposed to do .

10/07/2008 07:54 AM

Quote: “He admitted on air that Goodyear was almost 100 percent positive that David Reutimann’s tire failure was caused by a basic cut.”

I wonder how you can fall for such stuff and reprint it? I watched this interview, and the Goodyear rep was grasping at straws trying to find a way to deflect the real causes of the tire failures!

Of all the tire explosions, all he could say was “well, we found a small cut on one of them”!

Thanks Goodyear for being so very honest and candid!

Did you also find cuts on all the tires that failed at Indianapolis?

10/07/2008 08:21 AM

On the one hand, it happened to both Goodyear and Hoosier so you can’t really lay the blame right on the tire manufacturers… But this is getting just ridiculous. I could understand these kinds of failures when Hoosier competed against Goodyear in NASCAR for a while, everyone was pushing the envelope. But when Goodyear has a monopoly on this, this is absolutely unacceptable, AND NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

They continue to make sub-par tires and do NOTHING about it. ALMS, Formula 1 and IRL fans hear about this and just can’t comprehend it—tire failures in any other racing series are a rarety, regardless of tire side/width/compound/use. They don’t even happen this often in drag racing, when they have to handle 7000 hp? WHY WON’T ANYONE CALL GOODYEAR OUT ON THIS!?!?

Phil Allaway
10/07/2008 09:19 AM

Michael, based on your reply, I think you are suggesting that Goodyear move toward more composite materials (while still using some real rubber) to build tires, similar to Firestone in the IRL and Bridgestone in Formula 1, but I’m not sure. They experience tire failures in those series too, albeit not as often.

10/07/2008 09:33 AM

Hey Phil, simply stated, GOODYEAR should simply provide a tire that “does not fail” (except for that very low percentage of failure you would normally have on any manufactured product)!

Who cares what materials or construction techniques they may use?

And my most repeated point is: “if GOODYEAR cannot do this, then please tell us”!

10/07/2008 11:35 AM

Yes , i think that in this day and age there have to be synthetic materials available , new designs and construction techniques ,and maybe even an alternative for rubber than can do a far better job than what we have now .
F1 for example puts huge strain on the tires ( Bridgestones ) and have very few tire problems compared to the catastrophic failures that the NASCAR cars have race after race , year after year . And while the F1 cars don’t weigh as much as Cup cars , they have far more ( thousands of pounds ) downforce and far higher braking force . Their tires don’t seem to have gigantic blowouts every lap . I don’t know the answer , but i know that conventional tires and tire constuction are obviously not adequate and someone needs to come up with something other than excuses .

Jeff G
10/07/2008 12:20 PM

Michael, you said it all!!

Why can’t NASCAR see it?

I’m not the smartest person around, but you stated it in such clear simple terms that even Mike Helton and Brian France should understand!

Well, no, maybe I should take that last stament back…

10/07/2008 12:23 PM

And by the way , the classic excuse used by NASCAR and Goodyear ad nauseum “ other racing series don’t have the high banking that NASCAR does “ won’t wash anymore . Indy has almost no banking at all and the Goodyears were a disaster there as well .

Rusty Rosignol
10/07/2008 03:36 PM

The tires are not at fault,it’s the teams.Goodyear told the teams not to go over the max psi,but several crew s chose to over inflate as much as 10 psi over the max.By over inflating the tires, the faster you go. How do you think Mike Wallace, Mike Skinner, and Denny Hamlin were so fast. Figure it out. Dale Jr tried it on friday in practice.We all know what happened. The 88 bunch wised up and went back to the normal psi.Jr very easily could have one the race. DONT BLAME THE TIRES!

Jeff G
10/07/2008 04:16 PM

Hey Rusty Rosignol,

How did you get into all those pits and see what all those crews did to their tires?

You even know how much they went over the limit.

Man, you should have alerted everyone after the Dale Jr. blowout!!

Why did you wait until Tuesday afternoon on this site to reveal what you discovered in all those pits you visited???

10/07/2008 04:47 PM

I really don’t know what the true problem is… how could I? But I will back Rusty R. up about the tires being over inflated. Jimmy Spencer said that was the problem on Speed’s Victory Lane immediately following the race.

10/07/2008 07:18 PM

Overinflated tires might account for some of the problem on Sunday , though i doubt it . But that in no way excuses Goodyear for 30 years or more of this nonsense . Their tires have been grenading on every type of track and every brand of car for years . And the tire pressure isn’t the problem .Shoddy workmanship , and the profit margin are the answer to Goodyears tires exploding . As for Spencer , nice guy , but i think i’d like to hear from the experts .

10/07/2008 07:19 PM

Yet more ranting by Douglas!

I read with great disdain some of the comments about Goodyear and their tyres!

One of the comments was “well, the track surfaces are different”!

Like, one was “diamond ground”, another was “just shaved”, and so forth!

But logically speaking, of which there is none in NA$CAR, logic that is, does this mean Goodyear does NOT have any agreement, or contract, with NA$CAR that tracks only get re-surfaced with Goodyears blessing?

Wouldn’t it be completely logical, that if a tires life depended on the track surface condition, that either the sanctioning body, I.E. NA$CRAP, or the tire company, would be suitably notified of any track re-surfacing?

Heck, we poor little fans know when they resurface ANY of the tracks! It’s usually talked about as part of the race reporting such as: “well, fans, when this race is done, the equipment moves in to start a re-surfacing of this track”!

Is anyone following where I am headed?

Goodyear sure seems surprised!

thomas dalfonzo
10/07/2008 08:41 PM

I read an article on Wikipedia on Hoosier Racing Tires that Tony Stewart would feel safer on reliable Hoosier tires than Goodyear Tires. Well, as long as NASCAR receives big money from Goodyear, it will continue to let Goodyear’s constant screwups plague the sport and drag it down.

NASCAR would never have these tire problems will any other tire manufacturer. The Brickyard 400 debacle should have been the final nail in the coffin for Goodyear.

In any decently-run universe, Goodyear’s contract would have been terminated after the Indy disaster. Hoosier should do all it can to get back in NASCAR. If Hoosier can make safe, reliable tires, then NASCAR should wake up and sign them on. But as long as Goodyear is filling Brian France’s and Mike Helton’s pockets, we are all screwed.

10/07/2008 10:53 PM

It would seem to me, that the cars have changed. The tires have not.
NA$CAR, & Goodyear could have teamed up. Come up with several new cars. Hired competent drivers, & mechanics, with CC exp.
Tested until the had all the answers, they are going to have to come up with now. Without the glare of publicity. Didn’t happen, to the dis-credit of both companies.

10/08/2008 12:15 PM