The Frontstretch: A Stupid Car and Blown Tires: NASCAR Hitting The Wall, Figuratively and Literally by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday May 27, 2008

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A Stupid Car and Blown Tires: NASCAR Hitting The Wall, Figuratively and Literally

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday May 27, 2008

 

The biggest racing weekend of the year has come and gone; thankfully, most of us had a day off to digest it all. From Monaco to Mansfield, The Queen City to the Brickyard, after absorbing over 1,500 miles of racing, more than a few opinions have been formulated over the last 24 hours about the state of the sport.

Although this may call into question my fendered sensibilities, for the first time in a long time the open-wheeled programs, both on this side of the pond and abroad, were a better show than the stock car bunch could muster on Memorial Day weekend. There was more focus and excitement surrounding the Indianapolis 500 this year than in recent memory, and not all of it was Danica-related. With the Indy Car Series and Champ Car organizations reuniting and becoming one again, NASCAR suddenly has some competition to challenge it as the premier racing series in North America. And while NASCAR is undeniably still the 400 lb gorilla when it comes to racing in the United States, it has had its pedestal shaken a bit over the last year and a half.

The reasons for that are numerous, but the two reoccurring themes that continue to perpetuate themselves — leading to poor racing on NASCAR’s bread and butter tracks — are a dumb car and tire failures.

It’s a good thing that the CoT is safe, since the rash of right front tire failures and loose wheels experienced this season will ensure that plenty of crash test data is compiled in the months to come. Take a look at all of the leaders who were enjoying comfortable margins, but were by no means driving over their heads Sunday: Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and the most cruel cut of all, Tony Stewart’s right front tire with two laps to go. While the tire issues were not exactly of the IED quality experienced back in October of 2005, it was nonetheless a disturbing trend… tire failures experienced at a high-speed tri-oval with little to no warning. I could only imagine what Tony Stewart’s post-race Goodyear comments were going to be, but apparently, someone thought better of rolling Smoke out in front of the cameras and jamming a microphone in his face. At this point you’d be hard pressed to question whatever he or teammate Denny Hamlin had to say, for Hamlin also suffered a blown right front tire in the waning moments of the Coca-Cola 600. And let’s not forget, a flat tire cost him a win at Richmond three weeks earlier.

This incident between Brian Vickers and David Gilliland in the Coca-Cola 600 was due to wheel and lug nut failure.

After watching the other two major races from this past weekend, the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Indianapolis 500, I was amazed at the lack of tire issues compared to NASCAR standards. The Formula One race was ran in a mixture of wet, dry, and drizzly conditions, while the Indy 500 was largely tire issue free. In that one, the leader seemingly inoculated from worries of whether or not the right front tire would survive while entering a corner at 230 mph.

In this day and age of technology, following decades of racing research and development data, is it too much to ask for a tire that doesn’t arbitrarily deflate?

While NASCAR remains the only major series that seems to accept tire failures (when a car is leading no less) as part of the business of racing, they have instead turned their attention to the rear ends of the cars. It has been intimated that NASCAR has instructed the teams to reign in the toed-out rear ends that have become en vogue in recent weeks before things get too out of hand. While NASCAR has probably done the right thing in preventing half the field from driving sideways in a straight line, there have not been any other concessions made in an effort to improve handling and, therefore, there has been no improvement in what we see on the track. It has been more or less proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, that on tracks larger than one mile, these cars are garbage. Early on in the CoT process, we were told that the car would bring about a return to “old school racing” and that “the real drivers would rise to the top”. This all sounded well and good in theory; but in practice, the results have been undeniable.

The COT is a sled. So much so that to make it turn, you have to make it drive sideways while going straight.

Short of Michael McDowell’s Texas tumble (which, according to Ryan Newman, may have been in part due to the high center of gravity of the new car), the positives of this new piece are few and far between — and also hard to articulate. There are two culprits here conspiring to make racing painful, both for the fan and for the drivers, as their cars impact the wall: a machine that is ill-designed for competition in its current state, and a tire that does not make up for the near 50% reduction in downforce from the previous car. The tires have been a concern for some time now; this probably helps explain why the cars are fitted with 18 gallon fuel cells now rather than the 22 gallon unit used since the dawn of time. After all, the less fuel you have the less laps on your tires — and the less chance there is for catastrophic failure. That’s important, for presupposing failure is probably not a comforting thought at the speeds being run today.

But while teams are breathing a sigh of relief, fans are simply breathing down NASCAR’s neck due to the lack of competition. But as bad as things have been this season on intermediate tracks, just wait for two of the next three races: Pocono and Michigan. Pocono may just prove this car’s undoing. Entering a flat turn at over 200 mph is a dicey situation, even more so in a car that has half of the down force as before, especially when the tires you are on have recently shown a propensity to have the wind taken out of it more often than a Hillary Clinton campaign manager.

The whole concept is simple, really: faster straight-line speed with less grip in the corners means using more brakes. Using more brakes means more heat. More heat means more tire failures, as the intense heat generated from the front brakes will literally melt the beads of the tires. Melting tires is a bad thing, be it an ill-conceived burnout contest or hustling down the Long Pond Straight with nearly 900 horsepower on tap. At MIS, the speeds are just as high, and with as many lanes to run as you’d ever need, the field can get a bit strung out making for an afternoon that is nearly as long as the lines of traffic funneled through the tiny burg of downtown Brooklyn, Michigan. Not many people had to endure California earlier this year since it was ran on a Monday; mercifully, the race at its sister track in the Irish Hills is 100 miles shorter, so if things do get spread out, it’ll be over faster.

As the season progresses and more races are run on the big high-banked ovals that are the calling card of NASCAR, I can only hope that something is done to improve not only the quality of racing, but also the quality of equipment the teams are allowed to run. Be it a rules change that allows some adjustability or leeway in the cars in an effort to gain some much needed grip and aerodynamic balance, or tires that account for the lack thereof, that teams have been suffering through for over a year now.

The fact of the matter is that the most compelling race this weekend was not in Charlotte, North Carolina; and during the last 12 years, that wasn’t always the case. With a reunified and rejuvenated Indy Car Series promoting personalities and a product on the track that is at least the equal to, if not better than, what the stock car ranks have to offer, NASCAR needs to make a move to return to the series that offered the best racing and competition on such a grand scale; otherwise, it runs the risk of degenerating into the series known for blown tires and smashed racecars. And if that ever happens, it won’t take long for NASCAR to take a backseat to the Indy Car Series on weekends other than just Memorial Day.

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©2000 - 2008 Vito Pugliese and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Ed
05/27/2008 08:02 AM
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Good article. I have felt for the last few years that that the Indycar series had the best wheel to wheel racing. Even F1 has improved competition recently as evidenced by the Sunday race. The tire issue is very worth noting. It is rare in any other series for there to be tire failures. It happens, but not like NASCAR. Could it be the lack of competition among tire manufacturers? I expect so. The COT is a bust. It’s ugly, the drivers don’t like it, and it obviously hasn’t helped the racing. They still can’t pass because of “aero” issues. The can’t race side by side because of “aero” issues. That’s not racing.

Douglas
05/27/2008 08:23 AM
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When is the NA$CAR fan base going to turn the heat up on NA$CAR to “MAKEGOODYEAR, supply an actual RACING TIRE!!

One that survives and lasts for the entire race?

Why are so many NA$CAR ‘races”, err, “events” is more like it! Decided on whose tires blow out and when?

Me for one have been very vocal about Goodyear’s, have written to NA$CAR many times about this situation, and ABSOLUTELY REFUSE TO BUY GOODYEARS FOR ANY OF MY VEHICLES!

Lets get on the ball people, write NA$CAR, because sooner or later your own favorite driver will experience the failure of these very poor quality tires! If he has not done so yet!!

It is only a matter of time!

mindcrime
05/27/2008 10:07 AM
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You can blame the tire all you want but it’s really the COT. That’s what changed. Sure, eventually Goodyear will figure out how to make the tire better but NASCAR has drastically changed the car and threw the problem of making it work to Goodyear. That’s not very sporting of them.

chris
05/27/2008 11:01 AM
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I don’t think you can blame the car or the tire for Tony Stewart (and denny hamlin) trying to run the last 90 miles without changing tires. They were gambling on the tires holding up, and their gamble failed. Same for Vicker’s loose wheel…surely you don’t blame the Car for that? There were a couple of punctures as well…which were practically guaranteed to happen to folks rim-riding (88,2) after Robby and Vickers left scraps of sheetmetal all over the top of the track. There’s just no way to get all that stuff off. I could be totally mistaken, but I don’t recall any tire failures that were as a result of bead failure in this race…

As far as compelling, that was not a good Indy race at all…actually one of the least interesting in recent memory. I found the Coke 600 to be far more interesting.

The nationwide race wasn’t good, and the only compelling moment was when Hamlin decided to ruin the 88’s night under caution and for some reason was not sent to the rear.

The truck race was, as they always are: interesting from beginning to end.

Formula One is so much more interesting in the rain, where the drivers can really have an impact on the outcome.

Lime Rock was a pretty good race too.

I’d put the Coke 600 2nd on the “interesting” list, for me, this weekend…behind only the Truck race.

Pocono might be bad, but then again, it has been subpar since the gear rule took away shifting there.

Michigan is usually a sleeper unless rain makes it interesting.

I think I’d like to see the CoT aero rules change to give it just a little more downforce…but not if it makes it as horrendous looking as the old (good riddance) car. I think they need to look at the front ends of the Trucks and figure out how to get the cup cars more like them.

ltaylor
05/27/2008 11:11 AM
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The cot is far from being right but is still a relatively new piece. I think that anyone should agree that a change was needed. the thing needs more downforce and adjustment in the front geometry.I just hope that NASCAR will be more proactive in allowing changes to make the thing better. As to the tire issues any of you guys making comparison to FI and the IRL need to look closer. An F1 car only weighs less than 1400 lbs AND turns both ways! building a tire for those cars is a cakewalk compared to a cot.Also the FIA tries to keep their speeds under 225 so there is not much difference there either. I don’t know about the IRL but they can’t be much different.

Travis Rassat
05/27/2008 11:34 AM
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I don’t think it’s fair to say the Goodyear tire is junk – it’s just under a different level of stress than that found in other racing series and we don’t have any other tires for comparison.

At over twice the weight of an IndyCar or F1 car, the challenge of building a tire for a heavy stock car is considerably different than what Firestone and Bridgestone face in the IRL and F1, respectively. I say “different” rather than “hell of a lot harder” because there are so many factors included – lateral loads (g-forces), acceleration, traction control (or lack thereof), and downforce to name a few.

We must also consider the setups used and the rules that limit those setups. I personally think the NASCAR suspension rules are way too limiting. Teams are forced to look for ways to make the cars handle, such as coil-bind setups and radical camber that can cause failures.

Until another tire manufacturer comes into NASCAR and builds a tire that doesn’t fail, I think it’s unfair to say the Goodyear is junk.

In other news, I felt the Monaco Grand Prix was absolutely spectacular this year, while the Indy 500 was a little bit dull compared to other years. It’s still great racing, and the unification is awesome. I feel bad for Adrian Sutil in F1 and Sarah Fisher at Indy – of all the people who had troubles this weekend, those were two huge heartbreaks.

Brent
05/27/2008 11:37 AM
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Indy cracks me up, I tried to watch, but it still ends up being ‘who won’t have trouble’ with 12 cars running at the end or something. It is about cars having trouble, not good racing. Not very scientific, but Tony’s front right sure seemed to be leaning in more than most other cars the one time coming down pit road – I wonder if setup is an issue with him and Denny on camber.

Diane
05/27/2008 12:07 PM
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First, didn’t like your reference to “IED”. Poor taste. With that said, I enjoyed all 5 races. Regarding the tires, agree with the other posters that pointed out the NASCAR guys were staying out on tires for double stints. Also, camber has been an issue in many races with some teams stretching the limits.

INfield420
05/27/2008 12:20 PM
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The problem and I dont see it mentioned here is that Goodyear is trying to make an all purpose tire.One tire for the trucks,nationwide,and the COT and that will not work.I am not an engineer,but I am smart enough to know that one tire can not handle that and put on good racing.

Gary
05/27/2008 01:14 PM
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I was going to read your article, until I saw the picture claiming a tire failure caused the Vickers incident. Get your facts straight and maybe I’ll read the next one.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
05/27/2008 01:41 PM
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Gary –

Clearly that was due to something other than a tire failure (i.e, wheel/lug failure). An editing oversight. We’re getting it taken care of.

Thanks,

Vito

Chris R
05/27/2008 01:43 PM
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The big problem with the new car is that NASCAR is still using some of the rules for it that were in place specifically for the previous car. Rear shocks, and other suspension components are mandated that simply don’t work for the new car. The new car has a much different center of gravity and it’s mass is distributed differently in other ways as well. By attempting to run the car with restrictions imposed on an entirely different car, the new car really isn’t doing so well. The other thing about the new car that isn’t working as planned are the side pods on the wing. They do a great job of keeping the back of the car in line. Too good. In fact, the cars don’t seem to want to rotate properly in the center of the turns, causing the car to want to understeer and occasionally snap into oversteer. The wing really isn’t providing the flow through that was envisioned as the wings are basically sitting right on the rear deck. So they might as well go with a conventional spoiler and get rid of the side pods. It works on the trucks, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work on these new cars. The splitter is questionable, but I think it works. Teams just need more leeway to adjust it.

As to the tires, Goodyear just isn’t getting it done, for whatever reason. They’ve had plenty of time, and plenty of tests, and they still aren’t providing the right tire compound. Perhaps it’s time for NASCAR to audition tire makers like Hoosier and Firestone.
Gary
05/27/2008 02:37 PM
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OK. Things happen. I’ll read it.

Douglas
05/27/2008 03:17 PM
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Notes RE: GOODYEAR TIRES!

1. GOODYEARS HAVE ALWAYS FAILED, OLD CAR/NEW CAR! does not matter!

2. GOODYEAR gets paid to supply a true “racing tire”! Who cares that an IRL car only weighs 1400#. The real issue is GOODYEAR has contracted to make racing tires for 3400# stock cars! PERIOD!

3. GOODYEAR advertises to the general public using racing as an example of GOODYEARS “expertise”!! How sick is that one?

4. “CAMBER”?? All the teams are doing what it takes to make the CoT work! GOODYEAR is responsible, per contract that they signed, to make racing tires for NA$CAR! If they can’t make a tire that works on the CoT! THEN PLEASE TELL US!!

janice
05/27/2008 03:48 PM
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i’m still trying to figure out the mess with hass/cnc racing. i would think teams that have to make the show every week on qualifying would not mess with the equipment (brackets). bootie says he’s been using the same brackets all season long.

Mike In NH
05/27/2008 04:16 PM
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Some of the old timers might remember that switching to a new style car back in the 80’s also produced a lot of the same outcry until they mastered the new chassis back then, too. Last year and this year are going to be transition years, as will (probably) next year. Teams need to build up data for the car on each track, and NASCAR needs to sit down after this year and decide what tweaks to the chassis and rules need to happen to improve racing. Not that I thought it was that bad – stats show 900 more green flag passes than last year, and if you look past the leaders (according to what I heard on PRN/Sirius as I drove home Sunday) there was a lot of interesting things happening (unfortunately TV is still learning not to home in too much on just the front runners).

Big Henry
05/27/2008 06:56 PM
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Vito, good story.Technically these cars are VBEIDs with the poor tire (waaa Diane). Thye need to open it up for competion; bring in Hoosier, Firestone, Bridgestone, Dunlop. Hell, the ONLY reason Goodyear is the Offishal Tyre is that they provide them at a cut rate price. I’ll bet you JGR would pay more than twice what they now pay to have the win in the 600. Can’t figure something out? Just follow the money and you’ll usually find the truth.

T Grim
05/27/2008 07:46 PM
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One question in regards to the DOG of a race car the COT has become, could it have passed the ZO6 pace car at Daytona if it had not exited the track at the start. 505 Hp in an aerodynamic 3050 pounds I really doubt it…maybe they need the Aztec back to make the field look fast. TOG

ed
05/27/2008 09:12 PM
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This is hilarious. The racing has been just as good or better withthe new car overall. How quickly people foget. HAHA. Fools….

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
05/27/2008 09:18 PM
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T Grim –

The stated top speed of the Z06 is 198mph; and that is out of the draft all by its lonesome.

I’ve often said that it’s pretty sad when the pace car, be it the Z06 or the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, have more horsepower than the competition does.

T Grim
05/27/2008 10:47 PM
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Your probably right, but if they have multiple ZO6’s as on the ceremonial pace lap….they could cause a mulitple car breakaway

mkrcr
05/27/2008 11:03 PM
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Douglas, it’s noble to want to rally the troops, but haven’t you figured out that NA$CAR doesn’t care? To them we are FAN$$$. Like any other sporting franchise, as long as the owners are making money, they feel free to provide a sub par product. Ranting against the wall won’t do a thing. NO BUTTS IN THE SEAT WILL. REDUCED TELEVISION RATINGS WILL. NO SALES OF DRIVER MERCHANDISE WILL. Mess with their money and see whose voice gets heard.
Since NA$CAR’s product sucks, it shouldn’t be to hard to make a difference. As for me, I’ll fly cross country to see a Grand-Am RACE before I’ll give NA$CAR money in my own backyard.

Enrique
05/28/2008 06:42 AM
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T Grim, Vito:

505 Horsepower unrestricted doesn’t compare to the apporox. 750 that the cup engines put out, so I guess the answer to your question is that the Corvette or the KR wouldn’t come close to keeping up with an unrestricted “dog” Cup car.

Douglas
05/28/2008 07:44 AM
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Hey “mkrcr”!!

RIGHT ON!

I have stopped going to races, used to go to maybe three (3) a year on the average, plus the hats, shirts, etc purchased for family members. All at a standstill!

Have taken as many as six (6) people to various tracks to watch “stock car racing”, but that does not exist anymore! Thank you Brian!

So, I attend more and more IRL events.

Someday, just someday, I will find a true “stock car series” to watch, but alas, even ARCA is changing!

So, I implore everyone to stay away from NA$CAR, including the souvenir stands!

And I think that is already happening as overall NA$CAR connected revenue is down!

As far as the INDY 500 goes!!! It, no matter what, is the only true “GREATEST SPECTACLE IN RACING”!

Everyone knew going into this years race that many of the crossover teams would not be truly competitive yet! Sure, the race had some lags! But overall, driving INDY and going 500 miles at INDY is spectacular!

Gee, come to think of it, I did not see a single blown tire during the race, thank goodness GOODYEAR is not involved!

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
05/28/2008 09:29 AM
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Enrique – We were going for the plate tracks where they could outrun them. It was more of a tongue in cheek remark. Although I’m really poor at math, I do know that 850hp > 505hp. That’s how smart I am.

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