We are all very familiar by now with the altercation that took place on track during the closing laps at Texas Motor Speedway and the chaos that ensued into Sunday evening. All week questions have been debated ranging from whether there was a hole big enough to make a move to whether the suspensions and fines or lack thereof were appropriate.
Lost in the shuffle was another analysis that perhaps changed the entire result of the AAA Texas 500.
Tires wore out at a rapid pace on the 1.5-mile track throughout the weekend. During the closing stages, NASCAR officials made a seemingly spur-of-the-moment decision to allow teams one extra set of tires out of the remaining inventory. It was a major game changer as tire specialists flocked to acquire fresh rubber for the final laps. It may not seem like much more than a kneejerk reaction, but without it the events that later unfolded may not have even occurred. Even if a team would have elected not to take advantage of the situation, the fact that it was available for it to consider changes how the entire nature of how the race unfolds.
Teams are supplied a set amount of tires at their disposal each event. It can vary from week to week depending on track distance or surface, but that number is instructed to the teams well before the green flag flies. Teams have practice sessions to monitor length of time in which tires begin to fall off in performance and should be able to use that data to plan out how they are going to manage the supply up until the checkered flag. So why back down on the rule almost instantly once drivers started complaining?
The idea backfired in noticeable ways immediately. Joey Logano almost saw his championship hopes take a major hit. There was not enough time for the glue to set causing the lug nuts to fall off. Then a cut tire required them to put scuffed tires back on. Due to all that occurred from the remaining cautions he recovered to a finish just outside the top 10.
Then there was the moment minutes after in which the man that later was involved in much controversy, Brad Keselowski, made NASCAR’s decision to increase the usage of tires look a little presumptuous. The 2012 champion, on two fresh tires, and multi-time champion Jeff Gordon, on four stickers, battled fairly for upwards of 20 laps for the lead. Keselowski fended off Gordon at the stripe for most of those laps before Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson found their way by.
That is what fans want to see; the mixture in strategy right there made a rather mundane race up until that point intriguing. Certainly some folks may say that Keselowski, a driver who had not been a factor in the beginning and middle stages, was in the way. However, he was making every attempt to protect his position and that is how teams win championships in racing – by making out of the box decisions and holding off competitors that are faster on occasions when they may not have the best car.
Then there is the hypocritical aspect about the entire deal. Drivers have come out and said that they want a tire that wears and cars that are tougher to drive. Then after Texas comments come, such as Ryan Newman’s, wishing that more tires had been issued. Pit strategy is important, but pitting almost every single caution is something I have a hunch fans do not want to see on a regular basis. Also there’s the matter of cost. A set of tires is nowhere near cheap. The goal is to ease expense for competitors, yet it seems like at the same time it’s a profit deal with extra supplies easily being provided.
Finally are the lessons that drivers are taught from the moment they begin at the proving grounds all the way up the ladder. They are constantly reminded to take care of their equipment and that to finish first you must first finish. Through the reinvented championship structure as well as how the caution flags seem to fall, now it appears as if they are being told to go all out and that it is okay to use up the tires because there will be another set waiting for them.
It is a concern that was overshadowed with everything else that went on, but definitely could find its way into discussion at Phoenix, Homestead, 2015 and beyond if this line of thinking remains the same.