Monday, July 28, 2008

Not quite live on type delay: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard

This is a different kind of "live on type delay," because the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was a kind of race we have never seen before. Although it wasn't the greatest event for the fans to watch--for that matter it could be compared to the 2005 Formula 1 USGP in terms of disappointment--it was a race, and there was racing happening.

We can thank NASCAR and the teams for the fact that it wasn't the disaster the 2005 USGP was. The teams that were using Michelin tires for the Formula 1 event had serious safety issues with the tires at Indianapolis that year. They eventually refused to participate in the race, leaving only the teams that were using Bridgestones--a total of six cars in all--to compete in the event. That was a disaster.

The 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard was also affected by tire issues. Montoya lost a tire on lap nine and spun out. After the caution on lap fourteen--involving Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch--the teams found out what kind of tire wear they were getting. The answer was complete tire wear, for there was very little rubber left on the tires used by all the teams during the first stint.

Excessive tire wear was expected during the first part of the race, until the surface was tempered by ground-in rubber during the course of the race. Except some of this surface tempering should have occurred during the practice sessions. It didn't happen. So problematic was the tire wear issue during the four practice sessions that NASCAR allowed the teams extra tire sets for practice.

So what was happening to the rubber that was supposed to be grinding into the track surface? It was turning into a fine powder, or dust that accumulated on the outer side of the track, and on the cars themselves. During the final practice session, Greg Biffle even experienced a fire in his car caused by the tire dust igniting.

So, by the time the second caution of the race occurred, just before a scheduled competition caution around lap 28, it was seen that tire wear would be a significant problem for the entire race. It did not seem that the surface was ever going to pick up the rubber it needed to create a better surface. NASCAR decided to run the remainder of the race in approximately ten lap stints. The race was restarted on lap 34, and the next scheduled caution was to be on lap 44. On lap 43, Matt Kenseth's car lost the right rear tire, which literally exploded, destroying the body work on the right rear of the car.

So the remainder of the race was run with a competition caution every ten laps, taking away any chance for pit strategy for fuel mileage, but allowing some teams to make the choice of two or four tire stops for position. Still, there was a race to be had, and it became obvious that the team that would win would be the team that had the best car to begin with, along with the best pit stops and whatever tire strategy there still was to be found.

In this type of race, there really wasn't much happening that could be described in play by play, which is why this "live on type delay" is more of an opinion and commentary piece rather than a description of the action.

Denny Hamlin took the lead during the second to last stint, which restarted with 19 laps to go. With fourteen laps to go, NASCAR closed the pit road, so no one could try to take an early pit to try to gain a position advantage by staying out for the final competition caution. It was the pole sitter, Jimmie Johnson who took the lead after that final pit stop. When we saw his pit crew congratulating each other after that stop, we almost knew what the outcome of the race would be at that point.

There was no question of overtaking, because the outside line that the drivers usually like at the Brickyard was coated with that fine tire dust, and there was no traction there at all.

As it was, it was a real race, considering that the best driver for the day, with the best car and the best pit crew for the day won. That's the bottom line. We have to agree with Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Kasey Kahne in saying that NASCAR did what they had to do to keep the race safe and to run the race in its entirety, because, as Dale Jr. said, "The only alternative would have been to pack up and go home."

Waiting until after NASCAR Now before posting this turned out to be a personal good thing, because we were treated to an excellent explanation for the excessive right side tire wear by Ray Evernham. It seems that the old car was built with the majority of the weight of the car on the left side, allowing the weight to transfer to the right side in the turns, and from the right side as the car straightened out, thus relieving the pressure on the outside tires. With the new car, the weight is evenly distributed to all four tires, so additional pressure is put on the right sides in the turns. However, nobody could explain why the track never "rubbered in."

There is no reason to explain what could have been done, because it wasn't, so what if has no effect on the outcome of the race. However, it would have been wise to allow all the teams open test sessions at IMS prior to the race weekend, so, perhaps something may have been changed for the race. There is no point in dwelling on that however. What's done is done, what isn't done isn't done and is therefore irrelevant.

Notables of the race, besides Jimmie Johnson's win:
AJ Allmendinger finished tenth, and even led some laps, his best finish and best run of his NASCAR career. His teammate, Brian Vickers, did not fair so well. Vickers is pretty much the NASCAR bloggers' consensus pick of the drivers currently not in the Chase for the Championship to make the Chase. His problem, a blown engine, was the only problem during the entire race not related to tire issues.
Tony Stewart, who was expected to do well at Indianapolis, fought loose all day long. In other words, he had a twenty-fifth place car and was lucky to bring it home in twenty-fourth place.

As for the other good cars, Jeff Gordon managed to pull off a fifth place finish, while Denny Hamlin finished third. Dale Jr and Kyle Busch were forced to drive conservatively due to trying to make the tires last ten laps, which is uncharacteristic for either one of them.

Final thoughts:

The question that was asked back in 2005, after the USGP disaster was "what would NASCAR have done?" We got our answer.

At least there was a race, because it could have been worse, as in no race at all. From a fan's point of view it wasn't much of a race. There really wasn't much to get excited about, as there really wasn't much to watch. The race at Indianapolis made the race earlier this year at Texas seem exciting. The problem, however probably won't happen again, as NASCAR has promised much more open testing as of next year, something they announced long before the Indianapolis weekend. We have to take the bad with the good, and, hopefully, we won't see something this bad for the rest of the season. One caution to NASCAR, however--they might do well to allow open testing later this year at Homestead. That could save some embarrassment for the last race of the season.


Tim Zaegel said...

C'mon, Jimbo ... don't act like NASCAR didn't give you plenty of time to get this up live. Hell, they opened up twice as much advertising for ESPN than what they were expecting!

RevJim said...

That wasn't the problem. Just not as much of a race to write about as usual. "Live on Type Delay" usually has some description of the action along with the commentary." As you see, there is no action here.

Forrest Gump said...

Wow! Rev Jim summed it up perfectly, "No Action" unless you get excited by caution flags.
"That's all I have to say about that."