One of former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr.'s standing orders to his employees and drivers was "don't mess up the show." NASCAR, in conjunction with tire manufacturer Goodyear, messed up the Allstate 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but good on Sunday. And vice president of competition Robin Pemberton was sent out to flog himself with a contrition stick on Tuesday. And to guarantee it won't happen again. "There is nothing worse than coming away from a race and knowing that the result wasn't even close. It wasn't even close," Pemberton said. "It wasn't even in the 25th percentile of what we're capable of doing and what we do, week in and week out."
Goodyear's prerace tire data showed how clueless the company was before practice began:
"Estimated Pit Window: Every 32-34 laps, based on fuel mileage. … Notes: This is the first time Goodyear has brought this tire setup to Indianapolis Motor Speedway … this combination of left- and right-side codes was selected after a tire test with Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers at the Speedway on April 22-23 … the chief tire issue expected this weekend is expected early in practice as teams put down a layer of rubber on the abrasive racing surface … as typically seen on the grooved racing surface at Indianapolis, tire wear is expected to be high during the early practice sessions … in anticipation of this extreme tire wear situation, teams will have two extra sets of tires for practice and qualifying this weekend (up to eight sets) … IMS is the only track at which Sprint Cup teams will run this particular tire setup this season."
What happened? And how will NASCAR prevent it from happening again?
• The tire compound Goodyear selected for its right-side tires was not durable enough on the so-called Car of Tomorrow, which was used at Indianapolis for the first time. Pemberton said the tires handled the stress load applied because of the cars' high center of gravity and the comparatively low banking of the track's corners, but the tires wore badly.
• The ineffective tires failed to "rubber in" or apply a residual layer of grippy material on the track, making it slick.
• Tires lasted as few as three laps at top speeds in practice and NASCAR was forced to issue competition cautions every 10-12 laps during the race so teams could change them. The solutions
• Diligence: Goodyear has a difficult job in formulating a raceworthy tire for 36 points races, all under variant weather and track conditions. Imagine Rawlings concocting a new ball to optimize play at each ballpark. But Goodyear possesses an exclusive contract to be right, and it missed it at Atlanta this spring also.
• Testing: Pemberton suggested NASCAR will alter its testing policies to allow teams to choose where they test. NASCAR has standardized testing sites since 2006.
• A second tire manufacturer? Not happening with Goodyear's exclusive deal, but competition would theoretically encourage Goodyear to improve. Trouble is, "tire wars" can often be a safety concern. Manufacturers would be inclined to produce softer compounds for grip, handling and speed at the expense of durability. Hoosier was the last NASCAR tire interloper, winning three races under Geoff Bodine in 1994. The venture was too expensive for the small company, however, as it was required to bring enough tires each week for every competitor, no matter if they were normal customers.
Big changes in the Indy Racing League are reflected in the 2009 schedule, which kicks off in St. Petersburg. Read the story at racing.tampabay.com.