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Johnson wins but NASCAR appears tired

Matt Kenseth’s Ford spun in the grass when this tire failed. Kenseth finished 38th, 16 laps down.

Getty Images

Matt Kenseth’s Ford spun in the grass when this tire failed. Kenseth finished 38th, 16 laps down.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jimmie Johnson celebrated his second victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a burnout.

Appropriately, one of his tires exploded.

He was lucky he made it that long.

Tire troubles derailed one of NASCAR's crown jewel events Sunday when Goodyear's product could not withstand more than 10 or so laps at a time in the Allstate 400. It created a chaotic, caution-filled race that ended when Johnson outran Carl Edwards in a seven-lap sprint to the finish.

"Every lap. Every lap I was concerned about it. Every corner, for that matter," Johnson said. "As a group, we all knew we couldn't push the envelope. I knew at the end, a seven-lap shootout, I could blast it off in there and I'd be okay."

He was indeed okay, earning the right to "kiss the bricks" for the second time in three years.

Goodyear and NASCAR were not okay, left to explain why a prime Sprint Cup race date became a debacle.

The tire issue cropped up Saturday, when drivers learned during the first practice they could only last three to 10 laps before the rubber wore down to the cords. NASCAR and Goodyear hoped conditions would improve — as in years past — once enough rubber was down on the track.

But the Car of Tomorrow lacks downforce; that, combined with a higher center of gravity, prevented improvement and created very hard conditions for the right side tires.

The sad state of affairs was reminiscent of a Formula One race at Indy in 2005, in which all of the cars on Michelin tires withdrew just before the green flag, leaving just six Bridgestone-shod cars to run the race. That event was a factor in F1 leaving the speedway after last season.

Sunday, there were 11 yellow flags — but six were "competition cautions" thrown by NASCAR to force teams to change tires.

"We came with the best tire we had for the conditions and we fell short. We'll try to get it right," said Greg Stucker, director of race tire sales for Goodyear.

The longest green-flag run was an embarrassing 12 laps as teams feared both tire failures and a possible supply shortage. Goodyear shipped in 800 tires earmarked for use next week in Pocono before the race, but they ultimately weren't needed.

"It was a pretty crazy day," winning crew chief Chad Knaus said.

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton spent the race on pit road, examining tires and talking to frustrated crew chiefs. He defended the job NASCAR did.

"Not every race is a barnburner," Pemberton said. "If you are a good fan, and you didn't get what you wanted, it's okay to be disappointed and we can be disappointed right along with you."

Edwards said he raced at 100 percent over the final run but couldn't catch Johnson.

"That's a long day. I know everybody's trying to do their best," Edwards said. "I just, personally, (want) to say to the fans, everybody's doing their best to make that race, at least we got to run at the end."

Denny Hamlin gave the lead up during the frenzied final sequences of pit stops. He finished third.

"I don't think anyone could push their car as hard as they would have liked to," he said.

Johnson wins but NASCAR appears tired 07/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2008 5:10pm]
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