Underlying the controversy between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski is the tire problems that were seen throughout the Kobalt Tools 500. A number of teams had to make unscheduled pit stops due to tire problems, which in return cost them a chance at a good finish.
Hendrick Motorsports saw the most issues, as all four Hendrick cars, plus the two Stewart-Haas cars that receive Hendrick support, experienced issues with the tires.
The first Hendrick Motorsports car to have problems was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who pitted with a loose wheel on lap 113 while running seventh. In the radio transmission that followed, Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Lance McGrew discussed as to why loose wheels are common at Atlanta.
"I can't count how many loose wheels I've had here. There's just something about this track, maybe with the bumps and how it may make them loose", said Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
"A lot of load, a lot of load,” Lance McGrew told his driver.
The result was they found no evidence on the tire that it was loose, so the tire specialist made the note, “Goodyear, check dismount. 88” on the tire.
“It felt like the wheels were coming off,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. “We pitted and the wheel was fine, but the car was vibrating so bad I couldn’t hardly see.”
This issue hurt Earnhardt Jr. all race long as he was always pitting a couple laps before the leaders with ill-timed cautions, yet fought back to finish 15th.
Three laps later on lap 115, Mark Martin spun down the front stretch with a flat left rear bringing out the caution. Kendra, Martin’s PR Manager, reported on Twitter (@KendraTeam5) that Martin was suffering from right rear brake issues, which could’ve played a factor. Martin fought through the pack to come back to the top 10, though got caught up in a late race crash.
On lap 157, the tire problems for the Hendrick Motorsports cars continued as Jeff Gordon pitted with a right front tire cut down, and then was too fast entering, making the consequence even worse. He then followed that up with another pit stop with 121 to go with another flat tire. This caused Gordon to bring up the concern that for the time being, he’d just be “driving to get to the next pit stop...doesn't want to do anything to abuse the tire,” as according to @JeffGordonWeb on Twitter. With all his tire issues, Gordon finished 18th.
“I’m not going to put any blame on anybody right now,” Gordon said following the race. “We have to look at everything that we had versus our teammates and stuff. It’s one of those things where when they come here and test, you expect them to build a tire that we can abuse and that we can race hard with.
“That obviously wasn’t the case, so there is a very good chance we were too aggressive, but until we go back and analyze everything, it’s hard to say.”
Right after Jeff Gordon pitted on lap 157, Ryan Newman followed him down with a cut tire also, finishing 17th.
Then with 136 laps to go, Tony Stewart pitted with a flat tire on the left side, taking the blame saying it happened “because I ran the bottom in 3 & 4 and probably hurt it more." With 19 to go, Stewart had to hit pit road again with a right front tire loose while running 13th. Though with the end of the race chaos, Stewart fought his way back to finish 13th.
Then 13 laps later, Jimmie Johnson pitted with a vibration, though the team couldn’t find the cause for concern. Johnson later on then pitted with 51 to go with another flat tire, however the second flat tire was caused due to the fender brace rubbing after contact. Johnson fought back from his problems, getting through the chaos at the end like Stewart to finish 12th.
Other teams experienced problems, though those looked to be due to contact. Robby Gordon wrecked five laps into the events, which would be too early for a problem to develop. David Ragan blew a right front on lap 35, though that was as a result of previous contact with the wall.
Joe Gibbs Racing experienced tire problems with all three of their drivers. With the problems experienced by Earnhardt Jr. and Martin early in the race, crew chief Mike Ford reminded his driver Denny Hamlin to take care of his tires on lap 130, saying, “We're seeing a lot of bad-looking tires come off cars down here.”
The JGR cars ended up experiencing issues of their own as both Kyle Busch and Joey Logano had issues, only one lap apart of each other. Though that was broken down to being caused by the debris from Ryan Newman’s tire the lap before. The third Joe Gibbs Racing car of Denny Hamlin experienced a problem while leading with 57 TG as he yelled on the radio, “"I'm coming now, I'm coming now" in which the tire blew out before he could get to pit road. At that same time, Kyle Busch came down pit road with a second tire problem.
“It was the most drivable tire we have ever had at atl…just my opinion of course,” Hamlin posted on Twitter after the race. “I cut one down but I ran over something. I don’t think we should have a knee jerk reaction to the tires. They were pretty good if you managed them. That is what is supposed to happen.”
So discounting the problems that happened due to running over debris over in-balanced tires, why were there so many problems?
Well, most of the problems happened with the Hendrick Motorsports camp and there is one possible explanation–experimenting. The Hendrick Motorsports organization, especially Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus, has been known for experimenting during the regular season for the Chase.
This could’ve been one of those experiments that severely failed. NASCAR on Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip made the comment that it’s possible with the cars being so yawed out, they’re causing the problem. That could’ve been part of their experimenting in pushing the boundaries and they went over.
Another topic of discussion is camber as teams are always trying to push that envelope to be able to get the best turn speed. Could that be where they failed?
Goodyear’s Stu Grant agreed with those settlements.
“The tires are actually wearing very well,” Goodyear’s Stu Grant said. “We saw a lot of good, long runs in practice. The wear looked very good. In the race, the wear looks fine. The only thing we’re seeing is guys with either some kind of aggressive chassis setup or driving style are damaging the inside of the right front.”
Though here’s a question that always bugs everybody, including Earnhardt Jr., as discussed earlier: why are there so many loose wheels at Atlanta? The force and the bumps could be an obvious factor, though another could be that simply teams are pushing their stops too much and making mistakes.
Either way, looking back at the race, this is one problem that can be focused towards just the Hendrick Motorsports teams.
Congrats to Goodyear overall on a successful race.