While the side-by-side battles throughout the field reigned supreme on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, so did something else – tire issues. Each run, it seemed there was at least one driver running into an issue, with either a flat tire or the tire unraveling itself.
In total, 13 drivers either had to make an unscheduled pit stop or hit the wall as a result of tire issues.
Kyle Larson was the most significant of the bunch following a heavy hit down the backstretch. Larson had a tire go down which sent the car sideways. He tried to correct it, though overcorrected, resulting in heavy contact with the inside wall. He was uninjured in the process.
“I was going down the back stretch and I think it was my left-rear tire got cut,” he commented. “It must have ripped the brake line because I went to push the pedal and it went straight to the floor board. I couldn’t slow down. It was definitely a hard hit there, probably one of the harder ones of my career. Even before that we were pretty sub-average there, we were pretty bad. Disappointed in our run today, but glad I’m alright.”
Kyle Busch also got bit heavily as he was running second with two laps to go when he had a tire blow out, causing him to finish outside of the top-20.
Goodyear’s Director Greg Strucker was questioned about the problems during the first pat of the race, stating that it was the team’s fault.
“We’re seeing signs that guys are getting aggressive on left sides,” he noted. “It’s something that we see a lot here in people trying to get a grip on the worn out surface. It’s something that is common here so teams are keeping an eye on it, and we have people keeping an eye on it as well.”
It seems this year that tire issues have been more paramount than last year. This is partly due to drivers requesting a tire that falls off over the course of the run, versus not giving up at all.
“We don’t need tires that just can qualify every lap,” Earnhardt stated. “We need a little fall off. Drivers like the fall off because the fall off means a slippery old slick car. You’ve got comers and goers in the field and passing. It provides more passing. If everybody can just hammer down and run qualifying laps all day for 50 laps before you pit that is not a whole lot of fun. You’re not going to catch anybody because nobody is running any different speeds the whole run.”
While the new rules have worked to present better racing, teams need to watch better in what they’re doing. Strucker noted the tire manufacture recommends a minimum tire pressure that teams should start the run with, however many teams drop the pressure below that window. The idea is to stop the tire from expanding too much over the course of the run, therefore giving better overall grip.
“The tire issues more than likely air pressure,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted post-race. “A lot of guys getting aggressive on air pressure. I don’t know about the right sides. If you blew a right front or something like that some guys might have got into the fence or rode the wall a little hard. But if you were cutting left sides it’s typically a little too low on air pressure. You just can’t get aggressive.”