Aggressive setups cause consternation in Sunday’s race at Fontana

Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service Tuesday, Mar 25 1499

Drivers who fared well in Sunday’s Auto Club 400, including race winner Kyle Busch, were happy with the tires Goodyear provided for the fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event of the season.

Drivers whose fortunes soured because of tire problems at Auto Club Speedway were more than ready to play the blame game.

For the record, tire maker Goodyear recommended a minimum 22 pounds of air pressure in the left front tires and 20 in the left rears.

Teams routinely run tire pressures below the recommended minimums in an effort to increase grip and speed, but many of those who did so Sunday paid the price.

Jeff Gordon, who inherited the lead in the final five laps when teammate Jimmie Johnson blew a left front tire, was particularly chagrined, after Clint Bowyer’s spin because of a flat left rear tire caused the final caution that cost Gordon a chance to win the race.

Shuffled back on the ensuing restart, Gordon dropped to 13th at the finish.

“They gave me the most incredible race car today, and it’s just so disappointing for it to end like that,” Gordon said. “I hate the caution came out. I hate Goodyear was not prepared today for what happened. They are so good at what they do and that is just uncalled for.

“We were having a tire issue there on that last long run and I just backed off. When I saw the No. 48 (Johnson) had issues, I was just hoping we would make it to the end, and I was just going as slow as I possibly could, trying to maintain the lead, and cars were just blowing tires left and right all around me.”

Race winner Kyle Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers, however, opted for a more conservative approach and avoided tire issues.

“It’s like playing with fire,” Busch said. “If you pour too much gas on it--you let too much air out of it--it’s going to go ‘Boom.’”

Added Rogers: “You put 12 pounds in left sides and you're going 200 miles an hour in California, you might have a left side tire problem. That's awful low.”

NASCAR has given teams more latitude with camber this season, giving teams the latitude to push the limits with their setups.

“Over the past few years, we’ve been on a path to add mechanical grip, give more options to the teams,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. “We’ve opened up camber rules for grip in both the front and rear of the car.

“They have a lot of tools to use if they choose to do so.”

Third-place finisher Kurt Busch had his tire problem in Saturday’s practice, and his team altered its approach to Sunday’s race accordingly.

“We were lucky,” Busch said. “We had our tire problem with two minutes to go in practice, and that allowed us to go into a conservative approach overnight. Goodyear is doing a good job. It’s the same type of tire, but here’s what we have: we have faster cars, more downforce, and NASCAR is allowing us to put whatever cambers we want into the cars, and therefore, it’s up to the team’s discretion if you’re going to have a problem or not.”