NASCAR: Round 20 – Allstate 400, the Brickyard – July 27

Well, that was … interesting. Probably the most unusual NASCAR race you’re likely to see; unfortunately it was also very frustrating for all concerned from drivers to teams to spectators.

The single overriding issue was without question the tyre wear. It had been a concern going in, but it proved even worse than expected – the right hand tyres simply wore down to the core within 12 laps and attempts to run longer simply ended up tyres going down or exploding (as happened with Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 29 and – even more spectacularly – to Matt Kenseth on lap 47.) NASCAR were reduced to scheduling ‘competition yellows’ every dozen laps to bring the teams in for pit stops and to sweep the powdered rubber marbles off the track, meaning the race became a series of short ‘heats’. They hoped the situation would improve as the abrasive track surface ‘rubbered in’ and became kinder to the tyres – but it never did.

Any prospect of using the tyre situation to a strategic advantage were put paid early on by the experience of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He pitted on lap 7 after a yellow brought out by a collision between Michael Waltrip and Paul Menard, and then stayed out when the competition yellow flew on lap 14 intending to make it all the way to the next scheduled caution on lap 30. However his tyres didn’t agree with the idea and started to lose pressure on lap 27, forcing him into a green flag stop that put him a lap down. It took him until the closing quarter of the race to battle his way back into the top ten again after that.

All sorts of drivers rose and fell with tyre issues and tweaked pit stop strategies as the race wore on. Kyle Busch led on lap 54 for 8 laps, but then suffered tyre problems that dumped him down to 16th before the next competition yellow flew. he battled up to 4th by the closing laps, but the final sequence of pit stops were not kind to him and he finished back in 15th place.

Through all the ups and downs, there was one constant; Jimmeie Johnson was never far form the front. He opted to continually take 4 tyres where others settled for two, and while he lost places in the pits he quickly made them up again after the restart. It also helped his tyre wear somewhat. So it was no surprise to see him emerge in the front after the final pit stops, and the race was his to win.

His only competition at this point was Colin Edwards, who quite early on had adopted the apparent strategy of locating Jimmie Johnson – and sticking to him like glue. It worked a treat, but in the final dash for the chequered flag he didn’t have the opportunity to overtake Jimmie before the race finally staggered to the end.

Not much of a race then, but certainly a tense and fraught event. At one point it looked like the teams would run out of sets of tyres and have to switch to the even softer tyres supplied for next week’s Pocono event; but ultimately Goodyear rustled up an extra set of Indy compound tyres instead. They there was a panic about whether the teams could get the glue to set on the lugnets in the new set of tyres or whether we would see tyres flying off – fortunately, that was easily dealt with.

But overall you’d have to say this was embarrassing for all concerned: for Goodyear (never good PR to have your tyres failing in public like that), NASCAR (why didn’t they allow testing at this circuit to check whether there would be a problem with the new Car of Tomorrow on these tyres?) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself (not the first time the track has shredded tyres to the point of farce – remember the US Formula 1 GP in 2005 when all Michelin runners withdrew and only six cars ran a procession that caused the crowd to walk out?)

Shame. It should have been a good race, but never had the chance.

 Pos St  Car Driver              Engine      Pts/Bns Laps Stats
 1   1   48  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   195/10  160  Running
 2   9   99  Carl Edwards        Ford        175/5   160  Running
 3   23  11  Denny Hamlin        Toyota      170/5   160  Running
 4   6   19  Elliott Sadler      Dodge       165/5   160  Running
 5   8   26  Jamie McMurray      Ford        155/0   160  Running
 6   5   24  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   155/5   160  Running
 7   4   9   Kasey Kahne         Dodge       146/0   160  Running
 8   12  16  Greg Biffle         Ford        142/0   160  Running
 9   32  31  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   143/5   160  Running
 10  26  84  A.J. Allmendinger   Toyota      139/5   160  Running
 11  2   8   Mark Martin         Chevrolet   130/0   160  Running
 12  11  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet   132/5   160  Running
 13  3   12  Ryan Newman         Dodge       124/0   160  Running
 14  16  6   David Ragan         Ford        121/0   160  Running
 15  19  18  Kyle Busch          Toyota      123/5   160  Running
 16  27  43  Bobby Labonte       Dodge       115/0   160  Running
 17  22  41  Reed Sorenson       Dodge       112/0   160  Running
 18  15  10  Patrick Carpentier* Dodge       109/0   160  Running
 19  40  07  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   106/0   160  Running
 20  20  38  David Gilliland     Ford        103/0   160  Running
 21  38  77  Sam Hornish Jr. *   Dodge       100/0   160  Running
 22  24  147 Marcos Ambrose      Ford        97/0    160  Running
 23  14  20  Tony Stewart        Toyota      94/0    160  Running
 24  25  1   Martin Truex Jr.    Chevrolet   96/5    160  Running
 25  35  66  Scott Riggs         Chevrolet   93/5    160  Running
 26  31  5   Casey Mears         Chevrolet   85/0    160  Running
 27  43  45  Terry Labonte       Dodge       82/0    160  Running
 28  36  78  Joe Nemechek        Chevrolet   79/0    160  Running
 29  39  96  J.J. Yeley          Toyota      76/0    160  Running
 30  33  44  David Reutimann     Toyota      73/0    160  Running
 31  42  01  Regan Smith *       Chevrolet   75/5    160  Running
 32  21  70  Jason Leffler       Chevrolet   67/0    160  Running
 33  29  7   Robby Gordon        Dodge       64/0    160  Running
 34  41  22  Dave Blaney         Toyota      66/5    160  Running
 35  30  00  Michael McDowell *  Toyota      63/5    160  Running
 36  28  28  Travis Kvapil       Ford        60/5    160  Running
 37  18  29  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   52/0    147  Running
 38  10  17  Matt Kenseth        Ford        49/0    143  Running
 39  13  42  Juan Montoya        Dodge       46/0    124  In Pit
 40  7   2   Kurt Busch          Dodge       43/0    118  Running
 41  37  15  Paul Menard         Chevrolet   40/0    117  Running
 42  17  83  Brian Vickers       Toyota      42/5    93   Out of Race
 43  34  55  Michael Waltrip     Toyota      34/0    90   Running
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