In the movie Days of Thunder NASCAR rookie stock car driver Cole Trickle gets a valuable lesson from his legendary crew chief Harry Hogge. Cole was a typical hardnosed race car driver and would literally drive the rubber off his tires, hit the wall and wreck. Harry taught him that he could hold a little back in the initial run and that the competitors tires would fall off leaving him to catch up since his did not. This is exactly what we had going on at Auto Club Speedway during the Auto Club 400.
To an outside observer there was a caution due to a tire failure every 20 laps or so. One might think that there was a tire problem. There was not. It was an aggressive set up problem. NASCAR loosened up the rules such that teams could have more camber in the tires (Angle of Tire to pavement), reduced air pressure in the tires. More importantly the ride height rules have also allowed teams to have almost no spring or shocks in the front tires.
Like the movie, these adjustments can make a NASCAR Sprint Cup car faster, and also like the movie there are consequences. It takes a delicate balance to produce speed while making the tire last.
Robin Pemberton, Vice President of Competition for NASCAR explained it this way. “Last year we opened up the rules on camber for the rear end. I would say that a year ago at this time we were early in the process, and teams were probably not as aggressive as they wound up being as the season unfolded, as they got the mechanics better in their cars and the opportunity to be able to make parts and pieces live longer now, I think they’re probably a little bit better prepared for that. So if they had too much camber — they’ve got a lot of choices, so if they had too much and it abused the tire, that’s what happens.”
NASCAR fans, we need this. We need to have the drama of teams pushing the limits and getting punished for the same. We need some teams to get it just right and punish the competition. If you watched the races at AutoClub Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, they were exciting. Something was going to happen at any minute.
The rest of the season is going to be great. Sometimes—like this weekend—fresh tires will make a difference, sometimes they will not. Some teams will be able to make fresh tires work; others, because of their setups, will be able to make old tires work. There is a reason to watch each and every lap; not just the last 20 or so.
Feature Photo Credit: 296601 Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images