July 27, 2008

Johnson on Pole at Indy: Excessive Tire Wear Concerns Drivers

By David Poole, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Jul. 27--INDIANAPOLIS -- Jimmie Johnson flew around Indianapolis Motor Speedway at an average speed of 181.763 mph Saturday morning to win the pole for today's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

But the question that emerged in the two afternoon practices was just how long Johnson and the other 42 drivers in today's race can go fast without wearing their tires down to the cords.

Teams were seeing severe wear after just a handful of laps in the first practice, raising concerns about today's 400-mile race. They lobbied, without success, to get more sets to get through the practices. Teams were allotted eight sets, two more than what is typical for other tracks, to get through qualifying and practice and then nine sets for the race.

"Asking anybody to build a tire and come to this place and run two days of practice for a 400-mile race with the weight of these race cars, horsepower and amount of load is like asking somebody to invade Russia with a loaded shotgun," said Chris Carrier, crew chief for Sam Hornish Jr. "Everybody is concerned about it."

Tire wear is not unusual at this 2.5-mile oval, especially early in the weekend on a surface that has been diamond ground. That grinding creates a coarse surface that is particularly abrasive for tires on heavy stock cars until small bits of rubber fill in holes in that ground surface.

The concern Saturday was that this process of "rubbering in" the track was not happening as rapidly as it has in past years.

"We've got enough tires for Sunday's race," NACSAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "There will be up to 10 sets per team, and not everybody is going to use all of their tires in the last practice."

Goodyear's Greg Stucker and NASCAR discussed having a competition caution -- perhaps as many as two -- early in the race so teams could check wear, but believes the situation will take care of itself as today's race unfolds -- as it has in past Cup races here.

Mark Martin's lap at 181.393 mph that put him on the outside of Row 1 for a race that he's been saying for weeks he thinks he can win.

Ryan Newman starts third in his Dodge with Kasey Kahne, also in a Dodge fourth. Jeff Gordon, a four-time winner here, starts fifth. Points leader Kyle Busch, who has won seven races so far this year, starts 19th.


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