Is there some tire trickery going on in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series?
Some of the series’ top competitors certainly believe so and NASCAR has taken steps in recent weeks to find out.
NASCAR periodically confiscates tires from teams for a “tire audit” and did so again last weekend after Sunday’s race in Fontana, Calif.
Tires from the teams of Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and A.J. Allmendinger were taken to NASCAR’s research and development center in Concord for analysis.
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The week prior, NASCAR confiscated the tires of Harvick and Joey Logano and found no irregularities.
This week, for the first time this season, NASCAR sent tires – it did not say which – to a third party for further analysis. As of Friday afternoon, NASCAR had not received the results.
“Obviously NASCAR is trying to make sure we’re all on a level playing field, and if anyone is violating that, they’ll pay the price, which they’ve reminded us (Friday) morning is very, very stiff,” said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for driver Jeff Gordon.
“That’s all I know. Anything beyond that is speculation besides the fact that it’s a hot topic, obviously.”
In a meeting Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway, Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck reminded crew chiefs of the seriousness of the issue and a violation would be considered a “P5” – the second-most serious in NASCAR’s penalty scale.
P5 infractions can bring 50-point penalties as well as fines ranging from $75,000 to $125,000 and six-race suspensions.
Buck said officials have seen the “noise level” rise in the garage area over the past several weeks about teams “bleeding” tires, or reducing air pressure over the course of a run. In theory, reduced air pressure would increase grip on the track.
“It’s always good to have experts weigh in on things like this,” Buck said. “We don’t want the competitors to feel like they are racing against this.”
Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said the tire manufacturer is not directly involved in the process NASCAR is undertaking to examine the tires.
Suspicion of tire irregularities is nothing new in NASCAR.
In one of the most famous instances, team owner Jack Roush accused Gordon’s team of altering tires in Gordon’s 1998 championship season in which he won a career-best 13 races.
NASCAR confiscated the team’s tires and also sent them out to a third-party for analysis and nothing was found.
“I don’t know if there is anything or not. I really don’t,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for driver Jimmie Johnson. “I’m busy on Sunday and I don’t have a lot of friends in the garage. So, I don’t talk too much.
“I know I sent Richard Buck a text and said ‘Hey man, could we poke holes in our tires? Is that OK?’ He sent me a text back and said ‘Absolutely not.’ So that is all I know.”
Gordon said he was confident teams were bleeding tires.
“When it gets to this level when you’re hearing about it, I’m hearing about it, and they’re talking about things in meetings with crew chiefs, that tells me it’s definitely being done,” he said.
“It’s just not clear on how it’s being done.”
Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter