- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS | Jimmie Johnson celebrated his second victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a burnout.

Appropriately, one of his tires exploded.

Johnson survived horrendous tire troubles that made Sunday’s Allstate 400 a caution-filled debacle because the Goodyear product was not durable enough to withstand the lack of downforce on NASCAR’s new car and the speeds and surface of Indy.

“We came with the best tire we had for the conditions, and we fell short. We’ll try to get it right,” said Greg Stucker, director of race tire sales for Goodyear.

“I don’t think anybody likes to race like this, us included. We’ll do what we can to make it better.”

But there was nothing Goodyear could do Sunday, when NASCAR threw six competition cautions designed to force teams to pit and change their tires.

It meant the longest green-flag run was an embarrassing 12 laps, causing teams to fear both tire failures and a possible supply shortage. Goodyear shipped in 800 tires earmarked for use next week in Pocono before the race, but they ultimately weren’t needed.

It was little consolation as drivers feared going full speed and crew chiefs were forced to gamble on tire strategy. No one was certain when NASCAR would call a caution or whether the sanctioning body eventually would decide to let the drivers go as long as they wanted.

Instead, NASCAR called the cautions roughly every 10 to 12 laps.

Johnson fretted the final two stops, unsure what the right strategy would be. He took two tires on his final stop to emerge from pit road as the leader, then held off Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin over a final seven-lap green flag run to the finish line.

“I was worried the stop before that maybe we had to go two less to win this thing,” Johnson said.

Edwards, sympathetic to NASCAR’s plight, said he raced at 100 percent over the final run but couldn’t catch Johnson.

“That’s a long day. I know everybody’s trying to do their best,” Edwards said. “I just, personally, [want] to say to the fans, everybody’s doing their best to make that race, at least we got to run at the end.”

Hamlin, who led late but gave the lead up during the frenzied final sequences of pit stops, said he never got a feel for how good his car was because of the tire concerns.

“I don’t think anyone could push their car as hard as they would have liked to today,” said Hamlin. “I was patient as I ever was in any other race. When I wanted to run hard, I could look like I was 20 mph better than anyone else, but I knew I was going to pay for it in the end.”

The tire issue cropped up early Saturday, when drivers learned during the first practice that the tires only could last anywhere from three to 10 laps before the rubber was wearing down to the cords. NASCAR and Goodyear hoped the conditions would improve - as it has in years past - once enough rubber was laid down on the track.

But the first-time use of the Car of Tomorrow didn’t allow it because the lack of downforce on the car, combined with the higher center of gravity of it, created conditions that made it hard on the right side tires. No matter how much rubber was laid on the track, the tires still weren’t strong enough to last more than 10 or so laps.

So NASCAR scheduled a competition caution to check tire wear after 10 laps, but it didn’t even get that far as Michael Waltrip spun on the fourth lap to bring out the first yellow. Some of the teams decided to pit then, including 12th-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I liked it because it was less work,” Earnhardt said sarcastically. “It was kind of fun, little 10-lap sprints, little heat races, getting new tires every 10 laps. It was great.”

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