The problems likely were the latest effect of NASCAR’s new aero rules, which are producing higher speeds that lead to extra stress on the tires - particularly on the bumpy asphalt on Fontana’s back straightaway, which already wears out tires aggressively.
Those problems might frustrate pit crews, but they can also lead to phenomenal racing, as the sellout crowd on its feet for the finish could attest.
“By no means is this a problem for Goodyear,” Kurt Busch said, referring to NASCAR’s tire manufacturer. “It’s just a thumbs-up for NASCAR for allowing teams to get aggressive in all areas.”
The intrigue and weirdness started early on at Fontana - which somehow seemed appropriate for a race in which the Muppets’ Gonzo told the drivers to start their engines.
Several drivers complained during an early pit stop that the red light was on, indicating pit road was closed. Gordon, Bowyer and Brad Keselowski did not pit because of the red light, and all were adamant NASCAR needed to correct their position in the running order.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, was told that the official in charge of displaying the flag got his uniform caught in a hole in a fence and couldn’t move, preventing him from flipping off the red light.
It’s the second consecutive week an issue with the caution light affected the race: At Bristol last Sunday, someone in the flagstand leaned on the button that turned the caution lights on right before Carl Edwards took the white flag. Rain then began to fall heavily, and the race could not be resumed, so Edwards won under caution.
Edwards finished 10th at Fontana and stayed one point ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 12th, for the overall points lead.
Fontana didn’t get a repeat of last year’s exciting duel between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, the unfriendly rivals who crashed into each other on the final lap while racing for the win.
Hamlin was a last-minute scratch with a sinus infection, depriving him of the self-described chance for redemption after getting airlifted away from the track last year with a broken vertebra. Sam Hornish Jr. took his place in the No. 11 JGR Toyota and finished 17th.
Logano, in a backup car after a crash earlier in the week, had to go to the garage after 114 laps, knocking him out of contention. He finished 39th.