NASCAR faces questions about tires, track amid driver frustration at Texas
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas — NASCAR enjoys, even relishes, when its playoffs dive into chaos.
But was the Texas Motor Speedway chaos a little bit too much?
Cars spinning in resin. Three drivers blowing tires while leading the race, ending their hopes of winning. Some drivers seeing potential championship runs slipping through their hands.
Was it a tire issue? A traction compound issue? A track issue? An issue with the Next Gen car?
It was probably a bit of all of those things, as they're all related. The new car produces different loads, punishing the right rear tires. With the additional horsepower on the 1.5-mile tracks this year, the cars needed the traction compound to produce more grip and hopefully additional racing grooves, especially at Texas, where a 2017 reconfiguration created different width and banking in Turns 1-2 and Turns 3-4.
"We’re all learning about the setups, the tires, Goodyear is learning about the [new tire] construction, the new [18-inch] wheel," NASCAR Senior Vice President Scott Miller said.
"It’s an unfortunate part of a learning process. The ones that didn’t have any problems admitted being on the conservative side with all the things that are difficult on tires. They make speed, but they’re difficult on tires."
This isn’t the first time teams have had issues. It isn’t new in racing or NASCAR for teams to occasionally have to choose between speed and being conservative on air pressures.
But it was startling to see how many drivers had problems Sunday. At least seven had tire issues, including Christopher Bell with two.
Bell indicated that he had about five seconds of vibration before his tire would fail. Chase Elliott indicated he had less.
"When it started coming apart, I was already out of shape," Elliott said. "I already was on corner exit. So it was just a bad place for it."
Bell seemed flabbergasted afterward.
"We’re going to be in a deep hole," he said.
Bell now sits below the playoff cutline — by a not insurmountable but deep 29 points — after entering the round four points above the cutoff. Alex Bowman had a tire issue that saw him go from six points below the cutoff to 30 points below.
And that’s what makes the tire issues so pivotal.
NASCAR’s playoff system of three-race rounds doesn’t give much room for a driver to have a bad day, especially as the number of the drivers who are championship-eligible gets cut by four after each round.
Elliott went from 31 points above the cutline to four after his accident ended his race. He now needs to perform at Talladega Superspeedway next weekend and the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course in two weeks.
"It is not a great position to be in," he said. "It is what it is."
Since the start of the elimination playoff system in 2014, drivers in some ways have resigned themselves to the nature of the playoffs, in that one bad race can spoil a season. They all know that anything can happen.
To win races, they have to go fast. But some would argue that they shouldn’t have to make such a choice with such consequences — a hard wreck from a blown tire could result in significant injury, in addition to competition woes — when it comes to tires.
"For sure, I can say without a doubt, air pressure is playing into it," Goodyear racing director Greg Stucker said. "We know where a lot of guys are — some more aggressive than others.
"We know that plays a part. I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, and we’re trying to understand everything else that might be going on."
Stucker said the resin, applied closer to the wall than in previous races at Texas, created a fast racetrack in addition to a rain delay that resulted in much of the race being run under the lights.
"No excuses," Stucker said. "We’re just trying to find the facts and see what exactly is going on."
As for Tyler Reddick and the winning team, they probably think they made the right choice and others made the wrong choice. But crew chief Randall Burnett wasn’t going to gloat afterward.
"It’s a little bit of a guessing game for us, right?" he said. "You don't know what the line is on it, right? You want to be as close to the line as you can with them without stepping over it.
"It's a struggle. It's very stressful for all engineers, all the crew chiefs, everybody up and down pit road. It's one of those things. Fortunately, we got it right tonight. We've been on the backside of it and got it wrong a few times this year and cost ourselves a win."
And then there’s Texas, a track where Speedway Motorsports officials are exploring a potential repave and another reconfiguration, though nothing has been decided.
"The general consensus ... is this has been a difficult track to race on for a while now," Miller said. "What the plans are for it, I don’t have any details."
Thinking out loud
NASCAR has a tough decision to make as to whether to penalize William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution. It was an action that warranted a response in real time with either a to-the-rear or holding Byron for a lap or two.
The fact that Byron said he didn’t mean for Hamlin to spin isn’t enough for him to escape penalty. He is battling Hamlin for a playoff spot. He can’t spin him at a time when they’re not battling for position.
But a penalty after the fact? That’s a tough one because Byron can’t come back from it like he would if he were penalized during the race, so a postrace penalty seems unfair. Then again, why should he get a free pass just because NASCAR didn’t see the incident?
What happened to Hamlin, who went from second to 16th because of the spin, certainly wasn’t fair. So in some ways, maybe Byron should get an unfair penalty, too.
Stat of the day
Joey Logano’s second-place finish was his ninth top-5 of 2022 — and his fourth in the past eight races.
They said it
"It’s funny every week because we’ve got something new that is laughable. Just add this to the list." — Denny Hamlin after William Byron was not penalized for spinning him under caution
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.