Johnson able to kiss the bricks once again

Published 1:05 pm Monday, July 28, 2008

By By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
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 race 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.
But there was nothing Goodyear could do on 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 if the sanctioning body would eventually 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.
Edwards, sympathetic to NASCAR’s plight, said he raced at 100 percent over the final run but couldn’t catch Johnson.
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.
The tire issue cropped up early Saturday, when drivers learned during the first practice that the tires could only 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 of the lack of downforce on the car, combined with the higher center of gravity of it, created conditions that made it very 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.
NASCAR pushed back the lap 10 caution to 14, but again the field didn’t make it. Kurt Busch wrecked into Kevin Harvick on that lap to bring out another yellow. Because Earnhardt had already pitted, he stayed out and assumed the lead with the intention of trying to run to the next planned caution on lap 30.
But his tire started to fade four laps short of the stop, dropping him off the pace and a lap down when he had to pit under green.
Still, Earnhardt defended NASCAR.
Juan Pablo Montoya soon lost a tire, as did Matt Kenseth, who spun through the grass when his failed.
NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton spent the race on pit road, examining tires and talking to frustrated crew chiefs. After, he defended the job NASCAR did in staging a safe race.