NASCAR & Auto Racing

And you thought 'full bore' was something else entirely

INDIANAPOLIS - Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and their race team did their jobs well Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard for the second time in three years.

It's open to debate, however, if anyone else involved successfully completed the task of staging of what's supposed to be Sprint Cup racing's second biggest event.

Apparently no vendors were selling T-shirts that said "I went to a Cup race the Brickyard and the Chili Bowl Broke Out." But there could have been.

Instead of a 400-mile race to the glory that comes with winning at this historic facility, the 15th running of this race turned in a series of heats capped by a seven-lap trophy dash in which Johnson held off Carl Edwards.Excessive tire wear was the culprit.

Normally through the course of a NASCAR weekend, the surface of this 2.5-mile track takes in bits of rubber as tires wear away and fill in the grooves created by the diamond-grinding that has been done to it.

Even as the "rubbering in" process did not occur during Saturday's practices, however, NASCAR and Goodyear remained confident that conditions would improve as Sunday's race went on.

But Cup teams had a new car here this year, a heavier one that's more punishing on right-side tires, and that unanticipated variable blew up the equation for this event.

NASCAR was forced to throw competition caution flags about every 10 green-flag laps to prevent widespread calamity stemming from blown tires - and drivers said afterward they were running at only 75 to 85 percent of full bore to make the tires last that long.

Teams scrambled to find enough tires to make it to the end without having to dip into a reserve of tires built for next week's race at Pocono Raceway that Goodyear trucked in overnight to have as a contingency plan, with NASCAR spacing out the planned stoppages by padding the length of some of the 11 cautions to forestall such a drastic move.

"That wasn't good," Greg Biffle said.

Brian Vickers was more emphatic. "I'm embarrassed for the sport, for myself, for Goodyear, for NASCAR and the track," he said. "It's just unacceptable at this level."

Unacceptable, perhaps, but not unprecedented.

In 2005, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway was marred by tire issues in a race that produced a Cup-record 22 yellow flags. That same year, only six cars started Formula One's U.S. Grand Prix at this track because of a dispute over tire safety.

In this case, at least NASCAR didn't keep letting teams run on their tires until they blew out. It also resisted the temptation to stop using the caution to manage the situation as the race neared its conclusion, taking from the teams the tough call on whether to potentially push beyond the bounds of safety in hopes of getting a win here.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Sprint Cup Series director Robin Pemberton said. "I think we'll just learn from this experience and try to come back and do a little bit better job next year when we come back.

"If you're a good fan and you don't get what you want, it's OK to be disappointed. You know, we can be disappointed right along with you. ...We're here to put on the best races we can and we do a damn good job of it most of the time."

Nobody - save the winning team - was particularly happy with how things went. But most resigned themselves to saying that, given the circumstances facing NASCAR and Goodyear as race day dawned, there wasn't much that could have been done differently.

"I like what NASCAR did," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who fell a lap down early with a flat tire before fighting back to finish 12th. "That is the only way we could have put on a show today. I'm ashamed, but there wasn't much we could do beside load them up and not run at all.

"I feel bad for NASCAR. They are going to take a lot of heat for this and they certainly don't deserve it."

Speaking of deserving it, in spite of everything that happened on a bizarre afternoon, Johnson and his team certainly seemed to be deserving winners. The No. 48 Chevrolet was fast all weekend.

Johnson won the pole on Saturday and led pretty much at will on Sunday, for a total of 71 laps. But before the final run, Denny Hamlin had worked his Toyota to the front and Johnson was unable to catch and pass him during - in sprint-car parlance - the C-main and B-main that came before the final competition yellow.

Crew chief Chad Knaus had been firing four tires at his car all day, even as some teams were changing only the troublesome right-sides for track position. Then, on that final stop, Johnson got rights and his crew got him off pit road first, just ahead of Edwards and Johnson.

Two weeks after losing a race at Chicagoland on a two-lap duel with Kyle Busch, Johnson converted this time.

"Carl put a lot of pressure on me at the end," he said. "Those last seven laps were white-knuckle, to say the least. I tried not to think about the fact that it was the Brickyard. I just made sure I hit my marks."

Johnson wanted to do a victory lap after the win. But when he did a burnout on the frontstretch, the only thing that could have happened on this day did happen.

He blew out his rear tires.

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