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Published: Monday, 7/28/2008

Johnson survives battle of the treads

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Jimmie Johnson won the Allstate 400  yesterday at the Indianapolis Speedway  which turned into a series of short sprints because the Car of Tomorrow used by the drivers caused more stress on tires than expected. Jimmie Johnson won the Allstate 400 yesterday at the Indianapolis Speedway which turned into a series of short sprints because the Car of Tomorrow used by the drivers caused more stress on tires than expected.
MICHAEL CONROY / AP Enlarge

INDIANAPOLIS The annual Sprint Cup Series event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is billed as one of NASCAR s brightest gems a long, arduous battle of stamina and strategy contested over a 400-mile run on this famous track.

Instead, a relentless problem with the abrasive racing surface devouring tires at a record clip turned yesterday s Allstate 400 at The Brickyard race into 400 miles on the installment plan.

NASCAR officials had to use a series of competition cautions to bring the field in every 10-12 laps for tire changes, effectively chopping the race up into a bunch of sprints, followed by frantic pit stops.

That wasn t a race today. It s ridiculous, said Ryan Newman, who won the other biggest race in the Sprint Cup Series, the Daytona 500.

The new Car of Tomorrow was making its first appearance on the hallowed track, and everyone involved apparently miscalculated how much stress the car s different posture would put on the tires.

Tire wear had been an issue here in the past, but never to this degree.

NASCAR had conducted a tire test at the track, but the teams were not permitted to test with the COT at Indy.

Newman, who finished 13th, chastised NASCAR officials for the fiasco. NASCAR had rushed an additional 800 tires to the track on Saturday, in case the usual supply was depleted.

That s a lack of preparation from NASCAR to Goodyear to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to put on a show like they did for the fans today, Newman said. It s disrespectful to the fans and I wish that it didn t have to be that way. That s not the way NASCAR racing is supposed to be.

Forced to run in stages, to the untrained eye the race format might have resembled please don t tell Richard Petty the Tour de France. Jimmie Johnson won the most stages, won the final stage, and won the race for the second time in the past three years.

But the showcase event left many of the drivers angry, frustrated, and embarrassed at the product placed in front of the crowd estimated in excess of 200,000.

Jeff Gordon, who has won this race four times and is also a four-time champion in the Cup Series, shook his head in dismay, not as much over his fifth-place finish as for what had transpired over the course of the day.

I ve never seen anything like this, and I really hate that it happened here at the Brickyard it s such a big race, Gordon said. I think all of us are disappointed in what went on here today. I can t remember where we ve ever had one quite like this.

After serious issues with the tires surfaced in practice earlier in the weekend, NASCAR had planned to use the competition cautions to insure that the teams would be racing on safe tires, but no one expected them to use the yellow flag nine times, and for a 160-lap race to have a 12-lap dash be its longest run. Midway through the race, the pit and garage areas were cluttered with shredded tires.

It s frustrating when you run 10 laps and the right-rear and right-front tires are worn out, said former series champ Bobby Labonte, who finished 16th. You just wanted to scream and hope that you could stretch out your runs. Ten laps and then a caution, 10 laps and a caution that s not racing.

Johnson managed to take tires at the right times, and utilize a fast car and an even faster pit crew to win the chaotic event. There were 52 laps run under caution and 25 lead changes involving 16 drivers, but Johnson, the two-time defending champion in the Sprint Cup Series, led almost half the race 71 laps.

When the final competition caution came out with 10 laps to go, the field pitted for tires with most of the leaders taking just two, for the weary right side. Johnson was first out of the pits, jumping two spots in the order and overtaking Denny Hamlin who had led several of the late stages. Johnson out-sprinted runner-up Carl Edwards over the last seven laps to take the win, with Hamlin finishing third, Elliott Sadler fourth, then Gordon.

My guys on the crew were awesome, and we had great pit stops. I m so stoked for these guys. I can t wait to go out and have that gritty kiss, said Johnson, referring to the traditional winning team s ritual of kissing Indy s famed row of bricks.

When you get to technical tracks or technical situations, I think there s a handful of teams and drivers that kind of rise to the top, and I wanted to be that guy. I feel like I am that guy and we are that team. We went out there, stuck to a plan, and were smart about it, smart about how I was driving my car, not wearing the tires off of it.

Contact Matt Markey at:mmarkey@theblade.comor 419-724-6510.



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