- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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HAMPTON, Ga. -- As far as some of the drivers are concerned, the square rocks on Fred Flintstone's car are softer and preferable to the Goodyear tires the Sprint Cup teams used Sunday.
Second place was no consolation for Tony Stewart. He blamed Goodyear for ruining the Kobalt Tools 500.
"If I were Goodyear, I'd be very embarrassed about the tire they brought this weekend," Stewart said. "It was ridiculous. If they can't do better than that, pull out of the sport. I guarantee you that Hoosier or Firestone could do a better job than that."
Stewart wasn't alone in his harsh criticism of the tire compound used at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"I know Goodyear doesn't like criticism, but I'm not going to sit here and put up with this," said Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his third-place finish. "We couldn't race side by side or we would wreck. Hopefully we can all get along and do something about this."
Goodyear marketing manager Justin Fantozzi addressed the comments from the drivers.
"Getting into attacks in the media is not the right place," Fantozzi said. "We are tremendously proud of the wear rates we saw here today. As always, we bring the safest tire we know how to build. It's up to the race teams to go as fast as they can."
Fantozzi was asked what Goodyear would do to improve the situation.
"We'll do the same exact thing we do after every race," he said. "We'll go over the data and see where it leaves us. Driver comments are part of the data set. We look at everything and make a decision. We're not stagnant by any means."
The specific complaint voiced is that the tire was too hard. It also wasn't the tire the teams used in a test session at Atlanta.
"To tell us the week before the race we have a new tire and expect everyone figure it out is very disappointing," Stewart said. "I guess that's why they got run out of Formula One, the IRL, CART and USAC, you name it. They couldn't keep up and provide a quality product. Maybe they don't have enough quality people.
"We had a tire that didn't meet the standards of the competition. You felt like you were holding your breath all day. I'm real excited I didn't crash. I've been racing 28 years and never seen a racing tire like this weekend."
A few teams will participate in a tire test Monday at Darlington Raceway.
"Please don't bring this tire to Darlington," Earnhardt said. "As horrible as today was, that would be worse. I'm not part of the test, but I'm going just to ask drivers how it feels out there."
Fantozzi said the tires Goodyear will use at the Darlington test are different from the one used Sunday.
Carl Edwards wasn't as critical of the tire as Stewart and Earnhardt. Edwards was leading the race and clearly had the fastest car in the field before he suffered an engine failure with 51 laps to go.
"The tire is fine," Edwards said. "Everybody has the same tires. They are really, really hard to drive. They could make them easier to drive, but they aren't coming apart. If I was running 20th, I'd be mad as hell about the tires. But as good as our car is running, I say don't change a thing."
Jeff Gordon, who finished fifth, said it was a scary situation out there.
"There's just no reason for this," Gordon said. "This car with this tire and this track was just terrible."
Earnhardt said the new car compounds the problem because it causes an increased load on the right-side tires. Fantozzi said the new car isn't different from other situations Goodyear has faced in the past.
"The challenge presented is similar to other race vehicles that have changed, whether it's open-wheel or stock cars," Fantozzi said. "At the conclusion of the data, a set of physics is still physics. We'll take the data and learn from it."
Earnhardt said he'd rather take a chance on blowing a softer tire than trying to race the hard tire.
"I went from running a tire with the cords showing to one that I could still see the center line after 30 laps," Earnhardt said. "Good Lord, there has to be a lot of room in between. This can't be where we're headed."
There wasn't a single blowout Sunday, which was Goodyear's goal. But most drivers felt Goodyear went too far to the safety side and not far enough to the competition side.
"Goodyear just overreacted," Gordon said. "A tire is supposed to wear. It's not supposed to blow, so [Goodyear] is in a tough position. This car doesn't help them."
Stewart said part of the problem is that Goodyear has exclusive rights in NASCAR, so it has no competition. Goodyear has a five-year contract that goes through 2011.
"I'm really not trying to beat them up," Stewart said. "But I don't know how else to get their attention. We are pleading with Goodyear to do something."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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