Exploding tires put a dent in Chase contenders' chances
The Sprint Cup race Sunday at Talladega could have been a show for the ages. Too bad exploding tires stole the spotlight, writes Terry Blount.
Updated: October 6, 2008, 2:36 AM ETBy Terry Blount | ESPN.com
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Wrecked Chase contenders, two red flags, record lead changes and a Tony Stewart victory on a controversial finish.The Amp Energy 500 was a show for the ages. Unfortunately, it also was a tire explosion waiting to happen.Sound familiar?Once again, tires were a major issue in a 2008 Sprint Cup race, and no one knows why.Three times tires exploded off the wheel. It could have ruined a spectacular day, and did ruin the day for about a dozen drivers. "I was worried all the way back when the 88 [Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.] blew a tire in practice," Jimmie Johnson said. "When you run over something, you cut a tire. These tires exploded. In my opinion, something was wrong. It was in the back of my mind all day."Johnson escaped with a ninth-place finish and padded his points lead. The wild ending Sunday -- Regan Smith illegally went below the yellow line to pass Stewart at the checkered flag -- was the story of the race. Tires became an afterthought. Denny Hamlin, who spent the night in a Birmingham hospital, probably felt differently.
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe right-front tire on Brian Vickers' No. 83 Toyota exploded, triggering a nine-car pileup.
Hamlin slammed the wall in Turn 2 when his tire disintegrated while he was leading midway through the race. "That was scary," said J.D. Gibbs, the president of Joe Gibbs Racing and Hamlin's boss. "Denny's going to be OK. He has a headache and his foot was hurt, but he'll be all right." An earlier tire failure for Brian Vickers caused a nine-car pileup and brought out the first red flag. And Jeff Gordon's day was ruined when David Reutimann's tire burst into shredding rubber, causing Gordon to crash. The first sign of trouble came Friday when Earnhardt had a tire explode during practice. At that time, everyone hoped it was an isolated incident. It wasn't."It was a little nerve-racking today with the tires blowing for no reason," Earnhardt said. "The Hoosier tires also blew in the ARCA race [Friday], so maybe it was something to do with the [track] surface. It's made me nervous, but you have to run.''Earnhardt's backup car was a contender to win, but his race ended with 15 laps to go. Earnhardt was a victim of 10-car pileup caused by Carl Edwards' bump-drafting too aggressively with teammate Greg Biffle.It proved the continuous danger of restrictor-plate racing at Talladega, a clear reason why the 2.66-mile oval is the worst place for tires to go off like a TNT charge.
That was scary. Denny's going to be OK. He has a headache and his foot was hurt, but he'll be all right.
-- J.D. Gibbs
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