Cut tires catch Goodyear officials by surprise

Updated: August 7, 2005, 11:20 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- There were more tire problems at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, and Michelin wasn't involved in any of them.

Goodyear tires on at least eight cars went flat during the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Most of the problems were on the left front, including one that caused heavy damage to the front bodywork on Joe Nemechek's car from the shredded rubber.

Bobby Hamilton Jr. and Jeff Green apparently ran over bolts protruding from the track's rumble strips, Michael Waltrip had a cut in his tire tread, and Jason Leffler appeared to lose tire pressure.

Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte had problems on the right front. Johnson's tire blew on lap 146 when he crashed hard into the fourth turn wall. He was released from the hospital after undergoing precautionary evaluation.

Pole-winner Elliott Sadler also had a flat in the closing laps.

"Was it overabused? Anything like that? We don't know that," Labonte said. "The problem was we had a tire go down, whatever happened. … They've got analysts out there to figure it out."

Goodyear, the sole tire supplier for the series, had 21 left fronts go flat during the June Cup race at Pocono Raceway. All were attributed either to going over rumble strips, not having enough tire pressure or using a suspension that put too much pressure on the tires. But Goodyear officials were satisfied they would hold up on Indianapolis' new track surface.

"We tested at Indianapolis with Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman in late April," Goodyear engineer Mark Keto said. "We found that the new track surface is very fast with a lot of grip, so we have a tire combination unique to Indy."

Seven Formula One teams using Michelin tires pulled out of the U.S. Grand Prix in June after the tiremaker said the high speeds, especially in the final turn, were unsafe. Goodyear brought 2,800 Eagle Speedway radial tires to the Brickyard, however, with different specifications for the left- and right-side tires. No other Nextel Cup track uses this combination.

"Compared to last year, this setup features new compounds on both sides, as well as a new left-side construction," Keto said. "Recently, we also attended all three pre-race team test sessions to monitor performance of the new setup, and it performed very well."

A year ago, before the 2.5-mile track was resurfaced, at least a dozen cars had tire problems in the NASCAR race.

History delayed
Jeff Gordon didn't make history Sunday, but he moved up one spot in the season standings.

Gordon was trying to become the first driver to win five races at the historic Indianapolis historic track but finished eighth.

It was good enough to move him from 15th to 14th in the points, 87 points out of the 10th and final qualifying spot for the Cup's season-ending shootout.

"We had a great car, we really did," Gordon said. "We never really got to show it. We got it really good the second half of the race, and the whole time we were playing catch-up."

Gordon is the only NASCAR driver with four wins at the track.

Three IndyCar drivers -- A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears -- have won four times at the Indianapolis 500. Formula One driver Michael Schumacher also has four wins at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Transition Tim
Former NFL receiver Tim Brown has a new mission -- owning a Nextel Cup team.

With his Super Bowl chase over after 17 NFL seasons, Brown returned to the state where he won the 1987 Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. Now, Brown wants to become the first minority owner in the NASCAR series.

"If that's going to happen, it's going to have to happen in the next 45 to 60 days," Brown said Sunday. "So we're going to be pushing very hard to get that done."

Brown appeared with one of the series' top owners, Jack Roush, before the race.

Roush advised Brown to also start teams in NASCAR's Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series, something Brown said he would consider.

"Mr. Roush told me yesterday he started in the Truck Series, so if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us," Brown said. "It's our hope to run in the Cup series and the Busch series this year."

Brown is the latest football personality to make the transition to racing. Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs owns a team, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw is a part owner, and former players such as Reggie White, Joe Washington, Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach were involved in racing.

Staying put
There has been considerable speculation this year about the possibility of Ryan Newman changing teams, but it appears the Penske Racing South driver is going to continue to drive for Roger Penske.

Team president Don Miller confirmed Sunday that Newman, in his fourth year in the Cup series and already signed through 2006, has agreed to a contract extension through 2009.

"Just like I've been telling people all year, Ryan isn't going anywhere," Miller said.

The 27-year-old driver from South Bend, Ind., has 32 poles and 11 victories and has finished no worse than seventh in the points in his first three seasons. After Sunday's race, Newman dropped from sixth to seventh in the points standings -- still good enough to make the season-ending Cup shootout.

Newman finished 34th after starting sixth Sunday.

True grit
Jimmy Fennig, crew chief for reigning Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch, received the annual True Grit Award and a check for $10,000 Sunday morning for his achievements in racing.

In a career of more than 20 years, Fennig has worked for drivers Mark Martin, Bobby Allison and Dick Trickle.

"Jimmy definitely fits the criteria for the True Grit Award," said Chris Paulsen, owner of the sponsoring C&R Racing. "He is a first-rate, hard racer from the dirt tracks of Wisconsin and has worked his way to the top in NASCAR's premier series, winning races and a championship."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press