KANSAS CITY, Kans. — A spate of flat left rear tires this past weekend at Kansas Speedway had some crew chiefs unsure what caused them and concerned about what might happen this weekend in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway with the same tire combination.
Points leader Chase Elliott saw his streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes end when he he spun while running sixth after his left rear went down. He brought out the caution on Lap 197 of the 267-lap race.
It was the second race in a row that Elliott crashed after a left rear went down. He finished 29th at Kansas, three laps behind winner Kurt Busch.
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“It’s something that has certainly been at the forefront of our mind,” crew chief Alan Gustafson told NBC Sports about the team’s left rear tire issues.
“We had the issue at Darlington. We feel liked we did what we needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again. Protected against it here. We had all of our tires that came off inspected and cut apart by Goodyear and they were all find up to that point. The randomness of it is certainly very concerning.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron also had a left rear go down while leading after Lap 112.
“There were enough configuration differences between the two of us,” Gustafson said of Elliott’s team and Byron’s team, “that it’s just hard to draw one conclusion.”
Also questioning what happened was James Small, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.
The No. 19 team’s race changed when the left rear tire went down on Truex’s car just before the end of stage 2 on Lap 165.
“One lap to go in that stage and it went down,” Small lamented. “Everything else looked great. That was the most conservative we’ve been all race. It’s obviously a combination of everything. Where we stacked up with our teammates, I’d never think it would be an issue. It ruined our race.”
What to do?
“I’m no tire master, so I don’t know the ins and outs of what they’re thinking,” Small said. “I know that they’ll probably just come back and tell us that we’re too aggressive. We didn’t even think we were aggressive. We were fine all day, never had a problem, looked great and then all of a sudden you have one go. There’s no telltale signs. … It’s just hard to know. I don’t know if it’s a manufacturing batch issue. Obviously we’ll investigate that as well between the teams.”
Truex’s teammate, Christopher Bell, also had a left rear tire go down. It went flat as Bell led under caution at Lap 64. His issue apparently was different from the 10 other teams that had left rears go down either during practice of the race.
“I honestly think we ran something over,” crew chief Adam Stevens told NBC Sports. “We have a pretty good understanding of the amount of load and stress we’re putting into it and we’re conservative and shouldn’t haven’t that issue. I honestly think we just cut something. We didn’t have any issues the rest of the day, the same settings.”
Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, said during Sunday’s race: “We think this is the right tire for the application. Given what we know about tire engineering and the materials we use … its ability to carry loads, its ability to perform, provide the grip it needs, we feel it is a match. We go back to what is the application to make sure it is used correctly.”
Not everyone had problems. Kyle Busch finished third and didn’t have any left rear issues.
“We learned our lesson at Vegas in practice when we wrecked there,” said Busch, who crashed after a left rear went down. “We haven’t come that aggressive since.”
While team owner Denny Hamlin celebrated Kurt Busch’s win, Hamlin also understood the frustration Bubba Wallace felt after finishing 10th at Kansas.
Wallace was hurt by two pit road penalties. He was penalized on Lap 83 for a crew member over the pit wall too soon during the pit stop after the completion of stage 1. Wallace finished the stage seventh and restarted the next stage 26th.
Wallace was penalized for a tire violation during a stop at Lap 198. He was fourth before the pit stop and restarted 23rd.
Wallace, who had a race-high 123 green-flag passes, rallied to finish 10th. It is his first top 10 since placing second in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Asked if he could feel good about his top-10 finish, Wallace told NBC Sports: “Nope. Pit crew sucks.”
Asked about Wallace being frustrated, Hamlin said: “He should be. He should be frustrated. Listen, I passed (Busch) pretty early easily in traffic. I could’t pass (Wallace). He was really, really fast. I mean extremely fast. The results just don’t show it. Like I said, as a team we’re letting him down right now.”
23XI Racing gets its pit crews from Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I think just internally at JGR we’ve got to work through some issues on pit road,” Hamlin said. “Certainly, I think we have to figure how to manage races, and you don’t always have to have Hail Mary stops in my opinion. Sometimes you’ve got to run the ball and have a solid stop with no mistakes to keep you in the game. That’s just fundamentally now really how we work.”
Kurt Busch’s 34th career Cup victory Sunday marked the fifth different team the 23XI Racing driver has won with and the fourth different manufacturer he’s taken to the Victory Lane after piloting his Toyota there Sunday. He’s won with Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and 23XI Racing.
Busch’s victory also gave 23XI Racing two wins in the last 19 Cup points races. Only Hendrick Motorsports has won more races during that time with 10 victories. 23XI Racing’s two victories during that span is tied with Team Penske, Trackhouse Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I have said that I want to build a championship contending team in five years,” team co-owner Denny Hamlin said. “We’re at year 1.3. This is really, really early.
“I can’t emphasize enough, we had to build from the ground up and we are still continuing to build, so it’s a long process. It’s hard to come out here and compete and beat some of these organizations that have been around for 30 years. It’s just nearly impossible, obviously.”