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Junior Overcomes Tire Troubles for 12th at Fontana

By Mike Hoag, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 3/23/2014

Race: Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway
Track Specs: 2-mile D-shaped oval
Weather: Clear, 70 degrees
Race Winner: Kyle Busch
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 12th

The record books will show Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 12th in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, but that finish is not indicative of the day he and the No. 88 National Guard team experienced. Earnhardt overcame a flat left-front tire that sent his car careening into the outside wall early in the race to post his fourth top-15 finish in five starts this season.

Earnhardt began moving up early in the race and found himself running inside the top 10 when his car darted right into the outside safer barrier at lap 42. Fortunately, Earnhardt was running the outside line, reducing the impact on the right side of his Chevrolet. The damage brought Earnhardt to pit road three times under the caution period and relegated him to the back of the pack for the ensuing restart at lap 47.

The damage and lack of track position was no match for Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet as he began climbing through the field and eventually back into the top 10 by lap 79. By the race’s midway point, he was all the way to sixth and cracked the top five several laps later. The ascent through the field was stopped there as Earnhardt suspected yet another flat tire and brought his No. 88 car to pit road at lap 109. The trip to pit road dropped Earnhardt off the lead lap, which he’d recover via the wave around.

As laps wound down, tire issues plagued many teams and drivers, including Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson who led a race-high 104 laps before falling victim to a failed left-front tire in the final five laps.

A spin by Clint Bowyer with only two laps remaining brought teams to pit road a final time and set up a green-white-checkered finish. Earnhardt moved to 12th at the checkered flag as Kyle Busch held off Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart for the victory.

Earnhardt remains second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings trailing Carl Edwards by one point after five races.

On the tire situation…

“To be honest with you, the back straightaway is very rough and I think the tire can’t handle the load that it goes through on that back straightaway. And it’s just tearing the tire up where the sidewall and tread are put together. There ain’t another race track on the circuit besides Kentucky that has bumps like that. They’re incredible huge, huge bumps. And I think that plays a big role in it because the tire must see astronomical loads through that section of the race track that it never sees any other time at any other circuit.

“So, I don’t think it’s good to cycle a tire through bumps like that. I think that’s why the tire comes apart. I think that’s why a left rear here and a left front there and it’s not air pressure and things like that. We’re moving air pressure around and it ain’t saving the tire. There’s bumps on the back straightaway that get worse and worse. They don’t need to pave the race track. Just pave the back straightaway. Not very cheap, but I’ll bet you won’t have any tire problems anymore.”

So when the car comes down off the bump, that’s the tire wear issue?
“They show it in slow motion during practice all the time. Like the Nationwide guys, they were just banging through there and the cars are moving six to 10 inches in travel; and that’s ridiculous. We run these cars and work within sixteenths of an inch getting them around the race tracks. And for it to be going through that much movement, that many times through the back straightaway can’t be good for the tire. You’re just taking the tire and it’s like taking a piece of Aluminum and just keep twisting it back and forth and it’s going to break in half.

“The bumps are getting worse and worse and are too bad now. I don’t think it’s low air pressure. That doesn’t help when you get down too low. I imagine that Goodyear is going to look into that. But I’m telling you, the bumps back there and unlike any other thing we see. If they don’t tear the tire up, I don’t care that it’s bumpy. You just go through them and fix the track whenever you feel like fixing it. But, if it’s tearing the tires up and if that’s why, we need to look into it. Us, as a team, the team’s got to fix it all the time. It might be something fundamental like bumps on the race track there. They’re really bad on the back straightaway.

“I feel bad for Goodyear. I think the tire is fine. I like the tire. It’s just those bumps. If you watch the cars go through there in slow motion, it shouldn’t be like that. And grinding them, they tried to grind them and they’re huge. You’d have to grind into the ground into the dirt to get those damn things to move (laughter).”

Did you have any issues this weekend? Were you surprised about today?
“I was fine all weekend. I seen guys having trouble but our air pressure was in the ballpark with everyone else. And we didn’t feel like we were low on air pressure. We felt like we were good. And we knew where low was and we weren’t there. We weren’t going there. We were just going to try to make our car work without going that low. But, it just seemed like every other tire you put on, just wasn’t quite as tough as the next and with everything going on with the bumps back there that that plays a big role in it.

“If they don’t believe that, that’s fine. If they think we need to do something else, they’ll do it. But I mean look at that rocker panel on that race car right there (points to the panel). That panel is tore up and folded up and it’s literally pushed up three inches. That’s from traveling and hitting the ground through those bumps. Hell, it’s like an off-road track back there and it shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be that way, even if it ain’t the problem.”

Fontana Race Report
Start 15th
Finish 12th
Laps Completed (Led) 200 of 200 (0)
Standings (from next) 2nd (-1)
Condition Running
After Ford EcoBoost 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +3 Kevin Harvick 5043 0
2 +1 Ryan Newman 5042 -1
3 -2 Denny Hamlin 5037 -6
4 -2 Joey Logano 5028 -15
5 -- Brad Keselowski 2361 -2682
6 -- Jeff Gordon 2348 -2695
7 -- Matt Kenseth 2334 -2709
8 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2301 -2742
9 -- Carl Edwards 2288 -2755
10 -2 Kyle Busch 2285 -2758
11 +2 Jimmie Johnson 2274 -2769
12 +2 Kurt Busch 2263 -2780
Full Standings