NASCAR Cup Series
What We Learned at Auto Club Speedway
Feb 28, 2022
For the second week in a row, NASCAR will allow Cup Series drivers to stay in their cars after suffering a flat tire as they receive a tow back to pit road without automatically incurring a DNF as a result, but drivers are optimistic a better solution will be found.
The lower profile tire on the Next Gen does not have an inner liner. Combined with an underwing, larger brake package and lower ride height, cars become beached when they suffer a puncture of any kind. This isn’t as simple as increasing the ride height, because that will fundamentally change the balance of the cars and a racing product that has taken two years of testing to get to this point.
Even with the new policy of allowing drivers to stay in their car, teams are still at risk of losing multiple laps while waiting for it, and what happens if multiple cars have flats and safety workers then have to pick which car to tow first.
Austin Dillon is hopeful for a resolution over the next several weeks because there is an unintended consequence of drivers choosing not to spin when they see a wreck in front of them.
"It would really suck to have your race end because you spun out to miss a spin in front of you and have a flat," Dillon said. "That wouldn't be on me as much as the situation I would be in ... because now I've lost three laps trying to get towed because I spun out to avoid making it a bigger safety issue.
"So now maybe I'm thinking about trying to find a window in front of me to make it through instead of spinning out. I'll take whatever advantage there would be to not spin out. We've got to work on that, we've got to get it fixed."
Dillon says he’s heard the pushback of ‘Well, don’t spin out,’ or ‘a flat tire is a DNF’ in other forms of motorsports, but he says that’s simply not NASCAR.
"We have 40 cars in our form of racing and it's way more competitive throughout the field than other forms of racing," Dillon said. "So, when someone is driving their heart out, and they spin, you shouldn't be penalized for that too.
"I do think we're going to have to find a fix for that, but it is what it is in the meantime. I'm just going to have to avoid spinning and avoid spinning to avoid a spin."
Cole Custer agrees that there needs to be a better way. He’s heard rumblings of some changes by mid-spring but ultimately has faith that the sanctioning body will come up with something that works but he doesn’t have any ideas.
"Honestly, I don’t know exactly," Custer said. "Obviously, they have tow trucks and stuff right now, but I’m kind of trusting NASCAR on that one. There have been rumors about a rule change, but I haven’t heard anything for sure. We’ll see. I think obviously we’d like to drive the car back if we have a flat, so we’ll see what happens."
Joey Logano meanwhile has an idea and expressed it during a Monday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
"We should have a AAA truck that goes out on the racetrack when cars spin out and have flat tires … and they change your tires right there on the racetrack, so you can get to pit road, instead of trying to hook it to a tow truck and dragging everything off the bottom of the car or pushing me," Logano said. "Daytona was horrible. It was horrible for me.
"This is how I went crazy. I spun out missing this crash. Tires are flat. I didn’t hit anything. I’m OK. I’m stuck, and then the tow truck comes behind me. He starts pushing me up the racetrack I go, and I get stuck again. Now, the ambulance is behind me and I’m stuck. The ambulance won’t move. No one knows what is going on. I back into the ambulance. Now I’m stuck again.
"Here comes the tow truck again. Tow truck is trying to push me, and now I’m just going to turn through the (infield) grass because I can’t go two-and-a-half miles on these wear blocks (on the bottom of the car). The car is not even moving. I start going through the grass and everything is OK. Here comes Kurt Busch down pit road and the tow truck stops so it doesn’t put me into him, which was great.
"Now the tow truck can’t push the car anymore because he doesn’t have any momentum. He’s spinning his tires behind me. He backs up, and now he starts ramming me. … It just kept getting worse. Now I’m three laps down … because I had a flat tire. So yes, I went bonkers for a little bit."
His former Penske teammate Brad Keselowski chewed out a safety worker during practice at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday.
After suffering a flat, a tow truck lifted up the Roush Fenway Keselowski No. 6 with a hook and Keselowski gave the worker an earful for potentially damaging the rear diffuser on the car during a period in which teams have few backups and sparse parts to conduct repairs.
Dillon knows this isn't going to be a simple overnight fix.
"Teams are working their tails off right now just to get cars to the track," Dillon said. "They're exhausted and any type of change is going to force them to come up with new set-ups and changing the cars, so I don't think any change is going to come while we're on this west coast swing. ... NASCAR will make the right choice when they roll this out.
"It's pretty complicated because we've seen good racing so far. We liked what we saw in Fontana. So when you go to change some of that, you can hurt it. So they're going to ask the smartest people in the garage ways to fix this. ... There's been some good ideas thrown out there, but they're complicated. This should have been done before but we're all in it now. It's something that will get fixed but for now, let's just all enjoy the good racing."