Updated: March 24, 2014, 3:30 PM ET

Moment Of The Week

Sprint Cup: The risk vs. reward factor was high

By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

Goodyear told 'em. They listened. Then they went right on doing what Goodyear told 'em not to.

And so, Sunday's Auto Club 400 looked -- looked, mind you -- like the worst tire debacle in a NASCAR race since the 2008 Brickyard 400.

But at the end of the race in Fontana, Calif., two drivers whose teams didn't keep on doing what Goodyear told 'em not to, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, finished 1-2.

Who felt robbed of a win? Jimmie Johnson stood first in line. Jeff Gordon was right behind him. Clint Bowyer could make a case. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose could have joined a class action complaint. All suffered from shredded tires, mostly left side, mostly left rear.

But any judge would have thrown out their case.

To understand why, let's take Sunday's tire issues right into your own driveway. Say for the tires on your car that the manufacturer recommends pressure of 32 pounds per square inch, but you decide the car handles better through corners if you lower the pressure to 19 psi, about 60 percent of what is recommended.

Out on the highway, a tire shreds. You blame the manufacturer. You complain, as Johnson did to Fox reporters after falling out of a nice lead with just seven laps to go, that "something out of our control let us down."

Goodyear Tires
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesTires were under serious stress at Fontana, but much of that was due to decisions made by teams.

The hell it was out of your control, even Judge Judy might say. You chose to run 12 pounds of pressure, 60 percent of the 20 pounds Goodyear recommended, and the tire gave up. You abused the tire.

And now you're whining? Get out of my courtroom.

Gordon had a more rational, if not winnable, argument after pitting out of the lead under caution with two laps left to get tires because a vibration told him he needed them.

"I hate Goodyear was not prepared for what happened today," Gordon said.

And that is correct. Goodyear probably should have been prepared for teams running dangerously low pressures against recommendations -- even on the worn surface at Fontana that wears out tires quickly -- because they do it all the time.

For 20 years, teams have lowered tire pressures, at high risk to their drivers, to make their cars handle better. Ernie Irvan was critically injured and his career essentially ruined under such circumstances at Michigan in 1994.

Goodyear caught the blame for the Indianapolis debacle of 2008, when teams couldn't run more than about 10 laps without changing tires, and did penance of massive testing in preparation for the 2009 Brickyard.

But this time, the star witness for the defense after Sunday's mess was winning crew chief Dave Rogers.

Goodyear racing director Greg Stucker wouldn't reveal just how far some teams went below the recommendation of 20 points on the left rear and 22 on the left front.

But Rogers would. "Twelve pounds," he said the ill-fated teams were running. "You put 12 pounds in left sides and you're running 200 miles an hour in California, you might have a left-side tire problem.

"That's awful low. That's dangerous."

Then Rogers glanced at his driver, Kyle Busch, in the winner's interview and said, "I wouldn't do that to you."

Quipped Kyle, "I appreciate that."

Regarding the entire race, "I don't think we had any tire issues today," Busch said.

"I think we lacked some speed on the stopwatch," Rogers said, "and I was pretty confident that I could drop left-side pressure and pick some of that speed up … but it just wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth putting the car in jeopardy, putting Kyle in jeopardy."

California native Larson, who dazzled a sellout crowd by going from ninth to second during a green-white-checkered finish, said his team "didn't have any tire issues the whole race. [After] every pit stop, my crew chief would tell me my tires were great."

Seeing the tires shredding all around them, both the Busch and Larson teams took four tires under the final caution, even for the two laps of G-W-C. Kurt Busch, Kyle's older brother, and his teammate Tony Stewart got out of the pits first by taking only two tires each.

But once the green flag flew, the two Kyles were on the leaders and blew into the first two positions off the second turn on the final lap.

Kurt Busch, who wound up third, said his team got the message after blowing a tire in practice Saturday and went "into a conservative approach overnight."

Kurt added, taking into account new technical regulations this year: "We have faster cars, more downforce, and NASCAR is allowing us to put whatever camber [essentially the angle of the wheels against the axles] we want into the cars. …

"And therefore it's up to the team's discretion if you're going to have a problem or not."

Case dismissed.

Kyle Busch Breaks Down His Win


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