MARTINSVILLE, Va.—Alan Gustafson, Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, termed it a “reminder.”
But those who may have engaged in alleged unapproved “bleeding” of air pressure from their racing tires—the source of prevalent rumors in the garage—would be well-advised to interpret it as a stern warning.
When NASCAR assembled Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs for a Friday morning meeting at Martinsville Speedway, site of Sunday’s STP 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1), one of the topics covered was to “remind” teams of the three primary taboos of NASCAR racing:
· Don’t alter the engines in a manner outside the rule book.
· Don’t do anything to alter the fuel provided by Sunoco.
· Don’t make any unapproved alterations or treatments to the tires provided by Goodyear.
Tires, in particular, have been the center of attention since NASCAR made what it termed a routine “audit” of tires two weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway. There, the audit included the tires of race winner Kevin Harvick and Team Penske driver Joey Logano.
NASCAR found nothing amiss after inspecting tires from both cars.
Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, NASCAR took tires from the cars of Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch, the second- and third-place finishers, and from the cars of Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, who ran fourth and fifth, respectively.
NASCAR also had the tires from the race-winning car of Brad Keselowski, Logano’s running mate at Team Penske.
NASCAR confirmed earlier this week that it had sent some of the tires from ACS to an independent laboratory for additional inspection and evaluation and is still waiting for those results.
If irregularities are found, teams could still be penalized for infractions at Fontana, with violations warranting as much as a P5 penalty, meaning hefty fines and suspensions.
The consensus in the garage is that certain teams have been drilling minute holes in the tires to bleed off air pressure as it builds throughout a tire run. By maintaining consistent air pressure, it’s easier to maintain the balance of the car.
“When it gets to this level and when you’re hearing about it and I’m hearing about it and they are talking about things in meetings with crew chiefs, that tells me that it’s being done,” Jeff Gordon told reporters on Friday at Martinsville. “It’s just not clear on how it’s being done.”
Gustafson acknowledged that tires have become the hot-button topic in the garage.
“In my experience, there is a lot of smoke around that,” Gustafson said. “There is a lot of talk, there is a lot of dialogue and there are a lot of rumors in the garage. Yeah, I think it is obvious that some people think something is going on, and is NASCAR reacting to that?
Or do they feel uncomfortable with what is going on?
“I don’t know that answer. But I do think that it’s something that is on the forefront of a lot of people minds. Obviously, NASCAR is trying to make sure that we are all on level playing field and if anybody is violating that they will pay the price, which they reminded us this morning is very stiff. That’s all I know. Anything beyond that is speculation, besides the fact it’s a hot topic.”
Gordon is an advocate of incorporating bleeders into the Sprint Cup racing tires, similar to the practice routinely seen at short tracks.
“I’ve been saying for years that we need bleeder valves,” Gordon said. “We just do. I came from sprint cars where they’re built into the wheel. You set them. They may not be advanced enough for what we need in a Cup car and Cup tire, but it just makes sense.”
With respect to bleeding tires outside the rule book, Gordon was adamant that his Hendrick Motorsports team did not engage in the practice.
“I’ve heard a lot of things with valve caps and poking holes in tires for years,” Gordon said. “But I’ve never seen it done. I’ve never had proof that it was done. So it’s very interesting to me that NASCAR is investigating this further.
“I look forward to seeing what comes out of it. To me, if they find a way to stop that—if it’s really going on—I get excited about our chances, because I know we’re not doing it, so it will close the gap for us to whoever may be doing it.”