Brian Vickers (55) and Kyle Busch, restart victims on the icy slick Kansas track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Back to the drawing board -- for both Goodyear and the NASCAR Frances who own Kansas Speedway.
Sunday's Slapshot 400, out in the nation's heartland, home of the mythical good luck Jayhawk, was not this sport's finest hour.
It certainly did not play out on the type of playing field that a major league sport should have for its championship playoffs.
This is supposed to be NASCAR stock car racing....not the Ice Capades.
This is the third straight time Kansas' asphalt and the racing tires have both come up short.
Fans got robbed, and they should make that clear with the sport's powers.
Fix the problem.
If it takes grooving the asphalt so that it will take rubber and become a raceable surface -- instead of the icy surface drivers had to endure here Sunday, and Saturday, and Friday, and Thursday -- then get out the grooving tools.
If it takes slowing the cars down to a decent speed, instead of the 203-plus into the corners, then cut the horsepower and raise the spoilers.
If it takes ordering teams to stick around a day or two after the 400 to test some new ideas, just do it. How arrogant was it for NASCAR haulers simply to load up and leave town at sunset, after such a performance?
The days are over when a track owner can just lay asphalt and then walk away from the project and leave up to Goodyear to solve any problems.
This isn't rocket science.
There is a problem. Fix it.
And if the hundreds of engineers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage can't provide NASCAR executives with some practical solutions, well, then maybe it's time to find a better corps of sports engineers.
Great day for racing at Kansas Speedway. But the playing field simply wasn't up to the game (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Crap shooting should be played over in the second turn casino, not down on the track.
To put it bluntly, Sunday's Kansas 400 was a embarrassment for this sport.
Stock car fans deserved better than this.
Jeff Gordon is right:
"To me it's really the surface.
"We're paving these tracks with what we're paving new highways with. This is not a highway; it's a racetrack, and it's a race car, and a racing tire. It needs to be looked at differently.
"We have the same issue in Phoenix. At Darlington we've had the same issue. At every repave we've had over the last six or seven years.
"The biggest thing I have right now with repaves is talking to the companies that pave these racetracks and talking to them about looking at the surface.
"It's not a Goodyear issue. Goodyear is doing the best they can. They've got a tough job. These surfaces are too smooth."
The new paving techniques create a racing surface that is so smooth it doesn't wear tires much at all; Kansas is the complete opposite of Atlanta, which is renown for its abrasiveness, nice tire speed fall off as the rubber wears. Atlanta takes rubber as the race goes on, making for a better racing surface. Kansas didn't look like it took much rubber at all over the four days of running.
As a tire wears at Atlanta, it actually sheds heat; that is good. As drivers race at Kansas, the tires don't wear, don't shed heat, thus heat buildup becomes an issue, with the threat of blistering.
Kansas' smoothness "doesn't dissipate heat, doesn't wear the tires, and all it does is cause friction and heat and failures," Gordon points out. "And then Goodyear has to build a very hard, durable tire."
Which makes for poor racing, especially at these speeds, which some might see as excessive, if good racing is the ultimate goal. NASCAR has refused to address the question of speed over the past many years, and these 2013s are even faster than last year's models.
In fact to judge by too many races this season, the vaunted, so-hyped 2013 stockers haven't 'saved' the sport, haven't made for such great, gripping action. (But that's another story....)
Jeff Gordon, finishing third in the Kansas 400, says don't blame Goodyear for Sunday's icy track conditions, blame the guys who repaved the track (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Gordon rightly applauds Goodyear for trying to solve a problem that may really rest more with the track owners: "I applaud their effort for trying to do this duel tread zone (hybrid right-sides).
"The issues weren't as treacherous for me. The grip level wasn't as good as I would like it to be, and the falloff wasn't as much as I'd like it to be; but some guys seem to set their car up a little freer and had bigger issues on the restarts than we did.
"My car was a little tighter, so it would take off halfway decent on restarts. It didn't get up to speed good, but it was at least comfortable."
Drivers were unanimous in their assessment that this tire setup simply didn't work worth a hoot on this asphalt.
Carl Edwards: "Holy moly, that track is tough.
"That Goodyear 'dual zone' tire is awesome technology... and it worked great in the (July) test when it was about 25 degrees warmer. But I didn't see any rubber on the track today.
"I think the conditions changed, and we went into an unknown area and didn't know the tire would act that way.
"It was treacherous, I mean death-defying every time you went into the corner on a run."
The restarts "were insane. Look up insane and that is the definition right there."
The Edwards-Busch-Brian Vickers crash came just moments after a restart.
Kansas hasn't been Kyle Busch's best track over his career, for some reason, not by a long shot. And this past weekend Kansas was perhaps Busch's Waterloo, in his title bid this fall.
He's 35 points behind teammate and tour leader Matt Kenseth and 32 points behind Jimmie Johnson.
Edwards and Busch tangled late in the race; Edwards managed to survive and finish fifth, but Busch's day -- and maybe his championship dream -- was over.
"Kyle and I ended up wrecking, and I kept it going straight," Edwards said. "You fan out (down the backstretch), then the car goes into the corner and all of a sudden the grip level changes.
"I don't know if he knew I was under him or not, but he just turned down.
"It is just crazy. It is tough to be racing for points when you have those kind of restarts."
Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer got in it after the race, after another restart debate.
"I beat him on that restart and I guess he was mad about it," Almirola said. "That is fine; I am not worried about it. I beat him."
Tony Stewart underwent a third surgery on his right leg early Monday, to examine and close a wound on his shin stemming from the broken tibia and fibula he sustained in a sprint car crash Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Stewart will remain hospitalized for observation.
A spokesman for Stewart described the surgery as "a proactive measure."
Stewart last week said he did not expect to get back in a car until late January or early February.
Tony Stewart, a third surgery on that right leg this week. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)