There's a rumor floating around the NASCAR paddock that teams are drilling tiny holes in their tires to maintain a more even tire pressure throughout the race, according to USA Today. I'm not sure how that would work without exploding into a horrifying tire-ball, but then again, I'm not a master of clever cheatin'.
Naturally, the rumor involves the cars that have been doing well lately: the Stewart-Haas Racing cars of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, and to a lesser extent, the Richard Childress Racing cars of Paul Menard and Ryan Newman. They're winning, so they must be cheatin', so say the conspiracy theorists.
The theory revolves around simple physics: air expands as it heats up, and when a tire gets too hot, it bubbles the tire tread outward in a most unfortunate way. This rounded, bubbled out hot tire then doesn't have as much contact with the track itself as it would if it were a properly inflated tire. Think a flat surface (when properly inflated) that becomes rounded off (when overheated) in terms of what's touching the track itself. Hot tires produce what drivers often describe as "greasy" feeling tires, although no one's never greased up Brad Keselowski and sent him down the track banking to test out this comparison. Overheated tires just lose grip to me. Less grip = less control, plain and simple.
Drilling a hole in the tire could be one way to relieve the excess air pressure that builds up when a tire is hot, but uh, there's a big problem with that idea, even if it's a tiny hole.
That problem? Tires are what I'd consider a safety item, and given their tendency to 'splode in spectacular fashion when anything punches a hole on them, I find the drilled holes theory to be a tad far-fetched. Engineering a fancy way to bleed off air somehow seems more plausible. Taking a drill to them, not so much. Either way, these four round rubber bits are the car's only contact patch with the ground, and NASCAR has to ensure that nothing unsafe is being done to the tires in their events.
NASCAR isn't taking any chances with this one. Per the NASCAR rulebook, as quoted by USA Today, "effecting, modifying and/or altering the standard tires in any way, other than through authorized means" is a P5 offense in the P1-P6 scale of offenses, with P1 being more of a gentle oops and P6 being you done screwed up real good.
So, NASCAR is performing an audit on tires from several of the cars. They took tires from race winner Kevin Harvick as well as Joey Logano at Phoenix International Raceway. At last week's race, more tires were taken from Harvick along with tires from Busch, Newman and Menard.
Much like the miserable MX-5s I spotted yanking out their engines for an audit after the race at Sebring last weekend, the tires from Phoenix were sent to a Research and Development Center for testing.
Nothing was found there, so the tires from last week's race at Auto Club Speedway were sent to an independent auditor to test for cheats after going to NASCAR's R&D Center. Goodyear, the manufacturer of NASCAR's standard tire, has not been involved in these tests.
According to USA Today, the penalty for altering the tires could include a six-race suspension or probation, the loss of 50 points, or a $75,000-$125,000 fine.
Drivers aren't happy with the idea of tires being a tamperable item, either.
"You should be gone forever. That's a major, major, major thing," Denny Hamlin said to motorsports reporter Jeff Gluck. "No room for it in the sport."
This may involve the smallest of holes and the slowest of slow leaks, but it's a safety issue. NASCAR is right to crack down on these kinds of rumors, as crazy as they may sound. In fact, if you ask both Hamlin and me, they're being lenient to the perps.
Photo credit: AP Images
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