The city of Las Vegas has been built on gambling so it should come as no surprise that NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs could find themselves doing some of that very thing on Sunday in the South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The practice sessions held on Saturday were filled with issues related to tires that at least some attributed to running too long, and thus, pushing their Goodyears too hard. As a result, teams may be having to decide exactly how long they want their cars to stay on track between pit stops during the main event which could lead to taking chances late in the race that would result in a hit or a bust.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott experienced tire-related issues during Saturday’s first practice session while Trackhouse Racing and fellow Chevrolet pilot Daniel Suarez added to the list of those having trouble when he crashed near the end of the second stanza.
About midway through the first practice period, Elliott’s car snapped sideways in turn three then slammed the outside wall. It was immediately known that a right rear tire had failed causing the incident which forced the team to switch to a backup car.
“I just cut a right rear tire, I’m not sure why,” Elliott told the USA Network after the accident. “I had run 15 laps or so, maybe I ran too long, I’m not sure. It was a bummer, I knew it was a tire, for sure. I couldn’t get stopped enough to keep it out of the wall, unfortunately. It’s definitely a bummer but it’s been that way all year.”
The weather was clear on Saturday morning for practice and qualifying. Temperatures during the the time in which cars were on the 1.5-mile D-shaped track were still in the 60s. The forecast for Sunday afternoon when the 400-mile race will be contested is for warmer conditions.
Elliott was asked if the high grip brought about by the lower temperatures had any impact on his situation.
“I didn’t feel like we were running more throttle than we had here in the past,” the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion explained. “It’s not like I had run 30 laps or a fuel run or anything like that. We saw that, I obviously missed the race here in the spring but I think something similar happened last year. It seemed like I was behind Kyle when he cut a tire early in a run like that. Like I said, maybe I shouldn’t have run so long but I liked how my car was driving and I wanted to see where it was going.”
Just before Elliott had his issue, Larson had rolled onto pit road reporting over the team radio that he felt as if he had a tire problem. Ultimately, it was shown that the right rear had missing pieces of rubber which had caused the driver of the No. 5 car to feel a vibration.
Larson recalled that his team had to spend much of last Saturday prior to the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval preparing a backup car after a practice crash.
“I got a little lucky there,” Larson described. “I felt a little vibration as I exited turn two, it wasn’t something normally that I had ever felt so I just decided to come in and thankfully I did. Unfortunately, Chase had his tire blow on the next lap. There was a chunk out of my right rear. Definitely got lucky, glad we don’t have to go to a backup car. Well, hopefully we make it through qualifying. I’m glad we don’t have to go to a backup car after practice.”
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion went on to say that prior to him felling the vibration, he felt good about his ride.
“Yeah, I was happy with it,” Larson declared. “The balance of it was kind of free in one and two and not bad in three and four. It’s hard to really judge when it’s this fast, the pace is not going to be this fast tomorrow so it’s hard to get a good read on your car. But overall, I think our car is really good.”
But just because the first session ended didn’t mean the troubles were over. After running 30 laps on a single set of tires, Suarez had a right rear to fail sending him spinning and ultimately crashing into the inside wall. The driver of the No. 99 car pointed out after his crash that his team had made adjustments because of what had happened earlier in the day.
“We saw what happened to the 5, we saw what happened to the 9, and actually, we had adjusted a little bit but it looks like it didn’t matter,” Suarez conceded. “We ended up having a tire issue anyway. I thought the car was good, I wasn’t pushing too hard. We were trying to get in a rhythm with the car. We were running long there trying to get a rhythm. Right in the center of one and two I had a big vibration. I didn’t have a warning, I already knew what it was, and a split second after that, it just blew.”
Others did not have such issues while some were lucky not to crash. Team Penske Ford driver Ryan Blaney ran near 30 laps without experiencing trouble. However, HMS driver William Byron joined the other Chevrolet drivers mentioned in this piece saying that his car had begun to vibrate just before he ended his practice run.
The gamble on Sunday will come as crew chiefs plan for just how long they are willing leave their cars on track between pit stops and whether or not to immediately call their driver into the pits when he reports an unusual feel from the car.
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