FORT WORTH, Tex. — Why not allow tire bleeder valves?
That has been the number one question in the aftermath of the tire tampering penalty handed down to Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing and the No. 31 Sprint Cup Series team last week.
NASCAR fined crew chief Luke Lambert $125,000 and suspended him for six races while Newman was docked 75 driver and owner points. Also suspended for six events were team engineer Philip Surgen and tire specialist James Bender.
The Sanctioning Body determined that the crew had illegally bled air pressure from their tires in order to gain a competitive edge — a practice that is outlawed in NASCAR competition. However, in other forms of motorsport, including short track and dirt racing, bleeder valves are commonplace and allowed.
This had prompted numerous drivers to suggest that NASCAR would be better off allowing bleeder valves as well. Jeff Gordon has been perhaps the most vocal proponent of bleeder valves in the Sprint Cup garage.
“I’ve been saying for years… and probably in here… 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.
“It’s crazy what we do with air pressures. These big heavy cars build the air pressures up so much that we’re always trying to start them real low, which causes issues for Goodyear and the teams. Then they just increase, increase, increase. So it makes sense to me that we should have bleeder valves.”
Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck disagrees, saying the technology is too inconsistent for use in NASCAR.
“In regard to the tire bleeders, we work with our partner Goodyear and with our teams and at this point, I personally don’t know if there are any bleeders out there at the level that these cars would require,” Buck told Popular Speed on Friday afternoon. “I know there are other forms of motorsports like dirt car racing and sprint car racing that I’ve seen before and (those valves) were very touchy and non-repeatable. If they fail, it was a catastrophic failure of the system, so I don’t think there is a system that is out there today.”
Furthermore, Buck is content without having bleeder valves because it’s the same and fair for everyone in the garage.
“It allows teams to adjust on the tires,” Buck continued. “It allows for drivers to provide feedback on the tires. A driver can change the handling based on how he changes the load of the tire pressure.
“So there still a lot of human interaction in working with the tires.”
Buck wasn’t willing to specifically address the No. 31 situation since there is an upcoming appeal but did maintain that NASCAR has been consistent in its policies and expectations concerning the possible manipulation of tires.
“In reference to the inspection of the tires, our inspection process has not changed,” Buck said. “We work very closely with Goodyear. They make the tires, they engineer them and they manufacture them.
“They mount them with a company called Champion. They transport them. We report them and they have RFID tags on them so we know their serial numbers once they are assigned to the teams. So there is a very lengthy process that fans don’t always see.”
When asked if having fewer officials on pit road contributed to teams trying to more aggressively alter tires, Buck explained that teams monitor each other and report back to NASCAR when they get suspicious in a watchdog type scenario.
“Our job is to level the playing field,” Buck said. “If the teams feel the playing field has become tilted, they won’t hesitate to come to us. They are our best officials.
“Having said that, our inspection process hasn’t changed. We’ve been auditing tires for years even before those this year. There have been other times where we’ve unfortunately found some issues with tires and NASCAR has had to react.”
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