Last year, Goodyear took the brunt of the blame for the tyre failures that ruined the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, and the court of public opinion made the tyre company pay.
“Fiasco,” “farce,” “debacle” and “catastrophe” were only some of the choice words used to describe the race, which was punctuated by caution flags every ten laps or so as tyres wore to the cords on the abrasive surface at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Goodyear wasn't the only culprit. Last year's race with the first with NASCAR's new Sprint Cup car, and the car hit the track with limited advance testing. Cup crew chiefs collectively had opted for a sanctioned full-field test at Pocono rather than Indy in 2008 — a grave mistake in retrospect.
Rain interrupted Goodyear's own tyre test at the 2.5-mile speedway. Accordingly, Goodyear had to construct a tyre with limited data for a largely untested car (at that track) with a higher centre of gravity and higher proportion of its weight on the right side. The results were disastrous.
“I think everybody needs to realise that everybody put a big finger on Goodyear, saying that was their fault last year,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, Sunday's race winner. “Ultimately, it wasn't. The testing was limited last year. We actually came up and did the test for them. There was rain. So it wasn't a very good test for them to try to bring a car up here and get the thing going.
“I think they were put behind a big eight ball coming up here. To come up here cold turkey, expect them to develop and have a tyre prepared to race at a track like this, as coarse as the surface is, make it all happen, it wasn't fair to them.”
Fair or not, Goodyear made sure the 2009 race wasn't a repeat of last year's. Lack of testing was a non-issue, as Goodyear conducted seven tests in the year between races, in which 30 Cup drivers covered more than 13,000 miles.
Goodyear diamond-ground a portion of its own test track to approximate surface conditions at Indianapolis and ultimately came up with a different chemistry for the tyres the company brought to the Brickyard.
The difference between races was night and day. Sunday's event, which ended with Mark Martin harrying Johnson for the final 24 laps, saw three cycles of green-flag pit stops following full fuel runs on tyres.