Squeaky wheels warrant attention

Tony Stewart spewed smoke after Sunday’s Sprint Cup race — and that smoke didn’t come from his car.

His acerbic comments rivaled the acrid smell of a tire fire.

Moments after finishing second at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Stewart said his Goodyear tires were “the most pathetic racing tire I’ve ever been on in my professional career.”

He was so angry that instead talking about his runner-up finish or praising teammate Kyle Busch’s first victory for Toyota, he ripped Goodyear in a bombastic blast on national television.

And it takes a serious issue for a driver to forgo mentioning sponsors.

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. backed up Stewart’s rant. They had their racing verve emasculated by tires too hard to provide adequate grip on the cold Georgia oval where risk-taking was harnessed.

“We couldn’t run side by side … we’d wreck,” said Earnhardt, who finished third. “We had to let each other go by. You weren’t going to hook that tire up. It was way too hard.

“I was glad it was over. I was counting the laps.”

Other drivers also were angry about running on hockey pucks that made hanging on for dear life more vital than trying to pass.

The week before at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, softer tires contributed to 190 mph blowouts — including one by Stewart — that led to a record number of caution flags.

Dissatisfaction with tires isn’t a new issue in Cup, and Stewart decided he had had enough complaining in meetings with NASCAR officials and tire engineers.

So he took it to a live Fox audience. Good for Stewart. The squeaky wheel — or spinning tire — gets attention.

When a race-car driver complains about safety, everyone should listen.

It doesn’t matter if his comments are politically incorrect.

It doesn’t matter if he rambles.

It doesn’t matter if he throws a major NASCAR sponsor under the bus, provided it’s shod with Goodyears.

No driver should be slighted for voicing safety concerns, even if the voicing is said in a tirade.

Said veteran Dale Jarrett, who will start his last Cup points race this weekend before retiring: “Someone needs to wake up and understand and listen to these guys.”

Had more NHRA drivers said publicly what they had discussed privately a couple of years ago regarding Goodyear’s unreliable racing slicks, then maybe we wouldn’t be noting this weekend is one year since Eric Medlen died after a testing crash attributed to a likely tire failure on his Funny Car.

Jarrett and Busch said this week that Goodyear needs to begin making specific tires for Cup cars instead of providing the same ones it uses for Nationwide cars.

The new Cup car is heavier, less aerodynamic, taller and wider that its Nationwide cousin.

The switch must have been missed by Goodyear, which has been in NASCAR since 1954 and been the series’ exclusive supplier since 1997.

In a statement, Goodyear noted it supplied tires for each series and “received zero complaints about our tires after the Nationwide race on Saturday.”

Probably because they’re vastly different cars.

NASCAR president Mike Helton appeared Tuesday on Sirius Satellite radio’s “Tony Stewart Live” and said harder tires are what the series requested from Goodyear so they would be “safe, durable and consistent.”

He noted no tire failed.

True, none blew, but only 13 of 43 cars finished on the lead lap because limited traction forced drivers to hold back.

Racing’s marketing mantra of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is falling flat for Goodyear.

It doesn’t tread well when Eagle-branded racing tires blow apart like our national bird ingested a few Alka-Seltzer tablets on a stomach full of water.

Or show the land stability of an albatross.

Jeff Wolf’s motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

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