EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Broken Brake Caliper Superheats Wheel Causing Tire Explosion in Xfinity Race

Photos by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

WATKINS GLEN, NY – Joey Logano’s dominating win in the Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International Raceway should help him for tomorrow’s Sprint Cup Series race but the bigger story of the day was an explosion that destroyed the front of Derrick Cope’s No. 70 Chevrolet Camaro.

Cope was battling brake issues and pulled off the track in the inner loop to wait until he could get back to his pit safely but as he did, the television cameras caught an explosion that sent the hood flying up and ripped apart pieces of the metal bracing around the engine compartment. It was akin to an NHRA dragster blowing an engine sans the flames, oil and race fuel. And when Cope was cleared from the infield care center, he admitted he wasn’t sure what happened.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this and I have been doing this since about 1980,” Cope said. “It’s amazing. I lost the brake pedal and I just tried to get off the racetrack down and stop and it just blew up in my face. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

Cope said that when he got out of the car he tried to look at all the things that “are gas pressurized” to see if he could determine why his car looked like a stick of dynamite had been ignited under the hood. The damage from the explosion was shocking even for NASCAR officials, who impounded the car to determine what happened.

After several minutes of looking over the equipment under the hood, it was decided that the right front tire had exploded. But it was not a tire failure due to the compound or anything Cope’s crew had done with air pressure. Since Cope said he didn’t have brakes NASCAR officials immediately look at the wheel assembly, the brakes caliper, the rim and the tire, which was missing a huge chunk the size of a human hand.

“After talking with the driver and the crew chief, it sounds like somebody either got into them of they got into somebody and it looks like they broke the brake caliper on the right front, which started rubbing the wheel,” said Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series Director. “The driver came on (the radio) saying he’d lost his brakes and he was trying to get it stopped. Once he got it looked like it had generated so much heat that the tire blew on the right front from heat, not from anything (tire related). Good year brings a great tire here … it just looks like the heat build-up is what caused it and when it decided to let the air out it went everywhere. Looks like all the (damage) under the car is from the tire pressure that built up.”

Photos show what appears to be a large groove on the inside of the wheel where the caliper was digging in and grinding against the it – that caused the pressure in the tire to build to a point where it could no longer be contained.

The incident was similar to what happened with Paul Menard a few years ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway when his right rear tire blew after it had caught on fire. That explosion rocked the media center and sent crew members scrambling but it didn’t destroy the car like Cope’s tire did. The incident Saturday took Cope off-guard but after the investigation into what happened, with Goodyear crews and the team looking at the caliper and the inside of the wheel, all parties appeared to agree on the cause.

Auton said the explosion reminded him of a dragster blowing the top of the engine off going down the track.

“I’ve seen it on a drag race,” he said. “I’ve not seen one let go and I saw it on the film up in the tower and that is the reason we brought the car over so we could learn by it, maybe. We just try to investigate and see if we can find something might help us learn down the road. And like I said, after talking with the driver and the crew chief, I think we found out why they had the issue. But I can tell you, 30-years of being in this business I have not seen a car do that outside of a drag car with a blower blowing up. The good thing is Derrick’s okay, everybody’s alright and they can repair the car.”

Asked if he could share what his thoughts were when he first saw Cope’s car explode on the track, Auton began laughing, “I can’t say that on you mic what I was thinking. There were a few words up in the tower but number one was to make sure Derrick was okay.”

Cope said when he was coming to a stop on the track he was “dumbfounded” at what had happened.

“I tried to look underneath the hood and see if I had a fire,” Cope said. “I was more worried about the car than anything else.”

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