The material response to rolling contact loading has been analyzed using quantitative X-ray diffraction methods. This has led to the discovery of preferred crystalline orientation in very narrow subsurface regions of endurance-tested 6309 deep groove ball bearing inner rings. The high hydrostatic pressure field, derived from the load-induced three-dimensional stress field in each Hertzian contact load cycle, allows substantial microplastic deformation to be accommodated in the subsurface layers. This microplastic deformation is accompanied by transformation of retained austenite, decay of martensite and the development of texture and residual stresses, one of which is a subsurface tensile stress in a direction normal to the surface. Both the preferred orientation and the tensile residual stress allow for crack propagation parallel to the rolling contact surface. Based on these findings, an outline of a qualitative model for rolling contact fatigue is presented.

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