It’s back. The Indianapolis Star is reporting that while talks have primarily centered around bringing a Grand-Am race to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, talk has also sparked about moving the Nationwide Series race currently run the evening before the Brickyard 400 on the IRP short track to the big track itself. With attendance on the wane at the famed speedway, track executives are reportedly considering means to increase revenues, as well as Sunday attendance, for a date that until less than 20 years ago was a pipe dream for stock car racers.
At first glance, it seems like a dream scenario. Short of Daytona, there isn’t a track in the United States that can hope to rival the prestige and history of the original superspeedway. There isn’t a racer alive that would turn down the chance to take to the Brickyard.
But heritage alone does not make the case for a race date (at least not in NASCAR’s eyes, if that was the case there would still be racing at Rockingham). And in this case, the history of Indy should not be enough on its own to justify moving a race date from Lucas Oil Raceway, a venue that continually puts on one of the most competitive races all levels of NASCAR see over the course of the season.
Because for all that history, there’s one point that is continually ignored…that history is not NASCAR’s history. Sure, the Indianapolis 500 is arguably the most significant race in American motorsports. And yes, it was a truly historic occurrence, a shift in the paradigm of racing in the US, when Bill France Jr. and a thriving NASCAR was able to unlock the doors to open-wheel racing’s holy grail and bring Cup racing to Indianapolis back in 1994.
That same significance will no longer be there should the Nationwide Series end up tackling IMS. Fact is, stock cars have now taken to Indianapolis for the better part of two decades. It’s been done. And once the prestige of the track itself wears off, the inconvenient truth is that the on-track product seen at Indy has been sorely lacking. A lack of banking in the corners makes side-by-side racing extremely difficult for the heavier stock cars, and no one that sat through it in the stands or at home will ever forget the tire debacle of 2008, one that saw Goodyear Eagles failing after scarcely 10 laps of racing and that reduced the Brickyard 400 to a three-quarter speed parade. The tires have since been fixed, but the racing seen at IMS still can’t hope to hold a candle to the three-wide action that Lucas Oil Raceway provides from green flag to checkers.
Seriously, put the shoe on the other foot. Would it really be that big a deal if the Indy Lights Series suddenly decided they were going to tackle Daytona? And in that case, it wouldn’t even be a matter of a venue that continually puts on tremendous racing being replaced by a larger venue that, while of historical significance, would be an example of the track being the story instead of the pack.
The annual short track event at Lucas Oil Raceway is one of the few remaining standalone races the Nationwide Series contests in a season. It’s one of only a few short track races contested annually on any of NASCAR’s top three national circuits. And the on-track product at the venue has spoken for itself. There is no reason to allow motorsports lore to distort what is going on here; this is yet another possible example of NASCAR dumping a short track for a superspeedway and its amenites.
Never mind that Indy is a completely unique configuration of a track that already poses nightmare challenges to those without Cup affiliations; an inability to compensate for a lack of horsepower under the hood; a premium placed on aerodynamics. And never mind that this is NASCAR we’re talking about. Face it, a Nationwide Series race at IMS is a dream scenario for them…because it means a glorified tire test the day before the big show at the big track.
With the COT cars across the Nationwide and Cup Series now remarkably similar in terms of chassis and aero, there’s much to be learned running Saturday to guesstimate just how those tires will handle the track on Sunday.
And the Nationwide Series deserves better than to yet again be reminded that, for all its stories and up-and-comers, that it has been reduced to “Cup lite.”
Race fans get a stern reminder of that 26 times a season. There’s no reason to make it 27. Even if it is the Brickyard.
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