Kurt Smith · Thursday July 22, 2010
I’ve read more than a few articles this week that grudgingly suggest that NASCAR shouldn’t be racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The main gist for most of these articles is that the racing there simply hasn’t been that good, and that stock cars aren’t built to race on a large and flat track.
All valid points, I suppose. I don’t dispute that we haven’t seen the best racing NASCAR has to offer at the Brickyard. And we have seen some of the worst, like the 2008 classic. I don’t even argue that NASCAR racing at Indianapolis is more based on hype than about a venue that produces great racing.
But weighing all of this, it’s still my conviction that NASCAR should continue to have an event at the Brickyard each year.
The main reason is a simple one, but it goes right to the heart of what is ailing NASCAR these days. Indianapolis is a unique track, not just because of its mystique or history, but based on just simple layout. It is a rectangle with four corners, long dragways and short chutes. It gives a television viewer a different perspective, a different feel, and in theory, that should help hold someone’s interest.
If Indianapolis was a brand new racetrack with no history at all, I would still be looking forward to seeing races there. I am not sure NASCAR and their fans realize how large the impact of having half of the schedule be run on garden variety racetracks is. I’ve touched on it plenty in past columns, but what it ultimately has done is taken much of the drivers’ skill out of the equation.
Many fans gripe about the importance of engineering…which means money…in winning a championship. To race a schedule where half of the races require a great aero setup more than a skilled driver hands a huge advantage to big money teams. I’m not trying to take away anything from Jimmie Johnson, since he has proven he can win anywhere, but he has definitely had help in that regard.
Not to mention that people watching on television are pretty much seeing the same type of race week in and week out. Indy doesn’t produce racing that’s any worse than that of Chicagoland or Kansas.
At least when a team comes to Indianapolis, they need to bring an entirely new way of thinking along with them. The car has to be built to maximize downforce without wearing outside tires, and a driver needs to be able to stay in contention without abusing his engine or brakes. It’s not so much that the Brickyard is built for stock car racing. It isn’t. A lot of tracks aren’t. But it does require a different skill set, from both driver and team.
Like Pocono, another track unfairly derided by many NASCAR writers, Indianapolis’s banking is low enough that the ghastly restrictor plate isn’t needed. That, to this writer anyway, is something that works for the joint, not against it.
A very common school of thought among NASCAR fans, and it’s not unjustified, says that stock cars shouldn’t be racing on flat tracks, simply because they’re just too top heavy. That is true to an extent, and Indianapolis in 2008 proved it.
But if a flat track is a basis for not wanting to race at a venue, there are quite few places that need to be removed from the schedule: Phoenix, Martinsville, Loudon, Pocono, Sonoma, Watkins Glen, even Richmond perhaps. These tracks produce some of the best racing in NASCAR. So banking doesn’t necessarily produce great racing. What it does produce is restrictor plates, and the compounded absurdity of cars racing in big packs and frightening wrecks. When it comes to what doesn’t work in stock car racing, events on a flat surface pale by comparison.
What happened in 2008 happened because NASCAR mandated a car that was even more top heavy than its predecessor, and along with Goodyear, did not heed the warning signs that a large flat track that had just been re-grooved required an overhaul of the tire. It is to both entities’ credit that they corrected it in 2009, and as such, it shouldn’t be a reason to take a highlight event away from the place.
Besides, even speaking as someone who abhors excessive hype, I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing that NASCAR is racing at a track with a more storied history than any other. NASCAR is the most popular racing series in the world; why shouldn’t it race at the most popular speedway in the world? The two put together, no matter how the race plays out, make for something worth watching.
Indianapolis carries a similar mystique to Daytona. Racers will race tricycles to be able to say they won there. Maybe the most memorable races there are still the Indy 500s (and quite frankly, I don’t think they’ve been that great lately), but just seeing who ends up being the guy that wins at the Brickyard makes it worth watching. Jeff Gordon could become the first driver to win five major races there. Juan Pablo Montoya could become the first driver to win the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. Jimmie Johnson could tie Jeff Gordon with four Brickyard wins and be the first to win three in a row. Any one of a number of drivers might kiss the bricks for the first time this year. Indianapolis is as synonymous with motorsports as Daytona is. That counts as a reason to watch and see who wins it.
But even without all the mystique, the NASCAR schedule is still wanting for more variety in its racetracks. Every less than stellar aero-dependent race that takes place on a 1.5-mile speedway furthers the reputation that NASCAR itself is boring, and it doesn’t have to be. So keep racing at Indianapolis. Because it’s something different.
Kurt’s Shorts – Controversial Nationwide Finish Special Edition!
- How, exactly, did NASCAR arrive at the number of 60 points for penalizing Carl Edwards? Given that teams are docked 150 points for an illegal rear spoiler, does that mean that the spoiler is 2.5 times as bad as outright wrecking a fellow racer with intent to injure?
- Carl Edwards isn’t a bad guy, but he gave in to a moment of temporary insanity and excessive paranoia on the racetrack and put other competitors at serious risk doing it. What was more disconcerting was his unconcerned reaction in victory lane following his jubilant backflip. After he flipped Keselowski in Atlanta, he seemed a little worried at what his road rage had wrought; after Gateway he didn’t seem to give a damn. Not a good trend.
- I may touch on it more in a future column, but the “have at it” (boy, that phrase is getting tired) and all of the controversy that goes with it is all rooted in NASCAR’s lack of desire to find an alternative to restrictor plates. It was the distaste created by ridiculous bump drafting and unenforceable yellow-line rules, you may recall, that made NASCAR finally throw its hands up and tell the drivers to police themselves. Now we are having incidents that have absolutely nothing to do with drivers trying to improve their position without going below the yellow line. You tell me, dear readers, is it a stretch to blame this on plates?
- The whole thing has gotten NASCAR some attention, but it isn’t the good kind. Hopefully no one has a light bulb go off in their head about using this to promote the sport.
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