Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday July 20, 2009
The year was 1994; I was only 13, but the whirlwind of the Brickyard 400 remains as vivid in my mind as if it happened yesterday. From the moment the cars first hit the track for practice, drama was in the air for fans and drivers alike, with everyone putting their best effort into becoming the first name on Indianapolis’ newest racing trophy. An eye-popping 86 cars made official qualifying attempts through two rounds, transforming even the drama of making the field into national news; for, unlike now, NASCAR’s qualifying rules of old gave just a handful of teams guaranteed entry into the race through their small but effective provisional system.
That put all drivers on an even playing field, opening the door for open-wheel legends like A.J. Foyt and Danny Sullivan to crack the starting lineup and hope to translate their skill behind a stock car on racing’s biggest stage. It was knockout qualifying at its best, nail-biting stuff that left a handful of the series’ full-time drivers sitting on the sidelines alongside Indy stars like Gary Bettenhausen who were unable to get up to speed quickly enough to make the field.
As Saturday approached, the anticipation became overwhelming as the enormity of the moment became clear. With the drop of the green, as run-of-the-mill driver turned surprise polesitter Rick Mast led the field into turn one, NASCAR threw away its regional roots and officially became a national powerhouse. While not a side-by-side thrill ride throughout all 400 miles (the racing at Indy was plagued by aerodynamic issues even back then), the moments that stand out for me are still compelling even now:
- Geoff Bodine taking the lead only to be spun out by his brother, Brett, the height of a family feud that wound up playing out on in an emotional interview on national television.
- The final 40 laps turning into a Who’s Who of NASCAR legends, with young Jeff Gordon and Ernie Irvan pursued by Dale Earnhardt Sr., Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, and Darrell Waltrip – four men with twelve Cup titles between them.
- An epic battle between Gordon and Irvan in the closing stages, with Irvan’s blown tire giving way with less than five laps left to hand the win to the hometown boy from Indiana. A changing of the guard was close at hand, witnessed in front of hundreds of thousands of cheering fans who refused to leave until long after the checkered flag fell.
Fast forward to 2008. Now 27, I’m in my third year of walking down Gasoline Alley and nothing – repeat, nothing – compares. The aura surrounding the race for those involved is still every bit the same as it was 15 years ago, the understanding you’re a part of something larger than your typical Sunday show at any other race. Yet when the green flag drops, it all deflates as quickly as the Goodyear tires when all 43 cars get up to speed. Technical terms get thrown fans’ way just as quickly as they’re changing the TV channel, with faulty rubber leading to a litany of competition cautions and statements from Goodyear that ring hollow. Excuses without a solution, they leave little consolation for drivers forced to race at 75, 80 percent of full speed in ten-lap intervals that reduced the 2.5-mile oval to little more than a series of single-file heat races. In the end, Jimmie Johnson took home the trophy, but as I watched him kiss the bricks from afar thousands were busy kissing stock car racing goodbye for good. Leaving the speedway, all anyone hitting the exits really cared about was screaming their displeasure and getting their thoughts in order for a nasty letter to the track requesting a refund for that farce.
What a contrast in momentum, a low point in a 12-month period that has come packaged with some of the sport’s darkest hours. Ever since, NASCAR’s majors have suffered from a troubling lack of drama, with the Daytona 500 packaged with just nine lead changes before the final result came courtesy of a downpour instead of a duel. Ditto with the Coca-Cola 600 just three months later, where fuel strategy and Mother Nature’s smile pulled an unlikely winner with a damaged car from a certain 15th place finish – or worse – to a Victory Lane where no one was watching.
In the aftermath of Tom Watson’s stirring near-victory at the British Open, a golfing major in which those who never even picked up a golf ball in their life were suddenly paying attention, that lack of interest worries me heading into the sport’s second-biggest race of the year. Despite Goodyear’s tire testing to make up for their debacle, the uncertainty is leaving most hoping that Indy is a race where all 43 cars can simply survive, negativity staying out of the headlines while teams continue focusing on their new “dramatic mission” of the season: a 10-race Chase for the Championship this Fall. Instead of 86 cars attempting to qualify, we’re lucky if 50 will make the trip, with not just a struggling economy but 35 guaranteed spots for full-timers making it ludicrous for anyone to come here with a startup team on a one-race deal.
Ladies and gentlemen, the drama we once had surrounding the sport’s biggest races has been taken from us. But not one to take defeat sitting down, I refuse to sit idly by and watch it happen without at least offering suggestions for change, offering hope in an era where pessimism has taken center stage. So, I present to you the following list to help bring back the 400-miler we saw in ’94 – not the one that’s been slowly but surely watered down to the level we experienced in 2008:
Bring Back A Newer, Better Version of the “Winston Million.” For those new to the sport, those two words are part of what brought the sport newfound fame and fortune in the mid-1980s. The brainchild of the former series title sponsor, the “Winston Million” program offered a $1 million bonus to any driver who could win three of the sport’s four “crown jewel” races: the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 at Talladega (Spring), the Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte), and the Southern 500 (Darlington) on Labor Day weekend. Suddenly, the races all fans knew carried an extra level of importance were legitimized as such by the men who made it all possible.
As you might expect, that was a lot of money in those days, and it left several teams gunning to take home the prize. It didn’t take long; the first year of the program, a quiet redhead from Georgia named Bill Elliott happened to win two of those first three “jewels,” setting up a Darlington weekend in which the national media attention was unprecedented for the sport outside the Daytona 500. Making the national cover of Sports Illustrated, Elliott held off Cale Yabrorough in the closing laps to take the Southern 500, a $1 million bonus, and imprint himself as the sport’s next big superstar — while casual eyes became longtime fans in the process.
For years, others would try and fall just short, the drama making front-page headlines through summer and Fall even though the bonus was never collected. Then, in what was ironically the last year of the program in 1997, Jeff Gordon joined Elliott in the Million Dollar Club after a thrilling shootout with Jeff Burton that makes you wonder if we’d even see these days in a world where points are at the premium they are now.
Since then, the sport has never had a program as headline-grabbing as that. So, why doesn’t Sprint bring it back? How about making a snazzy name like the Sprint Super Slam, giving $5 million to a driver who could win three of the sport’s four “majors”: The Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 (now held on Mother’s Day Weekend), and now, replacing Talladega, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. While they’re at it, let’s not be stingy with their wallet, either; how about $1 million for winning two of those four, guaranteeing up to three drivers hope of a solid payday heading to Indy. Along with the millions the program would likely generate in national exposure, the pursuit would certainly add some extra drama during the regular season, assuring some drivers would have more than points on their mind on a day where the goal should be to win – not to finish.
In looking at the list above, you might notice an interesting trend: none of those four events fall inside the Chase. So, why don’t we do a little program to go along with the playoffs, too? How about if the first driver to win two races within the ten-race playoff gets a million-dollar bonus as well? That goal gives teams, sponsors, and drivers who fell short of the championship a consolation prize to keep their interest, as well as keeping incentive alive for those Chase-eligible drivers who quickly fall out of the title hunt.
Yes, it’s true everyone is making more now than they did in 1985. But even in this day and age, money talks – especially when it comes to adding intrigue in a world where fans are all too quickly apt to go ADD on you.
Remove the Top 35 rule for the sport’s four biggest races. Remember when the open-wheel faithful got so up in arms over Tony George’s rule guaranteeing starting spots to 25 Indy 500 qualifiers, he was eventually forced to rescind it? In the meantime, NASCAR’s had a similar type of “locked in” rule in place for the sport’s biggest events, yet refused to bow to the critics despite mounting opposition against it. In reality, how dramatic and fair is qualifying when the bulk of the starting field is already decided going in? Nowhere is this illustrated more than at Indy and Dayton’s 150-mile qualifying races, now reduced to little more than exhibitions while a handful of cars at the back of the pack battle against near-impossible odds to crack what’s left of the starting lineup.
With that in mind, let’s roll back the top 35 rule and go back to an older, better provisional system for these “crown jewel” events. The rule that worked best – in place during the mid-1990s – is a system where the top 38 in speed make the field, leaving four provisionals (based on owner’s points) and an extra spot for a past Cup champion. That assured those on top of the point standings would have a place in the race, while allowing others to bring a little extra effort to a track where they should already be giving 110 percent. Yes, that change leaves a risk stars having a season like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s would be booted out of the starting lineup; but those chances are minute compared to the opportunities it would offer some of the part-time teams (and those looking to dip their feet into the sport) to crack the field with equal practice time, pursuing their dream of racing immortality alongside those who may have already gotten there.
Change the point system for this race… slightly. As we’ve said, with the advent of the Chase it’s points, points, points taking center stage during a weekend where kissing the bricks should be priority one. The problem is, it’s hard to change a season-long system based on both tradition and consistency and make four races “make or break” as opposed to the other 22.
But at the same time, you can’t deny these races do carry a higher degree of tradition and importance within the NASCAR world. There’s a reason we’re not like any other major sport; the even weight of games in stick-and-ball sports is balanced with the importance of these “major” events we immortalize just like golf, tennis, and others. But with every race given equal weight as of now according to playoff criteria, establishing a different system to make the Chase seems too complicated without a complete overhaul. So, here’s a fair and balanced way to add incentives for those too worried about the championship to try moving from third to first at the finish of these special races:
More bonus points once we get to the Chase itself.
It’s the perfect compromise: tinkering with a system that’s already messed with tradition enough we can’t change it back without getting rid of it altogether. But since that’s not an option going forward, why not keep fixing the program with just a few more tweaks? Now, instead of a 10-point bonus for winning one of the “crown jewel” races, why don’t we give 50 points instead? But let’s not stop there, either; how about 40 for 2nd, 30 for 3rd, 20 for 4th, and 10 for 5th?
That simple incentive, easy enough for fans to understand, will suddenly push those drivers away from playing it safe. Suddenly, a sixth-place finish isn’t good enough for a potential Chaser when they can gobble up bonus points that’ll separate them from the pack if they make it in September. And for those who are already in the field, every position carries added weight as they look towards getting a leg up in the postseason in any way possible.
Alright, there you have it: three small but critical ways in which we can get our “crown jewels” leaning back towards the drama that once accompanied their spot on the schedule. We may not be able to fix the cars quite yet (although changes may be coming), and as for the tires, well … all you can do is hope Goodyear did their homework. But at the very least, a little bit of outside promotion and excitement built around these races would do much to restore the spectacle that once was racing at Daytona, at Charlotte, at Indianapolis.
Because right now, they’re all too dangerously close to losing their luster.
Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower.
Don’t forget to listen to Race Talk Radio on Mondays, where Tom joins up with hosts Dennis Michelsen and Lori Munro for a segment as their “NASCAR Insider” on Doin’ Donuts! Click here to visit the website and listen to the show LIVE! Tom usually does his bit around 10:00 PM EST.
©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Perhaps it’s time to stop running at the Brickyard. Sure, it’s great for the drivers to have the chance to race at Indy like I’m sure most of them have dreamed about since before they could walk; the speedway is nothing short of legendary. But it’s legendary for the Indy 500, for Andretti, Mears, Foyt, and Castroneves. NASCAR has no shortage of historic legendary tracks known for good stock car racing, and Indy isn’t among them.
You wrote just last week about the tracks that were built to host IndyCar races being less than spectacular for stock cars, and the Brickyard is the king of those. It’s telling that your column isn’t a look back at the many classic Winston Cup races at Indy but a look back at the first. Has there been a stock car race at Indy since 1994 that has had excitement to match the hype?
Adding a huge payout and a “ snazzy “ name to a championship within a championship would mean more money for a few drivers . But thats all it would mean . You could also put up a million dollars to any team that wins three soccer matches in a row . That would certainly energize the existing fan base , but it would hardly make soccer a household word in the US . Same with the Nascar idea . It wouldn’t bring in new interest to the sport because the disinterest of fans isn’t based on a lack of gimmicks . Its based on a pretty poor show every week . If gimmicks worked , ticket sales would have gone through the roof when Double file restarts Shootout Style was announced .
It is not a matter of:
HAS INDY LOST IT’S LUSTER”!
It is a simple matter of “NA$CRAP HAS LOST IT’S LUSTER & CREDIBILITY”!
It is a season long issue, not a single race issue.
AND!! !! !!
Can you imagine, for example, bringing back THE WINSTON MILLION concept, when last year you could not run 5 laps (at indy) before requiring new tires! And having two (2) restrictor plate races in the mix, how funny would that be!
How would you give away the million $$$$ ?????
To the SURVIVOR?????
The million should go to a REAL WINNER!
NOT! A “LUCKY” driver!
Bringing back some form of the Winston million would be OK. But only if it paid $5 million to win. The closing lap duel between Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne in 2005 was very exciting. It’s still the problem with the COT though.
I’m tired of nascar running on tracks that aren’t built for nascar racing. It’s a major reason why the races at these tracks suck. And the Indy head honchos don’t give a real flip for nascar anyway.
And I don’t totally blame goodyear for the tire mess. I think a lot of it has to do with the diamond grinding that’s done on the corners which eat tires up. Nascar should not allow it.
While I think it would be great at some point for Nascar to bring back something similar to the “Winston Million”, but let’s be honest here… that does absolutely nothing to fix the racing itself. Had someone won a million dollars by winning the Brickyard travesty that was last year’s race, it would have only added insult to injury. Until the actual racing is improved, any kind of additional prestige rewarded for winning a “crown jewel” race is a joke.
Know what get when you put cologne on a turd? A turd with cologne on it.
There was no other race in racing history that had the same energy as the first race at the Brickyard. The one thing everyone should realize is that the Brickyard 400 saved the race track it was in bad shape in 1994 the paint was peeling in the grandstands I sat in for practice in the paddock penthouse I sat on folding chairs for the race the bathrooms were falling apart and with the money that the 400 brought in they really cleaned up the place.This allowed them to install new garages and build the road course and bring in F-1. This of course had it’s downside for open wheel fans it gave Tony George the money to start the IRL. No matter whether you like the racing there or not it does bring in the largest crowd Na$car gets all year and the TV ratings aren’t bad either so I think it will be around for a while. It’s not my favorite track Darlington is and I have been to every 400 since 94 but I think I have more fun this race weekend than most of the others I go to it has a different feel they let you go almost anywhere you want and there is no hasseles unlike all the I$C tracks I go to.
Congrats on your website being chosen as one of the “Citizen Journalist” media members — The question is do you have the “kahoonies” to send Matt McLaughlin to cover a race?
Hey Mick! RE: Not GOODYEARS fault! (on the tire issue).
I look at it like this: GOODYEAR has ALWAYS had tire issues. But the WMD car, or the CoT as it is commonly called, makes the tire situation much worse.
I place 100% of the blame on GOODYEAR! If they, GOODYEAR, cannot produce a real racing tire for this tank, THEN THEIR RESPONIBILITY IS TO TELL NA$CRAP THEY WILL NO LONGER SUPPLY TIRES!
As long as GOODYEAR agrees to supply race tires, then they should have the ability to do so!
AND THEY DO NOT HAVE THAT ABILITY!
That was going pretty good until I got to “As Sunday Approached. Are you sure? If I’m not mistaken, the first “Brickyard 400” was run on Saturday and was for several years thereafter. Up until it became the “Allstate 400”.
One poster says NASCAR shouldn’t allow the diamond grinding. Uh, NASCAR doesn’t own the track. It works fine for the Indy cars with a lot of downforce and it worked jut fine for the pre “COT” race cars.
I think the original allure of the Brickyard has passed into history as far as NASCAR is concerned. It’s become more of “Been there, done that” than anything else. Maybe Indy should be replaced by, say, Rockingham? Or, N. Wilkesboro. Or, even the Old Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway which was the “Original” High Banked half mile.
I wish I had more time to talk today but two quick things … first off, thanks for pointing out the error about Sunday vs Saturday. Nothing more than my own idiot goof; one of those mind playing tricks on you kind of moments where you should have fact-checked but didn’t because it’s a memory in your own head.
Second, as for the Citizens Journalist Corps … we will have a response about our inclusion coming out later in the week, so watch out for that. It’ll likely be couched in a column of some kind. And for the record, Matt has covered plenty of NASCAR races in over 20 years of writing. He’s stepped foot in the garage in three different decades for a variety of publications; so going to the track for him is nothing new :O)
Thanks as always for the insightful comments, plenty of them on this particular thread.
Recent articles from Tom Bowles:
Did You Notice? ... The Details Behind Busch Double-Duty And NASCAR Teams/Series Needing A Boost
If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.
Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.