The Frontstretch: Reflections of Indy: Why It's The Worst Race Ever, And How It Got There by Vito Pugliese -- Tuesday July 29, 2008

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Reflections of Indy: Why It's The Worst Race Ever, And How It Got There

Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Tuesday July 29, 2008

 

Not sure if you have noticed or not, but Caddyshack (arguably the greatest movie ever made, and easily the most quoted) has been on cable a lot lately, most recently having been on the Golf Channel and ESPN Classic in a steady rotation. I mention this because as I slipped in and out of consciousness this past Sunday, sprawled out prostrate on my Aztec-print sofa watching the abomination that was the 2008 Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, I remember thinking how great it would be if I were watching Caddyshack instead of the carnage that was being broadcast. It also would have been fitting to hear Dale Jarrett or Dr. Jerry Punch issue one of Zen-golfer Ty Webb’s classic lines:

“You’re not, ahhh … you’re not … you’re not … good.”

Kenseth’s worn out tire tells you all you need to know about his day at Indianapolis; after blowing a right rear in dramatic fashion, he spent time behind the wall and finished sixteen laps off the pace in 38th.

Wow. Did that really happen?! A 160-lap race punctuated by no less than 11 caution flags, six of which were “competition yellows” — code for “issuing a caution flag before something really bad happens.” But that still didn’t stop a few black eyes from being bruised on a number of occasions throughout the day. Just ask Matt Kenseth, whose car was apparently fitted with three Goodyear Eagles and one IED, as the back of his No. 17 Roush Fusion was obliterated as if it had suffered a thousand lashings from a possessed DeWalt sawzall. Juan Pablo Montoya apparently hit a landmine on the backstretch as well, seeing as the debris field from his mangled Mopar is most likely still scattered somewhere along the fairway of the 3rd hole of Indy’s infield golf course.

In my 25 years of watching motorsports, I have never seen the abomination that was, with a straight face, labeled a race, as the one I endured on Sunday. At least I got a front row seat to watch the debacle for free in 57 inches of High-Definition gore, instead of being there in person with the rest of the media horde. Those 1,080 lines of progressively-scanned resolution allowed me to better view the 6” x 12” swathes of steel and polyester cords from what, just six minutes earlier, were a $1,700 set of racing slicks.

Goodyear Tire Company had an ad campaign a few years ago that boldly proclaimed, “The best tires in the world have Goodyear written all over them.” Does that still apply if they are ground into a fine, black powder, decorating Kevin Harvick’s instrument panel? Again, Mr. Webb:

“The Zen philosopher Basho once wrote, a flute with no holes is not a flute. And a donut with no hole… is a Danish.”

… And a tire with no air in it at 200 MPH is probably not conducive to auto racing. How in the year 2008 — in the premier motorsports division in North America — this happens is beyond me. At least when Michelins were shredding prior to the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2005, the company offered to airlift new tires immediately to be delivered to the speedway — or suggested a chicane be installed to limit the stress that was being applied to their product. When both of those options were nixed by the FIA, Michelin-shod competitors had the common courtesy to pull off the starting grid prior to the green lights illuminating.

The 43 drivers that rolled off Sunday were playing a similar game of Russian Roulette with five rounds in the cylinder, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find many fans that would have faulted drivers had they all pulled in and parked themselves coming to the green flag after having bore witness to what transpired this past weekend. But instead of stopping, each one played a game of stop and start that was equivalent to going through the motions, collecting a check while watching the cash of 240,000 spectators promptly go to waste.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Judge. You’re a tremendous slouch.”

It is usually not a good sign when the president of the operation has to come on live television in the middle of a broadcast to explain why cars are running at three-quarter speed (witness Greg Biffle, lifting at the start/finish line late in the going) and why NASCAR is throwing a yellow flag so teams can change tires at 10-lap intervals. Imagine the uproar that would follow if, during the Yankees / Red Sox game on Sunday, Bud Selig was forced to appear in the booth with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller to explain why bats were shattering all over the field anytime a batter so much as swung at a ball.

For NASCAR’s second most prestigious race of the year at the most famous racing circuit on the planet, this was as poor of a showing as one could expect. The wagon-circling, politicking, and spin machine was turned up to 11, with the sanctioning body, tire supplier and many of the competitors shrugging off any appearance of ill-doing as soon as the race was over.

“Ahh, Danny, this isn’t Russia. Is this Russia? This isn’t Russia, is it?”

So who, or what, was to blame? As we begin to recover from this epic catastrophe, who is ultimately at fault? Let’s examine a few possible culprits:

Tire Wars: With as many tire issues as have been experienced in recent years and complaints by drivers growing louder and more pointed, some have suggested it may be time to break Goodyear’s monopoly as NASCAR’s official tire supplier. Many argue that competition is always good and promotes a better product. But it is also extremely expensive and — as has been proven in years past – not always an attractive option.

How many of you remember the name Loy Allen, Jr.? Right, three of you. Allen won the pole at the 1994 Daytona 500 for perennial powerhouse (sic) Tri-Star Motorsports. He finished 22nd, leading zero laps in the process. But Allen was on Hoosier tires then, which were a tick faster because they had less contact surface and therefore less rolling resistance. Geoff Bodine won three races that season on Hoosiers (and ironically, Rick Mast won the pole for the inaugural Brickyard 400 on Hoosiers) but the other races were won with Goodyears. Did it make for a better tire or better competition? Probably not, but what it did contribute to was a lot of accidents.

A tire war is not something that many drivers who have lived through one are clamoring for, as they are the ones who are situated on the front lines of such a fight — with their own lives at stake.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: A few years ago, we were treated to “levigating” at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. At Indianapolis, we are now aware of “diamond cutting” as the potential cause for ills at America’s oldest superspeedway. The rough surface, some contend was the culprit for Sunday’s exercise in futility disguised as a stock car race.

Hogwash.

The IndyCar Series didn’t seem to have an issue this past May with the racing surface or their Firestone tires. Come to think of it, last year the Cup cars ran at Indy without much trouble, running the final 83 laps with but three cautions – two for “debris” and one for oil. They didn’t have to stop the race every 10 minutes to retrofit everyone’s tires for their own safety. That leaves one more component to the puzzle…

The Car of Tomorrow: Ah, yes .. my favorite target. And why not? It is a big one. There it was, in all of its gaudy, front-splittered, big-winged, high center of gravity, no downforce and extreme right-side weight-biased glory. Who would have ever imagined that after a year and a half of teams begging NASCAR to let them work on it to gain some adjustability, balance, and desperately-needed downforce, that something like this would have happened?

An unbalanced, heavy car with a high center of gravity combined with a hard tire and a track surface that, by most accounts, is like that of a cheese grater … what could possibly go wrong?! Instead of going all out for the second biggest race of the year, NASCAR attacked this problem hard — by scheduling a tire test with but a handful of teams, then not following up on those results. Was there enough data to show what was going to happen once the cars hit the track? Would it have made sense to allow some more adjustability or leeway with the car to get it to handle properly, and not completely destroy a set of tires within a few minutes? Good God, imagine the bloodbath that would have ensued had there not been the scheduled caution flags, or if the cars still had the standard 22-gallon fuel cells rather than the new 18-gallon pieces. Not that they would have ever made it halfway through a fuel run anyway…

Elton John had a hit in 1976 with the song “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” whose chorus of, “It’s a sad, sad, situation; and it’s getting more and more absurd,” came to mind after hearing the explanations from Robin Pemberton, Goodyear officials, and the rest of the NASCAR brass. Even ESPN was a bit beige in their observations of what was actually transpiring on the track, as if there was anything other than shock and horror that should have been expressed from competitors making essentially mandated tire changes as they were just coming up to temperature.

Much like the fans who attended the Formula One disaster that was the US Grand Prix in 2005, the 240,000 paying spectators, as well as the millions more frustrated at home, echo their sentiments — as well as those of Ty Webb:

“Thank you very little.”

Contact Vito Pugliese

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Larry
07/29/2008 05:04 AM
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I’ve got several questions. What is Nascar going to do for the fans who paid for the race they never got to see? What about points? Obviously, several cars had problems due to the faulty tires, is it right to call this a points race when it might effect someone getting in the chase or even winning the championship? I don’t think so. With this the first COT Race at Indy, Nascar should have done a lot of testing and reacted to the results which they clearly didn’t do in this situation. I guarantee you that Nascar had made the rounds Sunday informing crews and drivers not to be bad mouthing Nascar. You know, the organization that is never wrong. The one where you appeal a ruling and is always turned down. Funny, Haven’t seen much of Nascar taking much blame for this. They keep saying Goodyear, Cot, Etc. but haven’t bellied up to accept responsibility for the so called race. Again, if Nascar is sincere with their apology then show the fans their money and give them at least half of their ticket price. Oh, and don’t forget about ESPN. I think they got screwed a little also. They need a refund also. Of course the cost of tires should definitely be picked up by Nascar.

Dick Lee
07/29/2008 06:05 AM
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Had I been at the fiasco at IMS. I would not have thrown a beer can on the track, I would have dumped a whole case of beer on the track at the start-finish line.

SallyB
07/29/2008 07:00 AM
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The only thing different at Indy this year was the COT…so who’s to blame? Every crew chief has said that any notes from a time before the COT are no use with the spec car. So Nascar and Goodyear rely on what has happened in previous years to assume the track would rubber up? This weekend just pointed out how unraceable the ‘new’ car is. Will Nascar ever wake up and admit that they didn’t design the ‘world’s greatest race car’ and make the changes necessary to improve it? I doubt it.

Steve Cloyd
07/29/2008 07:53 AM
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“The rough surface, some contend was the culprit for Sunday’s exercise in futility disguised as a stock car race.

Hogwash.”

Thank you. My thoughts exactly. How NA$CAR and Goodyear didn’t do extensive tire testing is beyond me. There is nothing more to blame than that. As usual, it is poor management at the top that is the problem.

patex
07/29/2008 08:13 AM
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will we see a re-run at
Pocono this weekend? or
will we not watch another
boring race. In the heat
of Texas, I’ll find
something else to do.
Nascar reminds me of some
companies that are run by
idiots and then blame
their incompetince on
someone else. Something
I have not heard, WHAT
ABOUT THE CAR SPONSORS
THAT POUR MILLIONS INTO
RACING AND SEE THE RESULT
SUCH AS INDY?

mmack
07/29/2008 09:09 AM
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Vito,

I have just one thing to say:

“Oh, this is the worst-looking car I ever saw. What, when you race a car like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup, huh?”

Perhaps Judge Smails should have told Tony George:

“Oh George, look at the rubber build up on that track. I want that rubber stripped off there, then I want it creamed and buffed with a fine chamois, and I want it now. Chop chop!”

trosselle
07/29/2008 10:34 AM
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I wish I knew the words to describe how bad the race at Indy was this last weekend. Thank goodness there are a lot of professional journalists who know the words and are speaking their minds. I just hope NASCAR takes the time to read some of those words.

This might be the last draw for many long time fans like myself. I went to my first Daytona 500 in 1972 and have been a fan ever since. That was until this last Sunday.

So many things have happened to NASCAR in the last 5 to 10 years that have tested my loyality. The race last Sunday is probally the last I will watch for awhile.

NASCAR…..please wake up and see what is going on. Get rid of the CoT or at least let the teams make it a race car. Get rid of the top 35 guaranteed starting spots and let the best 43 cars start the race. Get rid of the start and park cars in the Nationwide series. Put the Southern 500 back in Darlington where it belongs and not in the land of fruits and nuts. There are many more things that could be said, but as I stated when I started this I wish I knew the words.

Steve
07/29/2008 10:44 AM
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This was not the worst race of all time. In fact, as bad as it was it was still infinitely more interesting than the Spetember 17th, 2000 race at Loudon, New Hampshire. NASCAR threw restrictor plates on the cars at Loudon to prevent a certain kind of crash caused by hung throttles. The result was a race with exactly ZERO lead changes. Jeff Burton led the race to the first corner and then led all 300 laps. Any time a car pulled out to pass it hit a wall of air and just stopped dead. Burton’s car could have been 10 MPH slower than the field and no one would have passed him. That was the worst, most boring race of all time. This one stunk too but not anywhere near the level of that fiasco.

Robert Eastman
07/29/2008 10:55 AM
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A Fan Boycott of ASSCAR is the only solution to this stupidity that masqueraded as a race. When the stands are virtually empty, maybe just maybe Brian’s fogged up brain will finally wake-up to the mess he and his “brain-trust”(?) have created. Is it really that “big of a deal” to let the teams experiment with spring rates and suspension modifications to improve the race-ability of the COT? The cars have to be able to drive through the corners, not just slide up the track, grating the tires.
Now I understand why they call this COT racing. Find a comfortable cot, turn down the TV volume, and enjoy a great nap!

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
07/29/2008 11:03 AM
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MMack –

It’s easy to grin
When your car comes in
And the tires are worn from the heat

A driver worthwhile
Is the driver who dosen’t smile
When his tire ends up in the seats.

Uh huh huh Uh huh huh, okay Pookey, do the honors…..

-Vito

don mei
07/29/2008 12:06 PM
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I hear that NASCAR is preparing a new “MOT”(motor of Tomorrow) to be mandated come 2011. Just kidding……maybe. LOL

Steve Cloyd
07/29/2008 12:25 PM
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“I hear that NASCAR is preparing a new “MOT”(motor of Tomorrow) to be mandated come 2011. Just kidding……maybe. LOL

Don’t laugh. There was talk of that not long ago. I’ve predicted for some time now, once Chevy and Ford pull out, they’ll sell the “official car of NASCAR” rights to Toyota or Honda, and there will be one make. Then you’ll have those stupid looking cars with Honda badges and NASCAR stickers all over them on the street.

The sacred cow is nearly out of milk.

Gerry Blachley
07/29/2008 12:26 PM
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The common Template cars, Do you remember when nascar would go out to a dealer and get a car to make the templates,do you remember when any one could bring a tire if you could supply the field, do you remember when you could watch a race on TV, not the race snippets in-between commercials, do you remember when a you could tell a Ford from a Dodge and a Chevrolet does not look like Toyota, do you remember when team or a company that did a good job with there motors was not penalized for doing so. Stock car racing is no longer stock car racing, this is not a sport where the best car and team win, what it has become is a feeding place for greed, its time for the people that made this sport what it once was to step up and take control, There is one way to stop the stupidity of an, origination stop feeding it.

Skip
07/29/2008 01:01 PM
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A few years ago CART came to Texas Motor Speedway, and after a couple of practices they just decided speeds were too fast to be safe, and refused to race.

I said at the time that this would never have happened with NASCAR because NASCAR would have found some way to get the race run. Put a chicane on the backstretch or something to drop speeds.

I think this race at Indy has showed this to be true, but as a race fan, I’m honestly not sure which I prefer. We can all complain about how we got there, but once the situation arose, NASCAR found a way to get the race in. As a fan sitting at home I got to see at least a few laps of decent racing. Now had I spent thousands to be at that track itself I might have a different opinion on what should have happened.

Douglas
07/29/2008 04:50 PM
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The CoT!

The CoT!

The CoT!

The Cot!

This piece of crap called a “race car” by only Brian and his hangers on, the ones with all the brown on their noses, and probably large bank accounts, is the root cause of Sunday’s fiasco as witnessed by millions!

And dear old GOODYEAR did not have the cajoneys to stand up to NA$CRAP and tell them we do not have a tire for the Cot!

AT ANY TRACK!

My honest opinion is as follows: The CoT design, the high C/G, the “splitter”, and so forth, all contribute to an untested design! So GOODYEAR supplies a very, very, hard compound tire, so who would be surprised the rubber is not soft enough to stick to the track?

Isn’t that common sense! A “hard” tire is going to shave off in dust! While the soft tire pieces stick not only to each other, but to the track?

And the CoT as presented by Brian and Company simply cannot run on the softer compounds!

Thus, an INDIANA SUNDAY is born!

Poor Tony George, first the F-1 tire problems!

Now along comes GOODYEAR!

Wonder what Tony Stewart is muttering under his breath right now!

BOYCOTT NA$CAR! DO NOT GO TO THEIR SICK EVENTS AS LONG AS THE CoT IS INVOLVED!

Oh, and did they say that the CoT will be the car of choice in the Busch, err, sorry, Nationwide series next year? Bet those boys can hardly wait!

TIm
07/29/2008 07:32 PM
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Hey Skip the cart drivers were blacking out and crashihing would you think Nascar put on a great show if Kenseth or Montoya hurt themselves when their tires blew up. The Indy race was joke those who had the best pit selections did well becauese you could not pass

mkrcr
07/29/2008 07:58 PM
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I’ve been trying to figure out for two days why in the heck I watched that event on Sunday. Only thing I can figure is it was like the typical train wreck. Every lap I somehow couldn’t believe it could get any worse. But it did.
And the odd thing is I can no longer muster any anger, only sadness, for OUR NASCAR is truly gone. I told Douglas awhile back that he was wailing against the wall with his rants. Sunday proved it to be true for all of us once loyal fans. NA$CAR has sealed it’s fate with the decisions made on Sunday. Unlike the Loudon race, which was early in the NA$CAR media hunger, this race is supposed to be second only to the Daytona 500 in prestige. The same media that NA$CAR has relentlessly pursued for their glory witnessed the debacle. Not just ESPN, but worldwide media, and NA$CAR is a laughing stock.

Kevin in SoCal
07/29/2008 10:11 PM
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Everyone is quick to criticize, but I see no offers of what YOU would have done given the circumstances on Sunday. What would YOU have done differently with what YOU had available ON SUNDAY?

Skip
07/29/2008 10:52 PM
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Tim, the point is I’m honestly not sure which I prefer. In the CART situation NASCAR would have done something. A chicane or two on the backstretch would have basically ensured that they didn’t hit the speeds that were the problems, but then it wouldn’t have been an oval race.

Steve Cloyd
07/30/2008 08:55 AM
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“Everyone is quick to criticize, but I see no offers of what YOU would have done given the circumstances on Sunday. What would YOU have done differently with what YOU had available ON SUNDAY?”

Tested BEFORE Sunday. The problems all happened well before the race. The signs were there months ago when Earnhardt tested and said tires did that after 7 laps. NASCAR and Goodyear did nothing.

It’s not what they did on Sunday. It’s what they DIDN’T DO for months on end before Sunday.

Larry
07/30/2008 10:01 PM
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There wasn’t a whole lot Nascar could do Sunday, but they clearly should have done something before Sunday. They should have known from the tests run that tires were wearing out too soon and should have done more tests to ensure the tires would last. Bottom line, Nascar’s Fault and they need to refund money. You haven’t heard Nascar mention that, have you? And, I’m betting you want either.

Contact Vito Pugliese