The Brickyard 400 has seen attendance dwindle while the Indianapolis 500 still draws a capacity crowd. Is it time for NASCAR to say goodbye to Indy?
Vito Pugliese: Absolutely not. This is the most prominent venue in all of motorsports, and NASCAR needs to still be going there. I don’t recall anybody really having much of an issue with the racing here until after the tire debacle in 2008 when the new Car of Tomorrow made its first appearance there, shredding tires every eight-10 laps. There have been some memorable finishes there since then, with 2017’s absolute insanity being perhaps the most memorable. Just because there’s been a couple of yawners there, or because everyone decides to sit in turn 1 and not bake their brains out in 95-degree Midwest humidity with a narrow view of the track, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t race there. If we race twice at Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway now, we can figure out how to make a trip to most famous race course on Earth every 12 months.
Adam Cheek: At some point soon, yes. As historic as the track is, races there are typically dull and uneventful. It also doesn’t help that it’s basically a flat superspeedway. That works well for Indy cars, but for the bulky Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series cars it’s not a good fit.
Mark Kristl: The Xfinity Series never should have begun racing at Indianapolis; that circuit produced great racing at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway but left for greener pastures. Fans clamor for more short tracks, and Lucas Oil is a short track. NASCAR should return the series to that track in 2021. but the Cup Series should stay at Indianapolis. However, instead of racing on the oval, NASCAR should race the Cup Series on the road course. The oval will forever be remembered for the Indianapolis 500, not the Brickyard 400. If NASCAR raced at the road course, it would provide another road course to the schedule and it would differentiate itself from the NTT IndyCar Series races at the track. Plus, NASCAR needs to move the race away from both the regular season cutoff race and the July 4 race weekend. But that is a different conversation for a different day.
Christian Koelle: It’s an open wheel track for open wheel cars. Even IndyCar’s racing hasn’t been drop-dead amazing racing, and NASCAR’s has improved some, but it’s too far gone to save. It’s an amazing venue to see NASCAR at, but the fans don’t show up, and if they don’t show up, it doesn’t need to be on the schedule.
Wesley Coburn: “Nevermore,” quoth Poe’s raven. It was an interesting experiment that never worked out that well; by all means, drop it from the schedule as soon as possible.
Mike Neff: There are two things at play with attendance at Indy. First, the attendance at all NASCAR races is down from its peak. While other tracks have removed seats, Indy has merely covered some. Even though the stands look sparse at Indy, it is still one of the better attended races of the season. As the sport continues to rebound, it will get better at Indy, although it will never reach the heyday levels. The second factor is that the Indianapolis 500 is blacked out in the Indianapolis TV market. If you want to see the race live, you have to be there in person. If it weren’t blacked out, the attendance would fall off significantly. NASCAR belongs at Indianapolis. It should only be the Cup Series, but we can have that conversation another day.
Amy Henderson: It’s past time. It was OK for a few years, a novelty, but NASCAR’s real history and prestige are at tracks like Darlington Raceway and Daytona International Speedway, not piggybacked on IndyCar’s. It’s never been a great track for stock cars (even the closest finishes there aren’t the most exciting ones you’ll ever see), and the sport would be better served by adding a short track somewhere.
All four Joe Gibbs Racing Cup cars have now won in 2019. Which one has the best shot at claiming the championship?
Neff: Denny Hamlin is the hottest driver in the stable right now, but Kyle Busch is still its best driver. If Busch can keep a level head with this package and realize he’s actually going to have to rough people up to pass them (because that is the box NASCAR has painted the drivers into), he’ll secure a second title.
Coburn: If I’m going just by recent momentum, Hamlin, but his track record late in the season doesn’t bode well, so I’m going to say Busch, since he seems to thrive in this format. Erik Jones may be a sleeper if he can get into the semifinals.
Henderson: Busch. He’s the one JGR is going to throw everything and the kitchen sink at. Hamlin is looking stronger than he has in years, but he’s never been able to close the deal, even going into Homestead-Miami Speedway with the points lead and not being able to hold onto it. Martin Truex Jr. is probably the second-best bet, but even as a past champion he seems to be an afterthought at times. Jones has been very strong this summer but lacks playoff experience. If he can learn and go deep in the rounds, he’ll be a contender in his own time.
Koelle: Hamlin by far. He’s one of the only drivers to have been consistent all season. Despite winning the Daytona 500, he’s not rested, winning Texas Motor Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s staying consistent, and that’s the exact way Joey Logano won the title. The rest of the program doesn’t have the consistency to win a championship, though nothing says that can’t show up in the playoffs.
Pugliese: Truex. The tracks in the playoffs are some of his strongest, and the No. 19 is in playoff prep mode now. The team hasn’t been storylines the last two weeks, but check out what it was doing before Bristol since the Coke 600. JGR has things dialed in and reminds me of 2005 when Roush Fenway Racing had five of the 10 playoff spots filled with its cars and looked to be the odds-on favorite to pull out a championship with the entire team qualified and dominant all season long. That said, a similar outcome could occur this year, particularly given the elimination format the playoffs feature.
Kristl: Truex Jr., Busch, and Hamlin all can make the Championship 4. Imagine that team meeting, especially for Jones, before the race at Homestead. With momentum on his side and fast No. 11 Toyotas, Hamlin is the favorite, but it is quite hard to pick one of those four.
Cheek: Right now, Hamlin. As solid as Busch has been this year, and though he and Truex are title material, Hamlin has really stood out as one of the favorites in general to win the championship. He’s had an unbelievable year and could carry all that momentum into the playoffs.
With another winner — this time in the Xfinity Series — disqualified last week in Denny Hamlin, should NASCAR perform post-race inspection prior to holding victory lane ceremonies?
Koelle: I don’t know which one is a bigger pet peeve: this or the NBC camera guy jumping out and ruining a million-dollar photo or the fact that we go through and do the whole victory lane photos and they literally just become pointless photos in a photographer’s library. NASCAR needs to lighten up on it, because if a car passes all the previous inspections and doesn’t take on any severe damage (and even then I question it), a car shouldn’t fail post-race inspection. Cole Custer noted that the height wasn’t what won Denny the race.
Pugliese: No, that would be silly. This is going to be a self-policing event where a couple of eggs get cracked to make an omelette and everyone starts falling in line.
Coburn: It might be a good idea; maybe the networks could get in several interviews with drivers while waiting.
Neff: Hell, no. The last thing fans are going to do is sit around for an hour while a car is technically inspected. It is a necessary danger in actually disqualifying winners. I’d rather have two victory lanes than try to make people sit around and wait for inspection. Horrible idea.
Cheek: At the moment, no; it doesn’t happen enough to warrant it. I doubt anyone would sit around at home and wait for the ceremonies, plus it’s great to get the right-after-the-win moments with the driver. However, if it starts happening more frequently, do inspection for the winning car and let that be it (or if it fails, have a simultaneous inspection of the runner-up to save time). But as a whole, it would really hurt post-race ceremonies.
Michael Rooker, the actor who played Rowdy Burns in Days of Thunder, said he would be open to participating in a sequel. Would you want to see a Days of Thunder 2?
Cheek: I would be all for that. Heck, Rooker’s already doing NBC promos for NASCAR, and we’re getting a sequel to another Tony Scott/Tom Cruise film next year in Top Gun: Maverick. We don’t get many NASCAR-based narrative films (it’s mostly documentaries), and to have a second Days of Thunder set in the present day would be pretty awesome. Maybe Cole Trickle is a crew chief or a team owner and has to deal with a younger version of himself, or something like that. Let’s get a bunch of driver cameos in there while we’re at it.
Kristl: No, because just like Fever Pitch, Field of Dreams and Remember the Titans, it is a classic sports movie whose reputation could be tarnished if a sequel is terrible. Keep fans salivating for more, and like Friends, it will stay popular.
Koelle: I have wanted to see a Days of Thunder 2 since I was a kid. Rooker and Cruise together, plus my personal favorite actor Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid and Cary Elwes. with some new faces? It would win a lot of awards. There are a lot of ways to deliver a great story with modern technology and everything, and add today’s drivers to the movie and you have a blockbuster.
Neff: Sequels rarely ever equal the success of the original. The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Rambo: First Blood Part II are a few, but there aren’t many. If they do one, hopefully the video footage will hopefully be more accurate. It would be nice to have Daytona footage actually be from Daytona. In the grand scheme of things, we can never have enough NASCAR movies. I’d rather have a Stroker Ace sequel.
Henderson: What would the premise be, Rowdy’s and Cole’s kids racing each other? No, leave this one be. It’s really a terrible movie, but I admit I love it anyway. It doesn’t need a sequel, though. Like, ever. Or a remake. At the rate they’re remaking movies these days, you have to wonder if they ran out of original ideas.
Coburn: Let’s see how Top Gun: Maverick goes first. Since Days of Thunder is essentially Top Gun on land, if Maverick goes well, then sure, try a sequel. Days of Thunder helped a lot in popularizing NASCAR, and Cars and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby also helped in 2006, so maybe a new NASCAR-themed movie could set up another popularity spike. It doesn’t always happen (Herbie: Fully Loaded and Logan Lucky both underperformed), but Tom Cruise is an awfully strong selling point.