The Brickyard 400 at Indy ~ No Identity Crises Here
by: Carol Bell
I was sitting in church this morning and a friend asked me what I was going to do this afternoon? After a very long moment, I started to laugh and told her I was going to go home and write a column about a race I didn’t even want to watch. She had absolutely no response.
For a short period of time I did write about NASCAR. At the time I felt I had something to say, but after 123 columns there wasn’t much left for me to opine about. There was one race though that I didn’t write about. That race conflicted with my trip out to Reno, Nevada where I immersed myself in Hot August Nights, an amazing gathering of over 10,000 vintage cars surrounded by appropriately, nonstop rock and roll oldies. No one needed my input about the race and frankly they wouldn’t have wanted it. Besides, if you want great cars where else would you want to be but Hot August Nights?
I’m sure by now you’ve figured out the one race I’ve yet to write about is the Brickyard 400.
I did watch the first Brickyard in 1994 because my brother and his family were one of those who’s postmark on the envelope containing their ticket request was less than a minute after midnight as required for the first come, first serve process. I was excited because he was excited. He was in his element and while watching that race I worked to maintain that level of excitement while realizing that 3800 pound stock cars running Indy looked like 3800 pound stock cars sliding across a huge sea of pork fat. And that hasn’t changed.
So I was thrilled when he called that night and I heard engines in the background. “Hey! Where are you guys?” I asked. “Oh, we came back to the room to watch the race on TV”, he replied. Oh, OK. He went on to tell me that while there was the usual track excitement, you couldn’t see much of the race due to the massive size of the track and the historical pagoda and infield buildings. Apparently you could really only see the cars coming out of turn four, race down the front stretch and into turn one. Over the years the field of vision has been improved, but the racing hasn’t, and fan attendance has steadily declined. Looking at the stands today, that decline appears to be continuing. At least two spotters per team are the norm and I heard an interview with one last week who stated that even with two, they can’t see the whole track and have to be vigilant not to talk over each other. Still the drivers are driving blind in some areas.
The opening ceremonies were short and to the point with a nice rendition of the national anthem and Mari Hulman George’s refreshingly correct command “Gentlemen! Start your engines!” No PC garbage to roll one’s eyes about.
We’re now only 14 laps into the race and Denny Hamlin is all alone in the lead with the rest of the field stretched out to the point where there is usually only one car in the camera shot and Carl Edwards is already in the pits due to engine issues. It’s going to be a long, long race. So let’s go to commercial, some of which are pretty entertaining. My favorite is the one for NASCAR home tracks. Yeppers, many a young person gets their start at “home” tracks which only begs someone to answer whose brilliant idea it was to move the Nationwide race from IRP?
After pitting during the first caution, Kyle Busch left pit road belching black smoke like an old clunker in a bad part of town and Jimmie Johnson raced Denny Hamlin down pit road providing a few seconds of actual racing that excited even Allen Bestwick. At the lap 46 restart though, Hamlin is stuck on the high side falling back and Clint Boyer is sliding through the grass causing another caution. This is actually making the race more interesting. So let’s go to commercial.
On lap 70, Kurt Busch has lug nut issues and is called back to the pits. No comment is made from anyone, anywhere. His name is not even mentioned until a quick recap before the commercial break at lap 86 as Brad Keselowski again leads with no other cars in the camera shot. However, it is becoming a little weird watching the track level camera showcasing cars coming down the front stretch sitting sideways on their chassis. MWR’s cars are the worst as they resemble fiddler crabs crossing a hot highway. Then a little giggle as NASCAR’s Twitter feed literally yells, “HALFWAY! This is always THE most popular announcement in the media center, by the way.”
On the lap 101 restart we finally see some decent racing as Brad Keselowski loses grip going under the #78 of Regan Smith. Smith seems determined to turn in a good finish and keep the Furniture Row car’s heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Aurora, Colorado shooting in mint condition. Jeff Gordon and Dale, Jr. continue to pedal as fast as they can, so at lap 109, let’s go to commercial.
Now, no offense to Mr. Hendrick, but as Dale, Jr. continues notching off good race finishes, does anyone else beside me wish that Junior was driving a solid red car with only one digit? Sometimes his car is too hard to find in the field.
They come back to the broadcast for a few seconds of race recap and off to a commercial. I need a sandwich at this point, though the telecast is providing so many breaks I could fix the equivalent of Thanksgiving dinner. But I’ll settle for a grilled cheese.
Coming out of commercial, the field is under caution as they show Jeff Burton’s pit stall with a tire on fire. Five or six guys including a NASCAR official are transfixed as they stand there and watch all the pretty colors. Didn’t see anyone attempt to put it out. Grab some marshmallows! We’ll make smores!
And speaking of fire, I’ve heard a number of people say that fire is extremely rare in this day and age. As I sit and watch flames come out from the left front wheel well of Matt Kenseth’s car after Joey Logano’s #20 lost it on lap 133, I can’t help but reflect on the number of car fires we’ve had just this year. They seem to be increasing for whatever reason, but that reason needs to be addressed. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that Matt stopped outside the care center to let us all know he was OK and then walked over to give more interviews separated from the photographers and I presume other media, by a chain link fence. I dubbed this the “Kurt Busch” de-fence. I’m sure the fence is standard at other places, but I thought it was funny since they still haven’t checked in with Kurt or his team since the lug nut incident. Finally, with 16 laps to go they announce that Kurt has retired to garage due to engine problems.
So as the race winds down and Jimmie Johnson leaves everyone in the dust heading towards his fourth Brickyard victory, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. takes the lead in the points, I give myself an “Atta girl.” I not only watched the entire race; I paid attention as well. It wasn’t a bad race, but that’s not my argument. I have no argument with Indy; it’s an incredible monument to racing. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has never had an identity problem. NASCAR however, went to great lengths to christen Daytona as “The Birthplace of Speed”, but each year when they return to Indianapolis, Daytona becomes that item you don’t want to see floating in your punch bowl. Not to worry though, when NASCAR returns to Daytona International Raceway next January, the hype will take on a completely different tone.
Until then, we that have followed the sport for so long know better. Indianapolis Motor Speedway has its own history. Ours however, is a bit further south at Daytona International Raceway. As they say, it is what it is.
And we plan on keeping it that way.
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