Friday, July 25, 2008

Nothing boring about this weekend at Indy

Until 2006, this was always an exciting weekend for me because it meant it was time for the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series race at PPIR. That excitement stays with me to this day, as a matter of habit, for there is no more race at PPIR*.

There is, however, still reason to get excited, because it is now Indianapolis weekend. With the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, and the Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races at O'Reilly Raceway Park, there is plenty of exciting racing in store.

O'RP is a 0.687 mile oval that is home to some of the most exciting short track racing we have seen in the Nationwide and Truck series. It seems to breed a lot of cautions, because the drivers feel like they have to go for broke here, maybe because it's near Indianapolis, or because it is just that kind of track. That kind of track is the classic Saturday night circle burner, where it's every man, or woman, for him or herself. With a tight championsip points competition between the CTS drivers, we can expect Friday night's race to feature plenty of action and drama.

Last year's Busch (Nationwide) Series race was an absolute wreckfest, to the point of frustration for both the fans and the drivers. If we want to see a demolition derby, as that "race" was, we would go to a demolition derby. But many of the drivers in the race last year had little experience at O'RP. Most of those drivers are back this year, and, hopefully, they remember from last year what not to do. If you want parity, there will be parity here, because on a short track like this, horsepower doesn't matter.

Every driver has had a period in their career racing at tracks similar to O'RP, but there are some who are masters at such racing. Joey Logano comes to mind, as do Denny Hamilton, Jason Keller, and Clint Bowyer. Kyle Busch will also be on hand, which will likely mean plenty of action and drama for Saturday's Nationwide Series race as well. July isn't over yet, and there should be plenty of fireworks on the track.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is arguably the most well-known American racing venue in the world. The 2.5 mile rectangular speedway provides a special challenge for the Sprint Cup cars. Only for teams tested at IMS earlier this year, other than that the new car has not seen the track.

Even in the older car, the track was a challenge for stock cars. Nearly twice as heavy as the open wheel cars, and not nearly as responsive in handling, NASCAR's machines do not seem fit for the for separate ninety degree turns on the track. To this day, drivers and crew chiefs alike wonder how it is even possible for the heavy cars to make the turns. And that is the challenge of the track. If a driver and car negotiate the corners as near perfectly as possible, they can hit the long straightaways at speed. A missed set up, a bad pit stop, or taking the wrong line through a turn can spell the end of the day for a team, or, at least, a very long day.

That is why there is so much preparation for this one race. Most of the teams build a special car for the Brickyard. This has never been a race known for a lot of passing and position changes--old car or new car, it is very difficult for the stock cars to pass one another. This is a race about pit stops and adjustments, as well as perfection of the driver in hitting his marks. That by no means indicates a boring race. The competition is stepped up for the Brickyard, because of the sheer prestige of winning at IMS. The broadcast crew at Speed TV brought up an interesting statistic indicating what it takes in talent to win a race at IMS--every winner, with the exception of Kevin Harvick in 2003 and Ricky Rudd in 1997, has been a NASCAR Cup series champion. That says a lot.

Tony Stewart is by no means a "lame duck." In spite of what we have written here previously--for which we apologize, because that was a purely emotional reaction--the #20 team has had a winning attitude all season long. The races at Daytona, Las Vegas, Bristol, Lowe's, Loudon, and Talledega were all wins for Tony Stewart had it not been for misfortune. We also apologize for forgetting about Jimmie Johnson's 2006 Brickyard win, but if Smoke can pull off a victory it will be three out of the last four, not three in a row as previously written here. This blogger has never claimed to be perfect, but mistakes make us seem human. We only regret that we are so darn human.

The competition at an especially high level here this year, because some of the drivers who have performed the best at IMS have yet to win a race in 2008. Jeff Gordon's team has been improving all year, and he is every bit as poised to win at the Brickyard as are Stewart and Ryan Newman. Newman, who did win the first points race of the season at the Daytona, is an Indiana native who has yet to win at the famed speedway.

However, and please don't shoot the messenger, since this is the first race at IMS for the Sprint Cup car, don't rule out a win by Kyle Busch. He seems to be the one driver who can consistantly take the car to its first win at any venue. It would not be surprising if he were to win Sunday. We hope the fans can remember that it is very wrong to throw beer at the Hallowed Grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

*As I was getting ready to post this, I received news that PPIR will be reopening, and will be running a National Automobile Sports Association (NASA) event on Labor Day weekend. ISC decided to relax the requirement that the buyer not use the facility to host automobile racing, and reworded that stipulation to mean no NASCAR events. However that doesn't mean we won't see ARCA/Remax back here in the future. Why ISC is so certain that they will be able to build a track near Denver, and why I think they are wrong is subject for a whole new post, but for right now, I am doing a happy dance at the news that PPIR will have racing again.


JMD said...

Thanks Jim for the news that PPIR is reopening as it is wonderful news. Makes another reason for me to make a trip over to the Denver area on a regular basis.
I look forward to see what you have to say about ISC building a track.

Forrest Gump said...

This is a great post, very informative lots of insight into the situation.

Tim Zaegel said...

Maybe we should consider re-titling this post, eh? ;)

RevJim said...

I didn't think it was so much boring as it was frustrating. It could have been worse. Really. Remember the 2005 USGP?

Tim Zaegel said...

I don't recall that race off the top of my head ... but, this race was pretty awful.