More than a few people, mostly those residing in Indiana, have argued that the Brickyard 400, has taken a spot alongside the Daytona 500 as NASCAR's 'crown jewel.' But after Sunday's debacle, Indianapolis has once again suffered a hit and continued to slip-slide down what is looking like an even more slippery slope.
Just three years removed from Formula One's own messy tire situation that left just six cars competing in the U.S. Grand Prix, this year's Brickyard event left drivers and perhaps most importantly, fans, leaving with a decidedly bad taste in their mouths.
While the 2005 Formula One race, in which all but six teams refused to compete due to safety concerns over tires, had global ramifications and at least partly led to the series departure from U.S. soil, Sunday's NASCAR race fell with a resounding thud amongst fans of arguably the nation's most popular sport.
NASCAR officials, worried about tire wear resulting from Indianapolis' diamond ground racing surface, placed a 12-lap lifespan on tires for Sunday's race. The result was that competition caution flags would fly intermittently to give teams a chance to replace tires that were wearing to the cords before drivers could event settle back into their HANS devices.
For fans, the result was frustrating and for many infuriating, after paying large sums of money to see, in effect, a group of 10-12 lap sprints to the pits. The race, and I use that term loosely, further fueled the debate that NASCAR racing at Indianapolis just isn't that good.
After attending 10 of the 15 races, and covering a handful of them for various publications, I'm even more convinced that the Brickyard event is long on spectacle and short on competition. For those NASCAR fans who get to see just the Brickyard 400 race each year, the entertainment value is still there if for no other reason than it's great to see your favorite drivers in person, even if they are barely up to speed like this year. But I'd be willing to say that more fun was had at O'Reilly Raceway Park this year for the Nationwide Series, Craftsman Truck Series and various USAC events.
Despite the resentment that stems from fans who paid hard earned money for the Brickyard, NASCAR did the right thing in not trading safety to appease the fan base. There was little the teams could do after not getting an opportunity to test the Car of Tomorrow on the track surface before this weekend. And the COT's debut at Indy was sorely lacking. But in the end, the most important thing is that no driver was seriously injured due to the track's effect on tires.
Certainly fingers, perhaps even middle ones, will be pointed at Goodyear, who has long known that Indy's surface has a unique effect on tires. Yet they still didn't do any tire testing with the new cars in preparation for this weekend. There is no secret here since the track was last resurfaced in 2004.
Goodyear brought three cars here in April for a tire test, but as any Indiana resident can tell you, April weather is decidedly different than the hot and humid summers that leave Hoosiers basking in pools and Central Air.
"Nobody likes to race like this," said Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of race tire sales. "I think the teams are going to be upset, probably rightly so."
So again, a black eye is laid upon Indianapolis and Hoosier NASCAR fans are left wanting. And at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Greatest Spectacle in Racing is run during the Indy 500, fans were left with just a sad spectacle.