The Nationwide Series winner at Daytona International Speedway the day before the Daytona 500 doesn’t get a Harley J. Earl trophy. The victor at Darlington Raceway the day before the Southern 500 isn’t rewarded with his name and face emblazoned on the Johnny Mantz trophy.
So why the Nationwide Series winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is allowed to kiss the bricks (thankfully the trophy is different), just like the following day’s Brickyard 400 winners, is beyond me.
There has always been a Nationwide Series race at Daytona, Darlington and other prestigious Sprint Cup venues. But Nationwide at Indianapolis is taking longer to get used to — and, believe me, at first I tried to be open-minded, but when it looked like just another Sprint Cup event in part because of said celebration, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.
Simply, some things should be different.
Admittedly, I don’t like change, but I also think there should be separation between Sprint Cup and Nationwide because so much of it seems the same. The two series have blended together over the last few years because of the talent that crisscrosses the weekend, while fewer and fewer of those weekends are at different tracks — or standalone events, as they are called. They are becoming a thing of the past and a rarity of the present, and have lead to the continued call for their return by some fans as well as for more short tracks to be added to the schedule.
You shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken, yet Lucas Oil Raceway was taken away and is greatly missed. It takes away a much-needed short track and the action required to keep the series fresh. When the race was moved to the big track across town in 2012, there was this feeling that another great short track got shafted. The 0.686-mile oval was exactly that good old short track that everyone is talking about when they want to see bumper-to-bumper racing, some rubbing and classic finishes.
By no means am I one of the advocates who believe that short tracks are the end-all, be-all of racing or that the NASCAR schedule should consist of a large majority of them. But I can admit that when it came to Indianapolis and the short track, formerly called Indianapolis Raceway Park, the latter was something I always looked forward to. It marked a special weekend that began with battling at the bullring and ended with kissing the bricks by the best Sprint Cup driver that Sunday, who became an Indy winner forever.
Many memorable moments happened at Lucas Oil Raceway ahead of the big Sunday race at the Brickyard — but not anymore, as we’ve been gifted with single-file racing at the 2.5-mile oval, and in two years the track has produced two Cup winners. That’s just golden, isn’t it? And how they can go kiss the bricks after a Nationwide race and feel special is something I’m not sure I will ever be able to comprehend. Save it for Sunday when it actually does mean something, when it is special because it’s a tradition that started in a Cup race and deserves to remain in the Cup race.
I fear the Nationwide Series at the Brickyard is never going to be as successful or even looked at as prestigious, because right from the start too many people have been against it. Granted, as it’s only two years old, I do — perhaps naively — have hope that should Nationwide Series regulars be able to start winning the event and in turn make it the big race for them it’s supposed to be, I and others could come around.
Right now, it’s nothing more than more practice for Cup drivers and a chance to win at Indianapolis before their due time. Both Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have not yet won at Indianapolis in the Sprint Cup Series but went ahead and kissed the bricks after winning their respective Nationwide Series races as if the accomplishment should rank the same. This weekend, 10 drivers will look to compete in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series races at the speedway, and the favorites to win will be — big surprise — another Cup driver.
It’s bothersome — more bothersome than any other weekend because of where they’re racing — and it’s going to keep being bothersome either until it goes away or is stopped being made to look like a Sprint Cup race and turned into the special event for Nationwide Series drivers that it should be.