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Racing to the Point: What Does NASCAR Have to Show for 20 Years in Indy?
Credit: Phil Allaway

Racing to the Point: What Does NASCAR Have to Show for 20 Years in Indy?

Prestigious. Historic. Spectacle.

All three words suit the greatest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500, run annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The flat 2.5-mile track has proven time and time again that it suits America’s top open-wheel series. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves’ battle during the last laps of this year’s event further cemented an already unbelievable 103-year racing past.

That’s what Indianapolis Motor Speedway means for open-wheel racing.

It means something entirely different to NASCAR: Disappointment. Boredom. Nap time.

Those words nicely sum up NASCAR’s 20 years at Indy. There hasn’t been a last-lap pass like there was in this year’s Indy 500, a photo finish or really any semblance of a battle for the win in the closing laps. The flat layout that suits open-wheel cars so well hasn’t had the same effect with slower, heavier, aero-dependent stock cars.

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt provided the track and the sport a boost by claiming the first two titles in 1994 and ’95. Those victories were important because it allowed both Indianapolis and NASCAR to bill the Brickyard 400 as a race only the best of the best win. So even though the racing was always subpar, the prestige of racing at Indianapolis was just heightened by the quality of drivers who visited Victory Lane.

That wore off, though, and all we were left with was racing that seemingly got worse with each passing year, culminating in the 2008 tire debacle where drivers were forced to pit every 10 laps to avoid blowing a tire. The racing since could be labeled a debacle as well, and for those still trying to market the Brickyard as a race only for the best of the best, wins by Jamie McMurray (2010) and Paul Menard (2011) didn’t help matters.

Last year, Ryan Newman mercifully ended the event after only 2 hours, 36 minutes. You probably missed it, though because after the first hour, you were laying face down in your living room carpet. It was generally considered an awful event that at least produced a positive storyline; well, sort of. It was an Indiana native reveling in victory, celebrating within the stomping grounds of his heroes during a time he was getting shoved aside behind the scenes by his own team.

Ryan Newman drives his No. 31 at the Daytona International Speedway. (Credit: CIA)

Ryan Newman drives his No. 31 at the Daytona International Speedway in July 2014. Newman will look to defend his 2013 Brickyard 400 title this weekend. (Credit: CIA)

That awe from the drivers who have won the Brickyard is what we’ve clung to. The racing tends to be lackluster, but seeing Tony Stewart wide-eyed in amazement in the same spot A.J. Foyt won four Indy 500s is priceless. NASCAR and the media have milked that cow for the last 20 years and will continue to do so as long as the Brickyard is run. It’s smart, because there’s nothing else to fall back on. Twenty years have passed and what are your top memories of Indy? The 2008 disaster, Gordon’s win in the inaugural event or Jimmie Johnson’s victories?

NASCAR markets this race like it’s the second greatest thing since sliced bread — behind the Daytona 500 — but after 20 years, we’re left feeling empty because the on-track product has fallen way short of its IndyCar counterpart. No race on the NASCAR schedule builds up momentum and disappoints quite like Indy.

During NASCAR’s off weekend, much of the talk centered on the schedule. Many drivers and writers believe it should be shorter. Johnson actually suggested that 25 races would be good.

That’s a lot of races to cut, but I have a pretty good idea where we could start. While we’re at it, let remove the Nationwide Series from Indy, too. The series leaving Lucas Oil Raceway, or Indianapolis Raceway Park or whatever the short track they used to race on is called was a damn shame. We should send them back so Indianapolis fans have something to cheer about.

What would we really lose if we lost the Brickyard? Borrowed tradition? That’s about all we have. It would be like if IndyCar started racing at Daytona and tried to use Daytona 500 photo finishes, among stock cars as its leg to stand on.

NASCAR is still standing on the Indy 500s, and after 20 years isn’t ready to walk on its own yet. It’s had two decades to develop its own product, memorable finishes and even separate history. But the tradition it has developed above all else, instead is disappointment.

That’s hard to market.

About Brett Poirier

Brett Poirier
Brett starts his fourth year with the Frontstretch in 2014, writing the popular Racing To The Point commentary on Tuesdays. An award-winning Connecticut Sportswriter and Editor, Brett resides in the Constitution State while working towards his dream of getting involved in racing full-time.

16 comments

  1. Use the Indy road course and I think you would see a great event! But Nascar wouldn’t do that, it’s too radical for their minds!

  2. The one thing I$C and $MI could learn from Indy is how to run a race track. You can walk anywhere you want to watch the race and practice besides your seat. In Daytona or any track besides a road course you have to pay extra to go in the infield to do anything. Plus you are not gouged buying the stuff from the speedway and the things are not junk I’m still drinking out of a can coolie I bought in 2002 and it looks new and it has been used a 1000 times. The only thing I$C has learned from Indy is how to block the fans view of the racetrack. Hence the Daytona 500 club.

  3. I believe that when the boom happened in the 90′s and 00′s nascar had one goal….CASH IN!!!! So they turned their backs on the old tracks so they could build their mega coliseums . But now the product has gone stale and the fans are finding something better to do. Nascar can never be a big league sport , but it’s trying and failing. They just need to simplify. Get rid of the redundancy in the schedule ie: mile and a halfs , Indy. I say more short tracks , and road courses.

  4. Great article, Brett, my thoughts exactly. I wholeheartedly agree with Don in CT, the road course at Indy would be awesome. And good gravy, lets get IRP back on the NNS schedule!

  5. Nascar never needed Indy. 20 years ago, Nascar was king or about to be in motor racing – Nascar had a unique personality, and a rabid fan base – I never understood the move to Indy – let Indy be Indy and God Bless – Nascar had Darlington, Bristol, Martinsville, and others – but, ahhhh, the money, the fake prestige, the media coverage – to me a waste – and yes boring like the so many others. But what do I know?

  6. I watched the Brickyard flag-to-flag the three years it was run before I got satellite TV, because it was one of the handful of times I got to see the race every year instead of just being able to listen on the radio. Since then, it just hasn’t been worth a whole afternoon. The past few years I haven’t even worried about radio that much.

  7. Apparently, BF is only interested in having races at the biggest tracks that will get the most attention, not the tracks that will give the best racing for people to watch. If he was interested in the latter, then we would still have Rockingham and North Wilkesboro on the schedule, not Indy, California or Las Vegas.

    I have just about given up on NASCAR. I used to be one who planned the day to when the race was. Now, if I am home and the race is on, then maybe I will watch, but maybe not. I have turned a lot of my attention to F1 now and have barely watched NASCAR.

  8. You know, it’s interesting… One of biggest problems with NASCAR the last 15 years or so is that the aerodynamics of the cars have proven the 1.5 mile ovals are now useless. Back in the 80s and 90s, places like Atlanta and Michigan and Charlotte were bad-ass, because the cars slip-slided all over the place, air moving them around, bias ply tires screaming… At 160 mph it was super-exciting, while at 190-200 mph now, they’re awful because of the aero.

    And the argument, in fairness, was that NASCAR owns all the damned tracks. ISC and whatnot. So they have these gigantic investments sitting in Las Vegas, Chicago, Kentucky, Charlotte, Michigan, Atlanta, and whatever, and now suddenly the racing stinks and the stands are empty, but they gotta keep putting on races there, right?

    But Indy has no such excuse. Why the heck do they keep going back there when it continuously puts on the worst races of the year?

    And meanwhile places like Rockingham sit empty….

    That’s kinda what I love about watching stuff lik the ALMS and Grand-Am and some of the lesser road racing series… Every year there’s a race or two at a track you didn’t see before, or a temporary street course that’s brand new, or a return to an old favourite… They always throw in some interesting stuff. You never see that with NASCAR (except the Trucks, finally, THANKFULLY), or with F1 either.

  9. Hopefully, when they pave the corner aprons at Indy it will liven up the racing some. I think the Brickyard is still an important race. When they ran there in 1994 it marked the point where NASCAR was the USA’s number 1 motorsport. I enjoyed going to the race a couple of years ago, tons of history. Just walking around the place is cool. I’d rather watch a boring race there then at Kentucky, Texas, Chicago or Kansas. If they can cars slowed down next year and reduce downforce that will help the racing at Indy too.

  10. One main reason Nascar is in a slow spiral down is the absolute lack of imagination or management skills demonstrated by the people at the top, personified of course by you-know-who, who is the personification of the lucky sperm club. One simple change would make the Indianapolis “race” interesting and would also satisfy a lot of Nascar fans in another way. Simple, use the road course. It looks like a good circuit and I would enthusiastically watch the race if they ran it there. Otherwise I wont even bother to record it as it is mind numbingly boring on the big oval.

    That wont happen of course, because it would require some creative thinking on the part of you-know-who and his minions. Too bad; be a hell of a show.

    • LOL… “personification of the lucky sperm club”.

      You win the contest for the best Brian France “title”. That should be on his business cards.

  11. Indy is not a “nascar racetrack”. It’s time to move on. Now that I think about it, I haven’t watched a race there since the ’90′s. WOW.

  12. What has Nascar got to show for 20 years at the Brickyard? They’ve made a bunch of money. Isnt that all thats important to them?.

  13. I agree with your points about the racing at Indy. It isn’t the only track that induces the urgent need to nap, but it certainly isn’t great racing most of the time. Being a Gordon fan, yeah, I’m always happy when he wins – anywhere, but Indy is special to him as much as it is to Stewart.

    If the weather is nice, I’ll more than likely do something outside and just check in on the race. This race doesn’t require a full time presence in front of the tv but then again, most of the races don’t require that in the kit car era. Just another seeding event for the “important” 10 races at the end of the season. (yes that is sarcasm)

    Interesting that Johnson thinks they only need 25 races – - that’s a lot of races to cut but I would certainly think the idea of only going to each track once per season has some merit – especially if NASCAR can’t put a decent (and by that I mean one where the cars can race side by side& pass – not just based on the green flag stops or NASCAR’s bogus stats based on loop data).

  14. Blasphemy I know but honestly is Indy any less exciting than the aero mass no acceleration mess that is our Beloved Daytona? Personally I prefer Indy to any of the plate tracks.

  15. I can’t argue with any of your points but I will say that Indianapolis isn’t the only track on the schedule that regularly produces snooze inducing races.

    And I am also worried that you pointing out that there hasn’t been a last lap pass for the win in 20 years will result in NASCAR manufacturing one with a fake caution and GWC ending. If that happens, I will be blaming you personally ; )