This past weekend saw the boring Brickyard at its worst.
Juan Pablo Montoya griped over his radio that trying to pass another car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway cost him position on the track. Jimmie Johnson suggested the track needed a second lane with more banking to help the cause. Denny Hamlin called passing “impossible.”
“If impossible is hard, then it was impossible,” Hamlin said. “It is just a product of the speed we run, the tire we’ve got and the surface. It all just makes for hard racing. It’s hard to pass anyone. You’ve just got to deal with it.”
Never really considered an exciting 400 miles anyway, Indianapolis might have topped itself in the 20th Cup race at the famed track. There were three cautions, for stalled cars or debris, and no accidents or spins.
And such little passing.
The field fanned out into single-file racing for most of the event – a plodding style that perhaps is a big reason why the crowd has dwindled from 200,000-plus in the Brickyard’s NASCAR heyday to maybe 80,000 fans Sunday.
There were scores of empty rows along the frontstretch, and fans at home probably wound up changing the channel at times.
The race was basically a yawner until Ryan Newman used a flawless final pit stop to top Jimmie Johnson for the win.
All this came only two months after one of the more thrilling Indianapolis 500s in history. Tony Kanaan passed leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to grab the lead in the last of a record 68 lead changes.
The stock cars turned the 2½-mile Indy track into a leisurely drive. “On a flat racetrack, it’s just tough to pass,” Johnson said. Drivers love the history steeped in the 108-year-old track. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Newman fell in love with the place as children, and they all talk of the reverence they hold for a place where A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Rick Mears made Indy and open wheel king.
As difficult as it was to pass, it’s just as hard for this style of racing to hook the next generation of fans on NASCAR at Indy. IndyCar has figured out how to make the 500 more exciting – now it’s NASCAR’s turn.
“It’s a one-groove track. It’s not going to change,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t care what you do.”
Single-file racing sure beats the Goodyear tire debacle of 2008. And it’s better than not having the race at all on the circuit.
But the event clearly needs a boost – whether it’s turning it into a night race or having it later on the schedule to launch the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Plenty of ideas were kicked around. There were just no easy answers.