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Leaving Indy, with things to ponder....


   Hey! Pool party on the backstretch! (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway)
  

   By Mike Mulhern
   mikemulhern.net

   INDIANAPOLIS
   Monday morning musings, while leaving the Brickyard...

   Has The Speedway lost some of its allure?
   The economy sure isn't helping things here.
   But maybe there's more to consider....
   Remembering back to the early days of NASCAR-at-Indianapolis, there was a distinct zing in the air when the stock car tour came to town. The garage was filled with pizzazz and excitement and tension, things happening.
   This time around though the atmosphere was much more downbeat, for some reason. The energy levels were clearly off throughout the weekend.
   Jamie McMurray beat Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle Sunday in the 17th running of the Brickyard 400, and there were some dicey moves in the final 60 miles, in front of what would be a very nice crowd of 140,000 at any other NASCAR venue.
   And this town, despite the economy, is booming with new construction, downtown and out toward the brand new airport.
   It's always been a nice, classic, and classy Midwestern city.
   But there is now this nagging sense that there's just a little something missing from the Brickyard 400 weekend.
   Everything went off smoothly – the worker-bees at this track are renowned for Penske-perfectness. The race kicked off a 1:19 p.m., and it ran three hours, and by 7 p.m. the track and streets were clean and clear.
   But there just didn't seem to be the edginess that used to envelope this place when the stock car guys hit town.
   Maybe something out of the box: put up lights and run at night? TV network bosses might like that visual.
   The Speedway doesn't provide crowd figures, but it has 257,000 seats, and NASCAR estimated Sunday's crowd at 140,000, which would be off from last summer's 180,000. And the overnight Nielsen TV ratings, from the top 50 U.S. markets, showed the Brickyard drew a 3.6 rating, same as last summer.

    And now comes word that NASCAR officials have been secretly fining Sprint Cup drivers as much as $50,000 for critical comments this season, part of a secret warning issued to teams at the start of the season to stop complaining: http://bit.ly/aFhdfC   Wonder how that secret policy will affect NASCAR's credibility among its fans?

  


  A beautiful day for racing...and a surprise ending to the Brickyard 400 (Photo: IMS)
  

  

From the NASCAR mailbag:

   "Why hasn't anyone done an expose on the escalating costs of a Cup car?
    "The cost of building a Cup car has increased fivefold over the past five years. NASCAR says they cannot police it, so they (team owners) can basically  do whatever they want.

    "Five years ago a Cup car was $150,000. Today I understand that (Rick) Hendrick budgets $750,000 per car, including R&D.
   "...Custom-made radiators costing over $12,000, instead of production-racing radiators that cost around $2,000.
    "...Extensive use of carbon-fiber...
   "... and engineers dealing in theoretical rather than practical solutions."
  
  


  Jacques Villeneuve: First Cup race in two years, and he does a pretty fair job. NASCAR's Montreal Connection? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
  

    NASCAR's Brian France has a lot of people scratching their heads and trying to figure out just what Sprint Cup tour changes he's contemplating for the 2011 season.
  
   -- The second race of the season, February 27th, has been up for great debate for several months now. LA's Auto Club Speedway has had that post-Daytona 500 date but hasn't been able to make that much happen with it, since adding a second Cup date in the fall. Might France cut the California track back to one Cup race? Since it's the Los Angeles market, that seems highly unlikely. But NASCAR has been looking for another track to take that late February date for some time now, to change up the post-Daytona dynamic. Phoenix, Las Vegas and Homestead are all warm climes. One problem is Daytona's SpeedWeeks is so draining on everyone, financially and otherwise, that the race following it has a hard time getting good support. Maybe putting Rockingham back on the tour might help....

   -- The last race of the season, Nov. 20th: Homestead-Miami has had that since Atlanta gave it up. Maybe in 2011 it will be Las Vegas? Why not move that finale around – a different track each season, to change things up. For some time now some people have pushed NASCAR to close the season at Daytona, just as it opens the season at Daytona.  If so, for 2011, then what about the July Fourth weekend? And what would drivers think about a Daytona finale under that proposed last-race winner-takes-all championship chase change?
  
   -- Kentucky Speedway? "It's no secret Kentucky is talking about having a Sprint Cup event, and it's not that far away (from Indianapolis Motor Speedway)....and it has implications (too) to Michigan (International Speedway) and here, from a geographic standpoint," France says.
   And Chicagoland Speedway too.
   All are in the same general market area.
   In fact Indy track officials were a little miffed that Chicagoland and Michigan both hit the Indianapolis market hard with advertising for their own Cup events.
   How should NASCAR package all these tracks, and where might Kentucky (Cincinnati market) fit in?
   Too many big tracks in too small a geographic area....and in a part of the country with some 2.5 million unemployed right now....

  
  
   Something to consider: It may be time to review NASCAR's four-team limit.
   What's the point of the limit anyway?
   Team owners can easily get around the rule by hosting 'satellite' operations.
   So has the four-team limit served any real purpose?
   Or was it just a knee-jerk reaction, a rule whose time never really came?
   How many new team owners have come into the sport since the adoption of the limit?
   How many team owners have simply given up over the past few years?
   At the moment only two men are affected by the rule – Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush. Hendrick says if not for that rule he wouldn't have any problem lining up a ride for Kasey Kahne for 2011 – he'd just create another new team himself. And Roush was forced to cut Jamie McMurray's team at the end of 2009 to meet the four-team limit.
     

  
  


  Jamie wins! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
  


   On the Good News front:
   Ford's Greg Biffle ran well enough to win the 400, and if he can follow that up with a good, solid run this week at Pocono, it should prove that Ford is back in the game.
   Teammate Carl Edwards, who finished seventh, says Sunday "was a big step forward for us -- big-time. 
   "Greg should have won that race, and that's cool.  I thought Greg was going to get him (McMurray).
   "We were pretty good, but just lost track position at the beginning because of all the grass on the grill (from drivers cutting the grass in the corners).  That set us back.
    "I think we had a car that could run top two or three, but we just never got there.  We needed it to be the Brickyard 700."

  
  


  Now Ford's back in the game, and watch out for Greg Biffle at Pocono (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
  


   On the media front, while American newspapers have all but dropped any personal, stylized coverage of NASCAR, on the Canadian front newspapers there are now beginning to expand NASCAR coverage.
   To push that trend maybe, Jacques Villeneuve ran here in the 400. The one-time Indy-car star and Formula 1 champion has tried to put together a NASCAR career for several years now, with little success.
   This was his first return to the Indy oval in 15 years. That first Indy 500, Villeneuve says, "is an amazing memory...a race that then helped me with the rest of my career."
   Sunday's 29th was nothing to write home about, though: "I hit the wall a couple of times, so I backed it down because there was no point in trashing it."
   But then Villeneuve hasn't even been in a Cup car in some two years. "It was very stressful, because we came here without any practice and the team not knowing the car or the track, and me not being in the Cup car for over two years.  It was a big question mark.  But that's how I like it -- when it's tough." 
   From here, where?
   "There's a lot going on, and until you have something finalized, you have to look at every opportunity out there," Villeneuve says.
   "I really, really enjoy driving the NASCARs.  That's why I moved back on this side of the ocean in 2006, to concentrate on NASCAR. 
    "And it's taken a while to get going. 
     "We got Elkhart Lake going (last month's NASCAR Nationwide race); we're here at the Brickyard.  So it's starting to open up a little bit. 
    "It would be great if we could carry on doing more ovals. 
    "There's been a lot of talks about Formula 1, and as long as this is an option I have to keep it open."

 
  


  The ceremonial balloon sendoff (Photo: IMS)
  


   What happened to Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and the rest of the Rick Hendrick gang Sunday?
   That's what they're asking themselves.
    Mark Martin's 11th was the best finish, but he wasn't really a factor.
    And his teammates were out of the game too. This, for a team owner who has won seven Brickyard 400s.
   "I had guys out-braking me at a track where you really don't charge the corner....we were really confused as to why," Johnson said.
   "Maybe something went on with a shock or something in the front, although we changed both shocks (midway through the race) and that didn't really correct the problem."
    Johnson finished 22nd, and in his last three starts he's finished 22nd or worse.
    Of course Johnson isn't alone in his sudden run of 'issues.' Denny Hamlin had another off-day too.
    The most consistent team at the moment is Kevin Harvick's.
    "Nobody seems to be able to sustain for a long time," Johnson says of the big picture. "The only saving grace I see right now is that no one has been able to link together a long stretch, outside of Kevin. He's been awfully tough. Good thing this race isn't in the chase."
    What made Johnson's problems all the more unexpected is that he started from the front row, and he was going for a third straight Brickyard win. "I had high expectations...so at this point I'm a little confused."
  
  


  Hey, the boss now has a beard. But doesn't look like the beard that Dale Earnhardt Jr. goaded Rick Hendrick into growing paid off well Sunday at Indy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
  

   Gordon's problem – he finished 23rd -- was more straightforward: "We had a good car at times, but just not good enough one to drive up through there.
   "All of a sudden I felt a big vibration. I thought I had a loose wheel. But they said the splitter was vibrating; it must have broken off and cut the right-side tires.
    "I just went along for a ride. I got pretty lucky actually with it; we didn't tear the car up down there in turn one.
    "We fixed it the best we could and just brought it home."
     Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a decent ruined when he got caught up in Juan Pablo Montoya's late crash: "We had a good car, a good top-10 car. Montoya got in the fence and just kind of pulled down and stopped in front of us.
    "I was side-by-side with somebody. I didn't even see him hit the wall; I didn't even know there was a car in the wall until he came across Marcos Ambrose' hood and there he was. I ran right in the back of them. Nowhere to go."

   And what's the deal with Juan Pablo Montoya?
   Over the past year he's run well enough to win several Cup events, including both Brickyards.
   However he's still winless since the summer 2007 win at Sonoma.
   This time Montoya and Greg Biffle dominated play all day, but their four-tire pit stops late cost them valuable track position and clean air. And Monday pancaked the wall.
    Montoya swiftly left the track without comment, leaving crew chief Brian Pattie to deal with the situation: "Bad call. Crew chief error. We should have taken two tires."

   This 400 was a Ford-versus-Chevy race, with Toyota and Dodge providing chicanes.
   The race wasn't even one lap old before the first incident of the day occurred, when Toyota's Kyle Busch "just lost it, I guess."
   In the melee Elliott Sadler was knocked out of the race.
   But Busch managed to get repairs and wound up a surprising eighth. (Busch has a new spotter now, veteran Eddie D'Hondt.)
   Teammate Joey Logano, though, was just as impressive: he started dead last, after an engine change, and worked his way up to ninth by the finish.
   But teammate Denny Hamlin was off from the start. A lap down early, he never got in the game, finishing 15th.
 

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 NASCAR's promoters are pulling out all the stop to attract that 18-34 male demographic....(Photo: IMS)
 

I'd Rather See 50 Lead Changes....

...than women in bikinis in the infield.

Sorry everyone.

we might be hard-pressed to

we might be hard-pressed to get 50 lead changes at Indy...but maybe you've got some ideas for how to fix this high-speed flat-track with its square corners.....

Try These

At least some of these have been posted in more general contexts about the sport --


Plate the cars.

Run the roof blade.

Run a flush airdam instead of that horrid gapped nose.

Run wider tires (which seem to be coming in any event)

Load big point bonuses for the win and most laps led per race (so it becomes mathematically impossible to win the title without most laps led).

more to suggest

- As the source of the plate suggestion, I've got other ideas--also agree about playing with aero devices for specific tracks, Indy being a prime example, to (try to) improve the actual racing.

- Whether (or not) Indy deserves billing as a "signature" event (or whatever it's being called)--based on size of purse, winners purse, perceived prestige, or whatever--I'd agree with the idea of offering a bonus to win specific races--either individually or in combination with others considered the most prestigious. Sort of like what it took to win the Winston Million "back in the day". McMurray has 2 for the year--should there be a greater points return for that level of performance, over & above the "regular" points? It's worth discussing.

- The one area I'd like to add something is with regard to your comments on the bonus for laps led. I've long felt that this was an area being mis-handled. I'd rather see it addressed in this manner:

- For the sake of the discussion, assuming 26 races make up the "regular" season, have a lap-leader bonus that pays at the end of 26 races, based on the current points breakdown--180 to win, 170 for 2nd, etc. No more 5 points or 10 points for leading a single or most laps per event.

- At the end of 26 races, the driver/team with the most laps led earns 180 "laps led" points, in addition to the accumulated total of points earned in each event. 2nd place earns 170, 3rd earns 165, etc....right down to the drivers leading a single lap--if there are drivers/teams leading the same number of laps, they get the same points.

- One more thing--lap leader points apply ONLY for laps led under GREEN flag conditions--electronics & software can keep this data straight..

- I've got ideas about the length of the season, number of Chase events, Chase format, etc, that I'll post under Mike's article--the Biffle "one race - winner take all" story.

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Ideas

Why on earth would you want to make the lap-leader bonus a mind-bogglingly complex calculation? The way to maintain interest is to keep it straightforward and simple. And lap leader points only for green flag conditions? That's BS. A lap led is a lap led, period. Points for most laps led should be so much greater than for leading just one lap that it leaves the racers no choice but to go for the lead regardless of lap.

I'll have to check the One Race - Winner Take All piece for your other suggestions.

as usual, more brilliant

as usual, more brilliant analysis by STP43Fan (why aren't you on TV; you're better than any of those guys they've got right now). Lap leader bonuses, yes!
But the one-race, winner-take-all, i'm still mulling that over. i agree with Greg Biffle, that you've still got to get there to be able to take advantage of it, though, and that might just enough to tip it for me to say 'Yes.'

I rather see 50 lead changes....

...with the women in the bikinis in the infield.

lol....but maybe i should

lol....but maybe i should have been clearer on the pool party pix -- that wasn't just a shot of women in bikinis at indy, that was part of an official track promotion with a Playboy Playmate, specifically designed to attract that 18-34 male demographic that Fox' David Hill says is so important.

The Indy Experience

I went to the Brickyard 400 in 1999 with my brother, the year Jarrett dominated. We road tripped from MN, and had the VIP treatment through people we met in FL that previous winter. Free place to stay, free tickets, police escort to the race track etc al. I remember how excited I was to be there to watch the truck race and Busch races, IROC race, and the big show on Sunday. We hit up a nudie bar and an indoor Kart track also. The whole weekend was incredible.

I agree with you Mike, that sense of excitement is gone now. It's just another ho-hum weekend. The cars can't pass each other and it's just a parade of single file. I wouldn't pay to go see that race, and I took a nap halfway through it on Sunday and woke up for the final 30. I don't know the answer, but maybe they should move the date?

yes, that might be a good

yes, that might be a good point. that's why i pointed out in one of my stories (i write 20 a week, so i can never tell which one ticked off who about what) that so many july day races over the years -- Daytona, Chicago, Bristol, Atlanta -- have been moved or changed to night races. and I told the people at indy the middle of july is not exactly prime time for anything.....i understand espn wants to kick off its part of the season with something big, but july is tough, no matter what you're doing. maybe a night race? now wouldn't that be something! and indy is a tough track to set up for. that flat 2-1/2-mile thing is one reason ontario is now a shopping mall. maybe we need special cars for indy? why not?

how to improve Indy

Night racing....probably not going to happen, but a nice thought.

Take the Oct 11 (Columbus Day) date from CA and use it for Indy.- makes no sense to have Chicago and Michigan events so close to Indy. The question is whether an October date would work at IMS, being inside of a residential community. Now, all Indy events are held in "summer"....weather would be MUCH better at Indy, maybe even risky in the other direction.

Fix the pavement or the tires--the diamond-cut thing is still an issue

Do a test with some sort of restrictor plate to see if it will close up the field any.....but being a one-groove track, it may not work out so well. Test some Nationwide cars there to see how they behave just to see how much the current car design appears to be an issue.

Good idea! and 'residential'?

Good idea! and 'residential'? Well, that part of town is about to undergo well needed urban renewal. the track ought to buy up all that land and start developing it, like ISC did at Kansas and SMI is doing at Texas.....
i'm not sure the pavement is that much of an issue, now that goodyear has figured out the tires. but it would be nice to have SLOWER speeds, so Goodyear could put out tires that aren't hitting 285! degrees. Let's just slow these beasts down? If you watched the Brickyard from pit road, as I did, those cars are just blur. I cant even imagine how the fans follow the Indy cars.....
And Nationwide -- my idea is to run the Nationwide cars that Cup weekend, but run them on the road course. Indy's got an F1 road course that is just sitting there. Not that road course racing is all that great, but heck, they've got road course cars and there's a world-class road course. cant be any worse than watching saturday cup qualifying....

Nascar Excitement

Let's face it Nascar with its current car is going the way of IROC. It was ok for awhile then got boring. Same with these cars, they are boring IROC cars, not stock cars. Getting the cars back to stock inside and out is the way to go. Get some variety back into the sport. Bob

Yes! put some character lines

Yes! put some character lines in these cars, eliminate about 50 percent of these body templates, and let Detroit get more actively involved.
And fuel injection is an idea whose time has not come, sorry. NASCAR could have done it 20 years ago, but right now, with the economy, that's a dumb idea.

Just get rid of Indy. The

Just get rid of Indy. The racing there has NEVER been any good. Flat track speedways a mile and over do not produce good stock car racing. Milwaukee, Phoenix, New Hampshire, and Indy all stink.

Downforce, downforce,

Downforce, downforce, downforce.
Downforce is good; drivers need downforce. NASCAR's move to cut downforce was wrong. Put about 2,000 pounds of downforce on these stock cars, and take about 200 horsepower out of them, and the racing at Indy and California and Michigan would be a heck of a lot better.

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