Ryan Newman shaking hands with teammate/owner/promoter Tony Stewart (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Tony Stewart has it wrong.
And he knows it.
He knows it better than most, because he's a track promoter.
But he's only defending his favorite track, the legendary Brickyard.
This 20th anniversary running of the summer 400 was once again a snoozer.
Yes, Ryan Newman's victory was an emotional one.
But there was honestly precious little action out on the track.
Newman's win didn't come in a daring pass. It came because of a two-tire pit stop gamble by crew chief Matt Borland and a 17-second pit stop by dominant Jimmie Johnson put Newman out front down the stretch. And Johnson couldn't run him down.
NASCAR teams preparing for Sunday's 20th annual Brickyard 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Stewart, who owns Newman's team and who finished fourth himself in his own car, was pressed Sunday evening here about the lack of passing and the general lack of hard-nosed action at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when the stock car guys come to town each summer.
He responded sharply: "What we're doing here is racing. It's racing, not passing."
And he went on to grumble about people complaining about the general lack of passing lately in this sport.
But this is not just 'racing.'
This is also 'entertainment.'
NASCAR racing is not just about winning but about 'the show' itself.
In fact the entertainment value is more important than just the racing.
And promoter Tony Stewart knows that well.
One of the cardinal rules of promoting is to make sure no one stinks up the show.
NASCAR racing should not be just some high-tech engineering game.
It's time to stop ignoring the problem, time to stop glossing over it, time to stop castigating those who point it out.
It's time to fix the problem.
Eldora promoter Tony Stewart, keeping an eagle eye on the pre-race action for Wednesday night's NASCAR Truck tour debut (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Why NASCAR officials seem so powerless -- or unwilling, or too busy with other things -- to make the changes needed to bring the Brickyard 400 back to prominence is not clear. And it is sad.
NASCAR executives need to put a full-court press on at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This event should be a keystone of this sport, an anchor.
Right now this race looks to be more an albatross.
Newman's win may give him and his team momentum, but this sport itself needs to regain momentum here.
The buzz all week leading up to the 400 was about 'Where's the buzz?'
Let's look at some numbers. Crowd figures (estimates) for this 400 over the years:
1994 -- 350,000
1999 -- 250,000
2003 -- 300,000
2004 -- 250,000
2005 -- 280,000
2007 -- 270,000
2008 -- 240,000
2009 -- 180,000
2010 -- 140,000
2011 -- 138,000
2012 -- 125,000
2013 -- ?
The technical issues here appear pretty simple: these stock cars are too fast for the downforce they have.
Indy-cars, which had a stunning 68 passes for the lead in the May 500, have tons more downforce.
For NASCAR stockers, this is a one-groove track. It's been that way for nearly all these 20 years.
Maybe Chad Knaus' idea of having Goodyear bring two sets of tires might work: one set good for long runs, one set better for short runs. Let crews decide which set to pick.
That would change up the dynamics of the race.
Maybe NASCAR should start testing other aerodynamic options for this track. NASCAR already has special rules used only at Daytona and Talladega. Maybe NASCAR needs some special rules designed specifically for Indy.
Doing the same thing year after year and expecting different results is the definition of....
But let's consider one other relevant point.
Ontario Motor Speedway.
Now the site of a shopping center, just down the street from California Auto Club Speedway, the Ontario track was built as a nearly perfect copy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Ontario -- with its flat 9-degree corners, just like Indy -- was a NASCAR tour staple for some 10 years.
And some of the NASCAR races at Ontario were filled with drivers passing and passing each other back, each lap even.
Yes, NASCAR's race cars have changed over the years....and apparently not all for the better.
What did those crew chiefs know that today's crew chiefs don't?
Or maybe the current roster of drivers just isn't filled with men as talented as Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, Allison and Baker....
These 2013s, as neat and spiffy as they are, have simply exacerbated the problems at this track.
What is the correct speed-versus-downforce balance for these flat corners? This sport certainly has enough engineers to figure that out.
It's about time someone did.
It's about time someone did something here.
NASCAR's Brickyard 400 fans deserve better action than they've seen lately. Is anyone working on a solution? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)