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What? Not another Feather-foot NASCAR race? It may be 'Green,' but it may not bring in the green. Need to think about fixing the Brickyard

  David Ragan, on the pole, at the start of Sunday's Brickyard 400. Beautiful blue skies, but hot as blazes in those aluminum seats. And it was only a half-filled house. Several grandstand sections at Indianapolis Motor Speedway were simply closed, because of weak ticket sales. Time to fix the Brickyard 400. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   It's been the summer of feather-foot racing on the NASCAR trail.
   Wonder what Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson, and Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty might think about this.
   They'd probably want to put a fender to someone.

   And there's probably more light-foot racing yet to come at Pocono and Michigan these next few weeks.
   This isn't quite the way NASCAR racing earned its reputation…
   At least a good guy won Sunday's Brickyard 400.
   Paul Menard took crew chief Slugger Labbe's game plan right straight to the bank, much to the chagrin of Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, who'd expected to duel it out for the win, with the two fastest cars.
   Gordon won the first Brickyard, and so early in his career, back in 1994. "That race changed my life forever, and my career has never been the same since," Gordon, now nearing 40, says. "I think Paul is going to experience that same thing."
   Labbe wasn't the only gambler in the three-hour race; 14 others played the stretch for fuel mileage too, though Gordon charged past them one by one….all but Menard. An aggravated Kenseth didn't even make it that close.
   So while we rejoice in an Indy victory at last for the long-suffering Menard clan, with son Paul finally completing the deal for his father John, it's time to put down some notes on the yellow pad….about things to fix here.

   Wonder what kind of show these old NASCAR stockers might put on at the Brickyard? Have all the new aerodynamic tricks made for better racing? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    It wasn't just feather-footing to save on gas. Once again it looked like drivers would race hard for four or five laps after a restart and then slack off to a more moderate, single-file pace, waiting for the end-game to shape up.
   Geoff Bodine says these races are so long that drivers are only really racing about 25 percent of the time. And that's certainly the way it looks at times.
   Certainly the crowd – officially estimated at 138,000, but probably much smaller – wasn't enthralled with the lack of action. It's been like this for years here, but now with dramatically shrinking crowds, it's hard to see this sport's racing bosses continuing to ignore the situation.
   To be blunt, NASCAR's Brickyard 400 may have reached a crisis point.
   It has already lost much of its luster; it has become just another race on the endless NASCAR tour. And it's time to try to fix something here.

   Now some NASCAR veterans may be taking a harsher look at the situation: http://es.pn/nYkT6e .
   But maybe there are some real solutions, other than just packing up and leaving.
   Consider something quite easy and cheap: kill the 'wave around' rule.
   Nobody in the stands or in front of the TV understands it anyway.
   And the 'wave around,' flatly, makes for bad racing. It makes it too easy for the race leaders to get clean air and break away.
   Remember, this is supposed to be entertainment. And there wasn't much entertaining about Sunday's follow-the-leader show.
   The 'wave around' rule is designed specifically to put the race leader at the head of the pack for every restart, rather than sometimes having to work through traffic of cars trying desperately to stay on the lead lap.
   Eliminating the 'wave around' would force race leaders to work harder to keep the lead and force them to run in 'bad air,' probably making for better action.
   Easy and cheap: where you're running is, well, where you're running. End this free-be, socialized racing.  


  Now three-abreast starts and restarts might be interesting. This is Ontario Motor Speedway 1971, and the classic Indy three-wide start. The Ontario track was a carbon copy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo: OntarioMotorSpeedway)


   And consider:
   While track executives may, looking at their bottom line, want NASCAR officials to figure out how to make these stock cars put on a better show, and put more pizzazz into the 400, the track itself could be tweaked to make for better action – like widening the inside of the corners, where drivers like to cheat anyway, through the grass.
    Maybe add a few degrees of banking on the two short-chutes too, like old Ontario Motor Speedway.
    The track and NASCAR have to figure out how to create two-groove racing here.
    Clearly this week, while the tour is moving on toward Pocono, it's time for both NASCAR execs and Indy execs to get to work on fixing the Indy problems.
   One thing to do, giving the crowd something to do on Fridays and Saturdays. It's highly uncertain that adding a sports car race and a Nationwide race here next summer will provide enough fireworks to draw much of an audience. Plus that just adds to the sense that this place is getting gimcracked up.
   Friday's crowd was maybe a couple of hundred, certainly not enough to pay the day's track bills. Even those sponsors 'sampling' the crowd said the day was all but worthless; that's not good, to tick off the people paying the bills.
   Adding music was a big plus over the weekend, with good artists. However this place is huge, and tram transportation between the various venues drew some criticism.


   If the track were just a lane or so wider, especially on the inside of the corners, those stands might be packed once again. Indy needs a second groove to come in. (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   But for the sport, a more immediate issue is this feather-foot racing.
   This may be taking the 'Green' thing a bit too far, fuel mileage becoming so key on the stock car tour.
   And drivers aren't a bit happy about.
   Fans probably aren't either.
   During Sunday's Brickyard 400 crews along pit road were frantically measuring spent fuel cans and calculating numbers, in a very curious sight.
   This rash of gas mileages races is unprecedented in this sport. One or two, maybe three a year….but nothing like this epidemic.
   And if the sport's officials are worried about the impact, they seem to be hiding it well.
   Regan Smith, burned in the fuel mileage game at Loudon, N.H., the last time out, made it pay off big this time, with a third-place finish.
   But Smith put it all quite succinctly:
   "I hate 'em," Smith says of these fuel mileages races.
   "I don't think they're 'fun' racing.
    "I don't think there's anything good about them.

    Regan Smith, enjoying his best NASCAR season ever. But he says he hates gas mileage racing. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    "I'm sure there are cars that ran up front, led a lot of laps, that ended up 10th or 12th," Smith went on.
     "It's a product of how we're racing right now. Every week we know it's going to be a fuel mileage race, and we try to plan for that, work around it.
     "Even when races aren't necessarily fuel mileage races, they still play a part in how much track position you can get, who can pit sooner so you have that track position.
    "It's here to stay; it's not going to go away.
    "We'll learn to like it and adjust to it.
    "I guess I should be happy for it because we had a good day and Paul won. So I'll take back that statement: I love fuel mileage races right now."
    But with that, he laughed.
   After all, sometimes – lately just about every time – it works.
   "What's happening is guys have figured out how to stretch it and get incredible fuel mileage, even under green," Gordon says, "by pushing on the clutch, shutting off the engine, doing a bunch of things that they can stretch it four and five laps now, even on a big track like this.
    "Used to be impossible to save that amount of fuel. But these days guys are figuring it out."


   Paul Menard (C), with singer Reba McEntire (2L), on the famous finish line bricks after winning the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

   It was a day of mistakes made as well as gambles taken.
   Jimmie Johnson was a contender until he bumped with Brian Vickers during a round of pit stops midway. Then he was caught up in an incident with Landon Cassill. So he found himself near the back of the pack with 75 miles to go and made it only back to 19th by the finish.
   Kyle Busch was never in the game, again. His car had trouble getting through Friday inspection, with body-template issues. And things never got much better. Sunday he got bounced around like a pinball, including a bump on pit road with Tony Stewart.
   Stewart, who gambled successfully on fuel mileage at Loudon, the last time out, and pulled out a second, led late here Sunday and appeared ready to try another gas gamble. But he and crew chief Darian Grubb decided to play it safe and come in for a top-off with 40 miles to go, Stewart said he was thinking initially he only had to save a lap and a half's worth of fuel; recalculations showed him three laps short, so he pitted.
   Running out of gas at this huge track is almost a doomsday scenario.

   So how to consider Jeff Gordon's Sunday?
   He's had an up-and-down year, and while he'll almost certainly make the playoffs, up till now it's not at all been certain that he could make a solid run for the championship itself.
   However now – with Carl Edwards surrounded by controversy about possible changing teams at the end of the season, with Johnson still ragged on too many race days, with Kyle Busch suddenly reeling (reviving questions about his own championship potential) – the Sprint Cup title picture may be a little more cloudy than it was a few weeks ago.
    Also to consider – Menard is the 14th different man to win a race this season…making those two wild card slots in the playoffs increasingly wild.
   "We wanted to win this race, but we also wanted to make a statement, and I think we certainly did that," Gordon said. "This team is for real. We showed that.
    "You hear about people talking about the team that wins at Indy and their chances for the championship….
    "While we didn't win, we definitely showed we're a championship caliber team.
    "We've been knocking on the door, getting closer every weekend; and we've won a couple races.
      "For me this is going to be a huge boost for this team…and hopefully a bit of a statement to the competition as well that we're serious about our efforts at a championship this year.
    "If we can run like we did here at Indy, we're capable of winning just about anyplace we go."

    Several grandstand sections were simply closed Sunday at Indy because of weak ticket sales. (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


Brickyard Postmortem

I agree with widening the low grooves in the corners - to steal the old Pontiac (hey GM, bring them back!) line, wider is better.

Ultimately though the horsepower has to be restricted because it's far too much. While this COT is somewhat taller than the old car that doesn't mean it can't also use the old roof blade - anything to make the draft kick in on a track where, like the old Ontario Motor Speedway, the draft SHOULD be a factor.

When the Trucks ran Pocono last year, they showed what restricted HP and aero-bulk that makes dirty air a vacuum again does for the racing - the battle up front was great and Todd Bodine showed how the Richard Petty Push-Draft can be effective down mammoth straights.

And to those who always ask "Who can drive a loose racecar" - they were all dirt-tracking it through the corners.

Summer of fuel mileage races

I think every race since the Coke 600 (including that race) have been fuel mileage affairs. Yawn. Wake me when we get back to REAL racing. Field goals in football are nice but we dont want to see 15-12 scored games every time do we?

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