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Tony George's invite to NASCAR for a Brickyard 400 helped launch NASCAR's impressive charge up the American sports ladder...but what's next for George himself?

  Remember 1994? (Photo: IMS)

   By Mike Mulhern

   The story of NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is so well known that we may sometimes take for granted just how much Tony George's bold gamble – inviting stock car racers to the hallowed Brickyard – really meant to the stunning rise of the sport of NASCAR racing over the past 15 years.
   Yes, this flat, square track may not be very well suited for these low-downforce, awkward handling stock cars. Yes, it's much too difficult to pass.
   But in the seasons since NASCAR men first roared out on to this huge track (remember that little psychological battle to be the first man out of the garage to turn a lap here?)  this sport has soared. In a sense, coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway legitimized NASCAR racing in the minds of many, especially key execs in corporate boardrooms.
   In the wake of that 1994 debut here, NASCAR promoters went on a tear, expanding the sport into new markets with big new tracks, and expanding the demographic base, and proving to Wall Street the viability of NASCAR for massive marketing and promotion.
   Indeed 'NASCAR' since has become almost ubiquitous. Movies, TV shows….
   George himself deserves a big pat on the back for giving NASCAR this launching pad. (And one question here this weekend is what lies ahead now for George himself, after being pushed out as boss the Speedway and then turning down an offer to keep running the Indy Racing League, which he created, to support the 500.)
   Now, as NASCAR men prepare for the 16th running of the summer 400 here (2 p.m. EDT), with the U.S. economy struggling, and TV ratings down, this Indy event takes on even more importance than ever, particularly in light of last summer's tire disaster here.

Tony George (L) and A. J. Foyt (Photo: IRL)

Well, it appears the stars are aligning, just in a nick of time.
   NASCAR's new double-file restart rule will likely change the dynamics of Sunday's 400, in a dramatic way, as tight and narrow and fast as the entry is to these four corners.
   Goodyear's new tires, with better, stickier compounds, appear not only to be working fine, laying down rubber in the razor grooves without excessive wear, and providing very good grip as well. "This tire is going to lay rubber fast, and we're going to see a great race, we are going full pit stops, I am confident in that," Jeff Gordon says.
   Throw in the more than usual mid-summer driver-owner-sponsor angst…and the typically daring Kyle Busch...and all the ingredients are here for something quite out of the ordinary.
   Yes, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Gordon are the betting picks to win. Hendrick horsepower and Hendrick engineering have dominated the stock car tour all season.
    But Dale Jarrett still remembers the day here he had by far the best car, only to run out of gas three laps from the finish….
    There may be a surprise, but probably not.

NASCAR has added a lot of history to the Speedway in the past 15 years. Remember 1995? (Photo: IMS)

Gordon says this race is carries a lot of weight: "It is the Brickyard. We've just had an off-weekend. We had a great finish at Chicago.
   "Everybody gets geared up, and steps up a notch, for the Brickyard 400 every year.
    "It is a race we're ready for.
    "It is the second half of the season, but it is the start of what I believe is the championship chase -- because it seems like the history of this event is that the winner really makes his mark in being in contention for the championship."
    But keep an eye out on those restarts.
   "We have had a lot of discussions with NASCAR on the restarts for this particular track," Gordon says. "This is one of most unique restart zones that we have -- It is a long straightaway, and the start-finish line is closer to turn one than people realize…and we always have problems on the restarts here, because we come so far down the straightaway before we get to the green."
    With the leaders now side-by-side for each restart, Gordon points to "a huge potential for disaster.
   "Those restarts can make you or break you."
   And all that could make this 400 one for the history books…even though this track is not particularly known – whether it's Indy-cars or NASCAR – for thrilling racing.
    Gordon says it's the legend, the history here, that makes winning this thing so important.
    "I don't know if it is the best race that Indy-car racing has," Gordon says. "It is hard to beat what they do at Texas (with all those side-by-side finishes), and Michigan. That was some amazing racing.
    "What makes this a great event -- whether it is stock cars or Indy-car or Formula One -- is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's history.
    "…and the prestige of winning this race: It is a very technical challenging track. It is a driver's track. It is not an easy place to get around.
    "It is not the perfect track for us because it doesn't have banking; our cars really like the banking.
    "But it doesn't change how important this race is, and the excitement around the race."



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