Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Johnson Steals Sprint Cup Fiasco at the Brickyard

Goodyear and NASCAR should be ashamed. This year's Brickyard 400 was anything but a race, and for all of NASCAR's crowing about putting on a "show" and caring about the fans, the people who started leaving around lap 80 from the South Vista across from my shooting location in Turn 1 spoke volumes about the real story for this year's event. This will have to go down in racing history with some of the greatest sports blunders and the Speedway had nothing to do with it: don't let anyone tell you otherwise. In many ways this was worse than the F1 farce when the Michelin teams pulled off the Indy track a couple of years ago because everyone knows Bernie and his Euro pals never gave a rat's ass about racing at the Speedway. For an American based stock car series with a US tire manufacturer to come into town and mishandle this event is simply unconscionable.

It has taken me a couple of days to gather my thoughts and try to calm down but I am still livid. While I understand all the talk about safety and not wanting anyone to get hurt if tires failed, racing is a dangerous sport in the first place and there are risks of tire or equipment failure every time they turn a wheel on a racetrack anywhere. So why wasn't this tire problem addressed between the April tire tests and now? Many people had to have known during Friday practice that there was a problem. Even Sunday morning on race day there was talk about an early competition yellow, which I can understand but EIGHT of them? That is just absurd. At least in 1985 at the Michigan CART event, when tires started blowing, they postponed the darned thing and brought in some proper tires. Of course we know why NASCAR couldn't do that this week - they have to be in Pocono Friday and they wanted to save the equipment. There were times during the race when I wanted to throw my camera equipment to the ground over what I was witnessing. When the people in South Vista started chanting "Let them race", I got even more upset. I was a fan before I was a photographer and I've never seen anything like the travesty that NASCAR foisted on us all Sunday.

Some called it the Competition Yellow 400. I call it BS. I felt like I had just experienced a traveling circus come to town where the performers were all smiling while selling snake oil and stealing everyone's wallets before hitting the road with a promise to return next year. I had a feeling something wasn't right Saturday afternoon during the practice sessions following qualifying, but I couldn't put my finger on it. What I saw was no one running in packs like in a normal happy hour. No one ran more than 3 or 4 laps at a time. People were lifting like crazy going into Turn 1 and again into Turn 2, so that told me the cars were seriously loose. And then while watching the talking heads on SPEED's "Victory Lane" show on Sunday night, I wanted to come through the TV set and punch Kenny Wallace and Jimmy Spencer for all the hype they continued to lather on. All I could think of on the way home from the Speedway was "how are they going to dress this pig up?" Those guys tried lipstick and pretty dresses but it was still a porker in a slop pen. Contrast that show with Dave Despain's "Wind Tunnel", who doesn't appear to fear NASCAR for his job, and I think you get some idea that the truth lies somewhere in between. There were lots of empty seats in the south end of the Speedway Sunday and I doubt some of those folks will be back next year to the Brickyard.

Everyone's already asked the questions about lack of tire testing (only three teams in April when it was cool) and why Goodyear didn't act on what little data they had with the new car style, so I will take another tack and ask a few other questions. Why was there all the talk about "rubbering up" the track but no real track time allowed? Getting on the track for the first time Friday afternoon for a couple of hours isn't going to help anyone fix handling problems if they're not close right off the truck. Why not open up the track for practice from noon to 6 on Friday just like in May? Let them run some laps. Buy some more tires. Put some rubber down. And why isn't there another practice session Saturday morning before qualifying? Having two one hour sessions after qualifying makes no sense. If rubber on the track is an issue for these cars, then give them track time. Or is it more important for the teams to get their drivers out for sponsor promos and the other races in town at ORP? Do they come to race or just sell souvenirs? I keep saying to myself, "enough of the vitriol" but the more I write the more pissed I get that this debacle was allowed to grace the hallowed grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I've been to all 15 Brickyard events and though Indy is not a track that has historically been conducive to the side by side stock car action usually seen on the high banks, at least there has been drama most years, and they actually competed to win a 400 mile race, not a series of 25 mile sprints. If I wanted to see sprint races, I'd go to Kokomo or Bloomington or Paragon. In the end, I will say that the best car did appear to win this event -- and you will note that I have refused to call this thing a race in this blog post -- as Jimmie Johnson won the pole and was one of the few who actually appeared to be able to pass anyone under what little green flag time they had. So congratulations Jimmy, Chad and the Lowe's team. You owe us a race next year.

And NASCAR, don't you dare forget: 2009 will be 100 years since Carl Fisher and friends laid out the Speedway as an automotive proving ground for the fledgling auto industry in Indianapolis.

What are you going to prove on your return?

No comments: