Sunday, July 31, 2011

Paul Menard Snags Brickyard 400 for First NASCAR Sprint Cup Win

Paul Menard takes to the grass to miss Landon Cassill on his way to winning 
Paul Menard took his first Sprint Cup win in one of the biggest races of the year:  the Brickyard 400. He managed to outlast Jeff Gordon who finished second. Numerous drivers ran low on fuel late in the race and were pedalling hard to make it to the finish. Menard survived a close call in Turn 3 when Landon Cassill spun and Menard had to go through the grass to miss him. Thirteen different drivers led laps and there were 22 lead changes in the 18th edition of the Brickyard. Kasey Kahne looked to have the field covered early in the race but got shuffled back on pit sequencing. Kahne led the most laps (48) and Jeff Gordon led the second most laps (36) with Menard leading 21 when it counted. This was a welcome victory for Menard and his father John, who was a longtime sponsor and car owner in Indycars without much success. Just rewards went to the winning team as Paul Menard kissed the bricks along with country music star Reba McIntyre and numerous other friends and family. It was a great day in Indy for the Menard family. Regan Smith took thrid ahead of Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth. Tony Stewart led 10 laps and finished sixth ahead of Greg Biffle, Mark Martin (who ran out of gas on the cool down lap), Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10 after a rough day at the Brickyard for him.

Following Cassill's spin, the field got seriously shuffled, as many drivers had to take evasive action and then make several pit stops to clear grass from their radiators to avoid overheating. I kept looking at the scoreboards the last 40 laps to see who was where in the field as early leaders went to the back, while others came to the front as the shuffling of positions continued. In some ways it was an odd day at the Speedway, as the Brickyard crowd was significantly down from prior years. Numerous stands were completely closed to fans and there were still plenty of empty seats. Even the infield mounds in Turn 3 behind me were sparsely populated. I hope the changes the Speedway is making for 2012 with the "Super Weekend" will help the overall show, as I have said for the last few years that the Sprint Cup cars simply do not provide enough track time to keep spectators interested. Today was a blistering hot day as well, which may have effected attendance, but having been to Daytona, Talladega and Kentucky to shoot those NASCAR races this year, I am not surprised that the Speedway's numbers have steadily dwindled. The bloom is off the rose at the Brickyard and while today ended up being an entertaining day through my camera lenses, it may not be enough to bring casual fans back in the future since they can't see much of the track from any vantage point and the race is generally follow-the-leader.

I think the sports car brigade with the Grand Am series next year will be an eye opener for many people, and while the Brickyard 400 has been a serious cash cow for the Hulman-George family for many years, could it be on shaky ground if attendance keeps falling? Or could the sports car crowd draw enough interest someday to hold a real endurance race on the road course as the next big standalone event at Indy? I'm just asking. I don't have the answers, but I will be there to bring home pictures like these no matter what.

There's still no place like Indy.

1 comment:

Annie Miller Carr said...

It was so great to see Paul take the checkers at the Brickyard 400! I've known John Menard since his first year at Indy in 1978 and he's a great guy. I remember the 1999 Indy 500--and I've always thought that the Speedway owed him one after that. Sunday he and Paul got that much desired, and deserved, win. A big Congrats to them and Team Menard/RCR.