Friday, July 24, 2015

Have No Fear, NASCAR's Here: Five Questions for Indianapolis

Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images
The Brickyard 400 is a crown jewel race that locks you into the history books — but does that mean anything?

Whenever the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Indiana, moaning and groaning can be heard from every corner of America. Is that warranted?

I discuss this and more in this week’s Five Questions for Indianapolis.

Will Busch make the Chase — and be competitive? Just call him “butter” because Kyle Busch is on a roll. The driver had no trouble finding victory lane last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning his third race in four weeks. That’s quite impressive. The focus is now on him making the 16-car championship field. Can he make it? If he keeps this up, yes. Busch has to make it into the top 30 in points to qualify for the Chase, and he’s accelerating toward that goal at warp speed. Talk of NASCAR allowing him into the playoffs should be hushed. The next topic of discussion is his competitiveness once he makes it. Remember when Busch said he isn’t running at 100 percent yet? Well, that should worry everyone. The driver of the No. 18 won’t stop until that car is competing for a championship title. His struggle this season may propel him to working harder than ever. Either way, it’s going to be exciting to watch.

Is this as good as it gets for Gordon? When you think of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, your mind immediately brings up Jeff Gordon. He won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 and his name has been synonymous with the 2.5-mile oval ever since. This will be the last time the four-time champion runs in this historic race, and he isn’t heading there on the best note. His final season is plagued with bad finishes and terrible communication. What gives? Gordon’s not the same mustached kid who battled with Dale Earnhardt. He simply isn’t. Getting older is never fun, but it’s especially tormenting for racers. He wants nothing more than to knock out some wins, compete for another championship, and leave on a high note. Can he do it? Anything is possible with that Hendrick Motorsports power.

Does the sport need more dirt racing? Ah, dirt racing. It’s where many drivers plant their roots and start their journeys. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series indulged in this pastime on Wednesday in the MudSummer Classic. It took place at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, and it was phenomenal. It was so great that people immediately claimed NASCAR needed more dirt races. Well then. This is a bad idea for two reasons. First, the best way to make something not special is to do it excessively. That’s the problem with the numerous night races on the schedule. Yes, they’re still magical and entertaining, but it’s commonplace. “Oh, I can catch a night race in two weeks, no problem!” It doesn’t create a demand. Let the Trucks have their thing. The other reason is the attention it takes away from the dirt races on a local level. The MudSummer Classic should spur discussion of hometown tracks and push people to attend them. It’s vital because those drivers are cutting their teeth every Friday night. They want a shot at the highest level. NASCAR is that level, and how terrible would it be for the sport to take that thunder away for the little guys? There are hundreds of dirt tracks across the country that have action almost every Friday night. Go watch and support young talent. You could be watching the next Tony Stewart.

Should NASCAR be helping Patrick find a new sponsor? This has been in the news for a few weeks now, and I’ve decided to break my silence on it. In case you didn’t know, is leaving at the end of the season and won’t appear on Danica Patrick’s car anymore. Don’t worry, she’ll still be a spokesperson, but this immediately sounded bad for her and Stewart-Haas Racing. NASCAR jumped in to remedy this issue; they’re actively helping the No. 10 team find a new sponsor. This caused outrage among fans, and rightfully so. This is blatant favoritism. Finding companies to promote is a job for the teams, not the sanctioning body. There is another glaring issue with this. It’s no secret that NASCAR has put a lot on Patrick. They hoped her presence in the sport would bring in new, young eyes. Long story short, this sport business looks at her as a failing investment. As they try to pick up the pieces and find someone to sponsor her, their thought process isn’t lost on anyone. Treat her like any other driver — instead of an asset — and let her team figure it out. Have no fear, NASCAR’s here — even when they shouldn’t be.

Can the Brickyard 400 regain its luster? Speaking of age, this crown jewel race is 21 years old. Unfortunately, time hasn’t been kind to this track. Attendance has repeatedly fallen over the years, due to the lack of on-track action. If this were any other race, it would’ve been off the schedule years ago. However, its legacy keeps NASCAR hopeful for a revival. They’re attempting to aid the resurgence with this new rules package. The changes include adding a nine-inch spoiler and one-inch wicker bill which will create higher drag and tighter racing — in theory. Truth be told, nobody knows if this will “fix” the Brickyard 400. Is it too far gone? Everyone has their opinions on Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Let me share mine: I love this race and everything it encompasses: the history, the bricks, the glory. It all means something to me. If this new package does what it’s supposed to do, then it’s moving in the right direction. There’s still hope, but Sunday is the true tell if there’s enough to cling onto. 


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