Brickyard 400: Wreckfest or the Best?

It was long.  There were wrecks.  The best car didn’t win.  But in my opinion, it was awesome.

Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmers Bureau Insurance Chevy SS, won the 24th Running of the Brickyard 400 last night.  I say “night”, because that’s when the race got over.  The race, thanks to a late start time, a brief rain storm, and two red flags because of bad accidents, didn’t get over until almost 9 o’clock.  The race from start to finish was about 6 hours, maybe a little more.

True, it was grueling, especially for those that stayed throughout the entirety of the event.  Multiple times I thought about leaving, but something kept me there.  Whether it was Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr wrecking out on Lap 111, or the intrigue after the first red flag to see who would win after the two best cars had been removed from the race.  Whatever the reason, every time that I considered leaving the event early, I couldn’t.

Depending on who you ask today, you might here a completely different response to how yesterday’s race was.  Some so that it was the worst Brickyard ever.  Way too long, and way too many cautions.  Others, like me, think that it was one of the, if not the, best Brickyards ever.

Most Indianapolis media members don’t seem to have a grasp on what makes NASCAR fans happy.  They think wrecks ruin everything, and NASCAR failed on Sunday.  However, judging just by my timelines on both Twitter and Facebook, the opposite is true.  Fans couldn’t get enough.  I’ll never forget just how excited everyone that was in attendance yesterday got when Jimmie Johnson went for the lead going into Turn 3 three-wide.  Three-wide isn’t supposed to happen in stock cars at Indianapolis.  It just doesn’t happen, and yet that’s what we saw yesterday.  We saw drivers putting it all on the line at the end of the race, just so that they could say that they won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The drivers cared, and so did A LOT of the fans.  Bottom line: The race that we all witnessed yesterday will not be forgotten for years.

Speaking of next year, that brings me to thoughts on Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250.  You want to talk about a race that was amazing?  That race was it.  You had side-by-side racing in the turns.  You had passes on the outside.  You had close nose-to-tail racing throughout the field.  NASCAR finally found an aero package to bring to Indy that worked.  With the higher downforce, added with a restrictor plate, that race was the greatest race that I’ve ever seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, from stock cars.  Sure, the speeds were drastically slower than in years prior, but who cares?  If you want to watch cars go fast, go to your local drag strip.

According to NASCAR, the goal was to test the package on the Xfinity car this year, and potentially implement the changes to the Cup series in 2018.  I have no doubt that NASCAR will do just that.  Despite the ending of the Brickyard being exciting, I venture to say that it would not have been, had Busch and Truex Jr not wrecked out.

Now, with the 24th Brickyard in the rearview mirror, preparations for the 25th must begin.  The 2018 Brickyard will be on an all-new date, on September 9th.  In an attempt to bring fans back out to the track, not only should the weather be cooler, but the race will now be the final race before NASCAR’s version of the Playoffs(the Chase) starts.  Couple all that with potentially the closest racing that we have ever seen in a Brickyard 400, and 2018 has a lot to get excited about.

The race last night wasn’t perfect, but it was great.  It will be remembered.  It got people talking about NASCAR in Indianapolis again.  That’s the first step to rebuilding the legacy of one of NASCAR’s marquee events, and builds hope for the return of fans to the track.

It’s the greatest race course in the world.  NASCAR has its place there.  Job well done.

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Brickyard 400: Can Anything Be Done?

The 24th Running of the Brickyard 400 is this coming Sunday, July 23rd. The race has been a staple on the NASCAR schedule since its inception in 1994. The drivers love it. The diehard fans like it. But casual fans have all but banished it. The racing has never been up to the level that people in Indianapolis have come to expect from races, thanks to the Indianapolis 500. The track is a flat rectangular oval, which provides great racing for open-wheel cars, but not so much for stock cars. With attendance steadily declining in the last decade, especially following the Goodyear tire debacle in 2008, can anything be done to save this race that some hold dear?

People have suggested possibly moving the race to the night time, or even moving the race to the road course. NASCAR has tried larger spoilers in an attempt to bring the cars closer together, and in 2017 they are going as far as to try restrictor plates on the cars. It’s apparent that both fans and NASCAR want this marriage to work, but is it a lost cause?

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway(IMS) was first built in 1909. While the track has made slight changes to seating, a new Pagoda, new pylon, among other changes, the track has remained pretty much the same since its creation. When it was designed, Indianapolis businessman Carl G. Fisher predicted that speeds could reach up to 120mph. There was no way of anyone predicting back then that cars would be doing 200+ going into turns 1 and 3. The track simply was not designed to deal with heavy stock cars doing 200mph into the corners.

The key to making a stock car race competitive at IMS is making the cars hard to drive. In IndyCar, aerodynamics drastically changed the landscape of the Indianapolis 500. All of a sudden, drivers were able to go almost full throttle through the corners, creating some of the fastest and most competitive racing on the planet. This plan doesn’t work with heavy stock cars. In order for the Brickyard to be close and competitive, downforce must be at a minimum. Just look back at the cars when they first came to the “Brickyard”. The aerodynamics were at a minimum, so the drivers were sliding all over the place. The fastest way around IMS has always been by being free going around there. A few years ago, I thought IMS could possibly add progressive banking in the corners, in an effort to help with making a second lane around the track. It’s been made pretty obvious that IMS would ever consider making such a change.

Things can be done on both sides, in an effort to draw spectators back to the Brickyard. NASCAR needs to design a car that is harder to drive, with much less downforce, and I believe this change would make the racing improved on all tracks, not just IMS. IMS officials aren’t free of blame of the dimensioning crowds though. Ticket prices have consistently continued to rise, even as attendance drops. It appears that IMS is trying to charge NASCAR fans a premium, just because it is the famed track. This doesn’t work with fanbase that NASCAR has.

The harsh reality is that the Brickyard will never be a GREAT race, but it can be a GOOD race. It has had several in its history that come to mind, that were at least competitive. I have no idea what adding the restrictor plates will do to the racing this Sunday. I don’t think NASCAR officials even have a clue either. I’ll be out there, sporting NASCAR gear, continuing to support the race that made me fall in love with racing. The crowd will be small, people will continue to complain on social media, but I’m an optimist.

I hope the Brickyard is around for years to come, so that I can share my love for the race with my son. But will the city of Indianapolis, and NASCAR allow that to happen? We will soon see.

Judge Wins Home Run Derby! Do You Care?

The MLB has certainly changed since my childhood.  I remember looking forward to the All-Star break every year.  I never cared about the game, but I LIVED for the Derby.  It was a night where the biggest names in the sport came out to show off their power.  I would go over to my buddy’s house, and we would just stare in amazement at the ability that was being displayed on television.  That’s not the case anymore…

Aaron Judge, the 6’7″ freak from the New York Yankees, won the Home Run Derby last night.  Just about everyone expected it.  Great for him.  He was tested.  He had to hit 23 HRs in the first round alone, just to advance.  That made his second round of 13 less than satisfying, and the 11 that he had to hit in the final round…meh.

Look, I’m not saying that it was his fault that it wasn’t entertaining.  He did what he was supposed to do.  He came out and showed off how great of a hitter he has been so far this season.  Judge actually shows that hitters are on the way back.  The MLB has been a
“Pitcher’s League” ever since the Steroid Era came to light.  All the great hitters that were around when I was a kid, seem to have been juicing, which I will never condone.  However, a “Pitcher’s League” isn’t entertaining.

A “Pitcher’s League” is similar to watching a football game and seeing a “defensive struggle”.  It’s nice from time to time, but if the whole season were that way, ratings would plummet.  The MLB has had a problem in the most recent years, with trying to interest the younger generation in baseball.  It’s a slow-moving sport, that lasts hours, with very little action most of the time.

Now before you get too upset with me, I do enjoy baseball.  I don’t watch it that much anymore, especially before October, but I do enjoy it.  However, it is no secret that baseball has to do something different.  Even the MLB has addressed this by adding such things as the pitch clock, instant replay, and they have even tossed around the idea of digital umpiring.  Most fans hate the last one, as it takes the element of human error out of the sport.  My argument to that is that they want to be able to blame someone besides their favorite player for not swinging at a called strike three.

Now, let’s move on to my real problem with what happened on Monday night.

Baseball is supposed to be played outdoors. 

I don’t want to sound like an old guy that wants everything to stay the way that it has always been, but you know it, and I know it.  Baseball is supposed to be outside.  Trying to follow a fly-ball and then staring into the sun is a part of the game.  Chasing down a fly-ball, and then the wind makes it change directions is part of the game.  Not to mention, the stadium is in Florida!  What about the Florida weather screams “We need to move this indoors”?

The point was never more proven than during the first round of the Derby, when one of Aaron Judge’s home runs hit the roof, and STILL went 500′, but the governing body didn’t count it.  If you are going to disallow someone’s HR because it hit the roof, that alone should tell you that it shouldn’t be there.

I played baseball.  I used to love baseball.  The MLB needs to do something to draw eyes back to the sport.  I know they’ll never shorten the season, even though they should.  I know that there is only so much they can do about the lack of excitement in most games.  It’s not their fault.  However, in 2017 and beyond, “America’s Pastime” is struggling to keep up.  I certainly hope it does.