Fourth Turn – Brickyard 400

Indianapolis, IN – It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since the first Brickyard 400 captured the attention of the racing world, bringing NASCAR Cup competition to the Capital of American motorsports.

But looking out over the grandstands today makes one wonder what has happened to this event that was once so full of “buzz” that fans could hardly wait for that first race to be run back in 1994.

Many empty seats in all parts of the track have made observers wonder what has happened to this once proud running.

Poor economic conditions in our country coupled with high fuel prices are not breaking news to anyone. But perhaps more than those obvious reasons, we hear two other possibilities: too many races in the same geographic region and generally poor races on the track.

NASCAR Cup events at Indianapolis, Michigan (2), Chicagoland and a possible event at Kentucky Speedway in the future, coupled with generally unexciting races over those past 14 years, have combined to take the edge off what is still an important race.

The event does continue to draw an enormous crowd. The facility is better than any track on the circuit, and no events have the pageantry and pre-race buildup of the 400 and its sister race in May.

Other tracks on the circuit have experienced similar slips in attendance over recent years; it’s not just a 2008 phenomena. The sports fan is often viewed as fickle. Most stick and ball sports depend on a local/regional fan base for attendance, but race tracks often see license plates from 20 or more states in their parking and motor home lots. And today, traveling any distance means a greater financial investment than in the past.

The answer? A hoped-for economic rebound, lowered costs while traveling, and perhaps a spreading out of events so that more areas of the country receive Cup dates that are more than 2 hours driving time away from each other. Selling expensive tickets to the same midwestern fan base for 4-5 races a year may prove to be more difficult in the years to come than it was today. And if selling all the tickets was a challenge this year, wait until the forms go out to the customers for 2009 with the bad taste of this year’s race still in their mouths.

Pre race quotes connected to the tire problems that plagued the Allstate 400:
“It looks like it will be multiple competition cautions, at least two right now We’re going to monitor the wear and the laps that we can run, and early on we’ll be able to make a call on how far we will be able to go with Indy tires if the wear statistics do not improve enough. It’s not unlike everything we deal with at this particular place getting the track rubbered in. Like I said, we started with five or six laps in the first practice and got to about ten in the second practice. We anticipate that it will fix itself.” Robin Pemberton-NASCAR’s VP of Competition

It didn’t!

“The track is very abrasive because we don’t run on it very often. Goodyear’s doing the best they can. It’s a situation we do see probably every time that we come here” Pemberton

Then why didn’t they come prepared?

A sponsor mention by an ESPN announcer during the broadcast contained the following: ” track tested technology by Goodyear.” Not Today.

Post-race quotes regarding tire problems:

Matt Kenseth:
Q. Did you have an idea about the amount of damage (after you blew a tire) ?
A. ? I could see it in the mirror that part of the quarter panel was blown off. It?s a really,really,really disappointing situation. This is one of the two biggest races of the year, and to never have this tire here before and not come and do an open test and to wor on these things and work on the tires, it?s pretty darn disappointing. We had a great car today. I feel bad for the fans; we?re running three-quarters speed because we?re worried of t he tires blowing out, and they got blown out every eight laps. So, pretty disappointed.?

Jack Roush:
? We only missed (our set up) by an inch. This is a game of inches, but Goodyear didn?t give us a chance to test. We didn?t have a drive file that was current. We didn?t know what to expect from the track, so we were one change behind all the time during practice. Whether that would have made a difference in the result or not I?m sure, but we would have had better data to work from if we could have had the same drive file off the current track information that everybody else had.?
Q. How can this be prevented from happening again?
A. ?You need to go to talk to Chad Knaus (winner Jimmie Johnson?s crew chief). He said it wasn?t gonna be a problem with this tire and he and Goodyear have got something figured out that the rest of us don?t, so I don?t have anything to say about that.?

Jeff Burton:
Q. ?Who should take the most heat for today?s race?
A. ?Well? Goodyear builds the tires and Goodyear has done a much better job, I think, this year. This wasn?t a good day for them for sure. I think it is hard to put it on NASCAR?s shoulders-Goodyear is the tire provider.?

Jeff Gordon:
? I?ve never seen anything like this. I really hate that it happened at the Brickyard. It?s such a big race. I think all of us are disappointed with what happened here today. It was a great eight-lap shootout there at the end.
Q. ?What do you make of the tire situation?
A. ? It?s embarrassing, and it?s disappointing. I don?t know where to start, really. We got ourselves into a position here where obviously something?s going to have to be done.?

Brickyard 400 Weekend Notes:
– Five drivers have competed in all 14 editions of the Allstate 400: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliot, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin. Elliot has completed 2,239 of 2,241 possible laps during those 14 previous events. Elliot and Jeff Burton have been running at the finish of each Brickyard event.

– Juan Pablo Montoya is the only driver who has competed in the Indianapolis 500, Brickyard 400 and the US Grand Prix Formula One event here at the Speedway.

– This is the first race at Indianapolis for the C.O.T. vehicle and with no major test session here prior to the 400 other than a Goodyear tire test, car owner Ray Evernham was a bit worried prior to the race. ” We haven’t run these cars here on this tire. Out of all the tracks, we probably rate Indy as more of an aero track than anywhere. With that said, there are only a few teams that have tested here with the COT.I don’t think anybody really knows what to expect from these cars here. It probably would have been a good idea to test here I don’t really understand why we didn’t,” said Evernham who is also thinking of running a fourth Dodge on the Sprint Cup circuit in 2009. ” Our guys are a little more adaptable when there is no (advance) information. That’s when our guys excel a little bit. Some teams have information, but when most of the teams don’t, I think our guys are better in being ready.”

– John Andretti was around the garage area Thursday without a ride for the 400. He has spent time running an IRL entry for Marty Roth, but with that car parked, and no seats open in Sprint Cup, he was asked whether running a Moto GP motorcycle here in September was in his plans. ” No chance at all. I love Indianapolis, but I love my family. I know I’d lose my family and probably a lot of skin. I think I will keep my skin and my family and enjoy the guys who have way, way more talent on two wheels than anybody else on the planet. We’ll just watch,” said Andretti.

– With Ryan Newman’s name being mentioned as the likely teammate to Tony Stewart at Stewart -Haas Racing in 2009, Newman was a bit irked Thursday when ESPN television commentator Rusty Wallace claimed that Newman was released from his seat at Penske Racing. “I don’t know what Rusty’s grounds are for saying that; it wasn’t the case-pointblank. Roger and I decided mutually to not continue. It was more my decision than it was his. I said our goals didn’t align, and for that reason-and that reason alone- we decided to not continue after 2008.” It must be remembered that before he retired from driving, Wallace was a teammate to Newman at Penske Racing and the two did not always see eye-to-eye even then.

– Actor John C McGinley, Dr. Perry Fox on the network TV comedy Scrubs, has been named the Grand Marshal of the Allstate 400. This will be the first race the actor has ever attended. As Grand Marshal, he will wave the green flag to start the race.

– Though it was not on the initial 2009 schedule released by F1 recently, sources within the Speedway remain optimistic that something can be worked out to include the US Grand Prix on the final schedule. With the Speedway mounting an aggressive publicity campaign related to their 2009-2011 Centennial Era celebration, the powers-that-be here on 16th Street would love to bring F1 back, if not next year, then sometime during that three-year span. Running four events here at the track may, however, get increasingly difficult with the downward-spiraling economic picture.

– Bill Elliott seemed frustrated after failing to qualify for this year’s Allstate 400. His Wood Brothers Ford out-qualified six other entries, but due to Terry Labonte needing the Past Champions provisional, and two teams needing to make the field on Owner Points, Elliott missed the race. “We just fought everything. It’s just a bad deal with the way we ended up. I don’t know. I think these guys have a lot of good ideas, but until you go test and figure out some of this stuff, it’s just hard to unload. We lost 30 minutes of practice yesterday and sometimes you’re better off not to know-just go,” said the 1988 Cup champion.

– While Mark Martin waited his turn to speak to the media Saturday after his front- row qualifying run, pole-winner Jimmie Johnson was answering reporters’ questions when a hand shot up from the back of the room. It was Martin with a question. ” Mark Martin, US Army Racing. Could you tell us what kind of shocks you’re using?” Once Johnson saw who the questioner was, he had a quick response. “Wait till December and I’ll tell you.” Johnson and Martin will of course be teammates at Hendrick Motorsports beginning next season.

– One non-tire note to come out of the race morning Goodyear “tiregate” press conference was the comment by Speedway president and COO Joie Chitwood that there has been an on-going dialogue regarding the on-track schedule during Allstate 400 weekend. Support races add rubber to the surface, and tire wear increases with more rubber on the track. But at this time there are no plans to add a support race to the schedule. IROC series races were run here from 1998 -2002 during the Brickyard 400 week, but with only 12 relatively lightweight cars running fairly short races, not much rubber was added to the track. There had been talk some years ago about moving the Nationwide Series event from O’Reilly Raceway Park to support status at the Speedway, but those talks were never acted upon.

– John Middle brook, retired Vice President Global Sales, Service and Marketing for General Motors, lead the field to the green flag in the Corvette Z06 Pace Car.

– Wisconsin driver Johnny Sauter missed the race in his #08 FUBAR Dodge and explained: “We struggled a little yesterday (Friday) trying to figure out our bump stops, but we gambled today, and that’s the way it goes. We picked up time from yesterday, and I guess that’s all you can hope for. We drug the splitter real bad, and we did it yesterday as well. When we fixed it, we picked up a second. It was dragging a little today, but that’s just a product of it being only our second race here. We’re just trying to work through the bugs, and we just missed it.”

– With the release of the 2009 provisional Moto GP schedule came the news that the second running of the Indianapolis stop next year will be on August 28-30 instead of in September. Further news in that schedule shows that Moto GP stops at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi circuit in April, likely signaling a fall stop there for the IRL in conjunction with that series’ event in Australia. Would that series of events thus end Chicagoland’s deal to be the final race each season?

– Depending on whom you talk to, there may be a sponsor change at Ganassi Racing next year. More than one source feels that the Target sponsorship may go away after this season, thus expanding the team’s sponsorship search beyond the shuttered Dario Franchitti team.

– IRL driver Vitor Meira returned from the series race in Canada yesterday to watch the Allstate 400 and support cars with his sponsors (Delphi and the National Guard). His pick to win was Dale Jr. who has the National Guard on his Hendrick Chevrolet.

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