Notes From Indianapolis

Big Bend, WI (August 1, 2011) – It’s interesting how goals can differ within a sport. I’m sure Jeff Gordon was frustrated in his goal to win a fifth Brickyard 400, Gordon had the fastest car throughout the race and many saw him as the driver to beat. Gordon tried in vain to chase eventual winner, Paul Menard. Gordon said after the race, “Well I wanted it really bad you know leading up to that but on the last lap I knew I was too tight behind him and if he didn’t run out I wasn’t going to get him. I needed a few laps to work on him, well I guess I needed a few more laps for him to run out of fuel too.”

On the other end of the spectrum was TRG Motorsports. Nowhere near as large as Hendrick Motorsports whom Gordon drives for. TRG is very successful in road racing where they’ve won many races and championships. Here is the TRG release from this weekend, TRG Motorsports driver Andy Lally picked up a 26th place finish for the No. 71 Interstate Moving Services Ford Fusion yesterday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the running of the Brickyard 400.

Andy Lally and the No. 71 Interstate Moving Services Ford Fusion put down its fastest lap of the days leading up to the race right when it counted during qualifying. Getting locked into the field was a huge accomplishment for Andy on his debut visit to the Brickyard, but the icing on the cake was finishing on the lead lap and getting the team back in the Top 35.

Rookie driver Andy Lally was digging deep this weekend and gained speed during each session as the weekend progressed. “The team did a great job working hard and making the proper adjustments to get the car where I needed so that I could gain the speed for our qualifying laps. Once we were locked into the grid, I knew my focus needed to shift to the race on Sunday and fighting hard to get the team back into the Top 35. We took advantage of the off week last weekend and the team worked hard to make some great improvements back at the shop. This was an overall team effort and I’m really proud of us all. It’s great being back in the Top 35 again and heading back to Pocono knowing we are locked in”.

On the radio, a morning “jock” who’s a casual NASCAR fan exclaimed that he was shocked that Menard won because when he is usually “finishing 36th or so.” The reality is Menard has been running strong all year with Richard Childress Racing. He’s 14th in points with 4 top-5 and 6 top-ten finishes. Menard is currently ahead of drivers such as Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton in the Sprint Cup point standings. He certainly made his father John proud.

John Menard’s Indy journey began in 1980 with a reworked Lightning Indy Car chassis, stock-block Chevy power and rookie Herm Johnson from the USAC/SCCA Super Vee ranks. Johnson and the Menard team and sponsor, then known as Menard’s Cashway Lumber missed that race. They didn’t make the race until 1982 when Menard purchased a new Eagle-Chevy from Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers for Johnson to drive.

Fast forward to the 1990’s when Menard spearheaded the potent V-6 Turbo Buick powerplants originally developed in mid-1980’s by Lee Brayton and Jim Wright in Michigan. Powerhouse drivers such as Gary Bettenhausen, Arie Luyendyk, Scott Brayton and even Tony Stewart tried to go 500-miles in the time bombs. Incredibly fast in qualifying the Buick’s usually came up short in race day keeping Menard out of victory lane. Al Unser Seniors’ third place in 1992 and Luyendyk’s sixth place in 1995 the best results.

Paul Menard described his journey to Indianapolis, “It’s big you know. My first year here was 1989 that I can remember anyway and I think I was here when I was like three or four years old, just spent a lot of time in the garage area. I didn’t miss the Indy 500 from 1989 to 2003, I was here for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. Just a really special place for my family and myself.”

Menard takes some abuse because ‘daddy’ is his sponsor, however Paul Menard has proven he does belong in NASCAR’s top series.

Many thought it may be a Ford Roush-Fenway Racing day at the Brickyard, however with Menard’s win, it was Chevrolet’s ninth straight win.

Many in the press room opined that the stands were about 50-55% full, which would translate to approximately 115-125,000 for attendance. Tracks like Fontana, Darlington and even Atlanta would love to pad their coffers with those numbers. However, visually it looks terrible. Many tweets from IndyCar fans, bloggers and writers were reveling in how the Indy 500 is back on top and the Brickyard race is “on the way out.”

On the flipside, I especially didn’t like some of SPEED TV’s coverage on NASCAR Now with several fans ‘dissing’ IndyCar and the “500.” As one who enjoys a wide variety of motorsports I never liked the ‘mine is better than yours’ thinking in motorsports.

A hat-tip to Mark Gundrum and the ARCA Series who put on an entertaining and professional race Thursday at Lucas Oil Raceway. Most of the cars were prepared nicely and with just a few exceptions, the drivers put on a great show and raced clean.

Kyle Larson won the 30-lap USAC Mopar National Midget Championship race at Lucas Oil Raceway Thursday evening. Right now he is the top-prospect in USAC today. It’s been rumored than Chip Ganassi may be interested in offering Larson a ‘driver development deal.’ Warning to Kyle, STAY AWAY! Ask drivers such as fellow USAC hot shoe, Bryan Clauson or other drivers such as Scott Lagasse, David Stremme or Ryan Hemphill. It should be called Ganassi sink or swim program. “Cheap” Ganassi as writer, Robin Miller likes to call him is known on skimping on his teams and has a quick hook.

Stopped in the Indianapolis Oldtimer’s lounge at the Speedway on Sunday afternoon. As usual, Bob Dorn was holding court with members and introduced me to Liz Glover, owner of the famous Charlie Brown Pancake & Steak restaurant in Speedway. I also said hello to Barb Hellyer of the Nat’l Midget Auto Racing HoF and who hosts racing movie night in the off season in Indy.

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