Racing Versus Passing

He may have been tired after running 400 miles at the Brickyard on Sunday. He might have been distracted by an unrelated question offered earlier during the post-race press conference that he described as “the worst question I’ve heard all week.”

But, whatever it was, Tony Stewart then went off on a rant about racing vs. passing that seemed to strike some members of the media as rather odd.

Question: “Anything NASCAR or IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) can do to increase passing in these races?”

Stewart: “Look up ‘racing’ in the dictionary and tell me what it says, then look up ‘passing’.

“We’re racing here. That’s all I’m going to say. This is racing.

“If you want to see passing, we can go out on (Interstate-465) and pass all you want. If you can tell me that’s more exciting than what you see at IMS, the great racecar drivers that have competed here. This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn’t have to be two-three wide racing all day long to be good racing.

“Racing is about figuring out how to take the package you’re allowed and make it better than what everybody else has and try to do a better job with it.

“I’ve seen races that were won (by) over a lap. I’ve seen 20-second leads here. For some reason in the past 10 years, everybody is on this kick that you have to be passing all the time. It’s racing, not passing. We’re racing.

“It’s taking machines that are pretty even package-wise and let the drivers and teams figure out how to make the difference. I don’t understand where this big kick has come from….When somebody does a good job; everybody hates that. I don’t understand that. It baffles me as a race driver.”

Sooo what did he mean?

Most of what he said about ‘racing’ is true. Teams figuring it out. Doing a better job than the other group and proving it on the track.

But fans shouldn’t get excited about passing?

How should you win unless you start on the pole and never give up the lead?

Track position is the big buzz word at races such as Indianapolis. Fairly flat, narrow tracks that have tight corners and one groove don’t allow much opportunity to pass.

Some call racing nose-to-tail a ‘parade” when track conditions don’t allow “passing.”

Passing the other guy in the pits during a stop, or waiting for someone to drop out who’s ahead of you isn’t what most fans would call the most exciting moment of the race.

Ryan Newman’s crew made a decisive call on their final pit stop-two tires instead of the four that Jimmie Johnson’s crew gave him a lap earlier. That, coupled by what Johnson described as a pit “mistake”, gave them enough of a margin when racing resumed to secure his popular victory.

Good strategy? Yes.

Exciting? Not nearly as much as if the two had banged fenders and exchanged the lead a few times on the final lap with Kasey Kahne, Stewart and Matt Kenseth ready to make it five-wide at the flag.

Drivers talk about having a car fast enough to reach the leaders but not being able to get around them.

“Catching them is one thing, but passing is something else.”

Sunday’s Brickyard 400 saw literally every change for the lead accomplished either by one team getting faster service than another when making a stop, or by one car inheriting the lead when the previous leader pitted.

Interesting strategies? Certainly.

Exciting on-track action? Not really.

Attendance at the Brickyard event has plummeted from an estimated 250,000 at its inaugural race in 1994, to, some thought, 70,000 on Sunday.

“Tony, is there anything NASCAR or IMS can do to increase passing in these races?”

We hope so-and soon. ‘Racing’ doesn’t seem to be doing it.

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