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Friday, July 25, 2008

Brickyard long on history, short on excitement

With all due respect to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to a century of great motorsports moments, it’s probably one of the worst tracks on the schedule when it comes to providing exciting Cup racing.

During Brickyard week, all you hear is the NASCAR drivers fawning over the track and saying how it’s right up there with the Daytona 500 on the list of races they want to win each year. The Indiana-born drivers like Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are even more excited than the others, having grown up in the shadow of the track where so many of the greats have won. I can respect their desire to join the elite group to have crossed the bricks in first place.

But for the fans, watching a Cup race at Indy is far from a fantastic experience. With rare flashes of excitement, and usually long stretches of single-file racing with passing at a minimum, it can be a long day for Brickyard viewers. I remember making the trek to Indy to see the race 10 years ago. Indianapolis is a great town and I had a wonderful time, particularly at the “Turn One Bar“ across the street from the track. The speedway is a site to see, and all race fans should make at least one trip there in their lifetime -- whether it be to see the Brickyard 400, the Indy 500, or the U.S. Grand Prix (when it eventually returns).

But the racing -- not so hot. The IROC race was pretty memorable that weekend, as Arie Luyendyk had a terrible crash that tore his car to pieces and had everyone scared, but he ended up being OK. As far as the Cup race, the most exciting thing that happened all day was Dale Jarrett running out of gas. To top things off, the place is so big, fans really can only see a corner (two at most) of the racing action, of which there is little to begin with.

I’m glad I went, as just being in that historic place surround by 250,000 people is an amazing experience. But I wish the product on the track could live up to the atmosphere. The place was built for open wheel cars, and that’s painfully obvious every time Cup cars take to the track. Watching this parade on television is hazardous to fans’ ability to stay awake, so I recommend keeping a pillow nearby.

If you want to catch some excitement, watch the short-track Truck and Busch races at nearby short track ORP (formerly IRP). They are quite exciting every single year, and also a blast to attend.

Fantasy tips
The obvious choice this week is Tony Stewart, who has won two of the last three Brickyard races. Kyle Busch, as always, is a threat, but this may be one of the few tracks where Tony’s experience will put him ahead of his teammate. The big 3 Hendrick drivers are also among the list of contenders. Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya did very well here last year, finishing second, and is due for a good finish. But stay away from Sam Hornish Jr., who has also won the Indy 500 but done very little in his Penske Racing Cup ride this year.

Who you end up ultimately choosing will depend a lot on qualifying. With passing at a premium, if a contender starts too far back, it’s going to be hard for them to get up front.

I’m going to pick Tony to win. He’s overdue for a win and this is his favorite track. It’s hard to bet against him.

Stremme up for some rides
David Stremme, currently driving for Rusty Wallace in the Nationwide series, is being considered for several Cup rides next season -- including the one being vacated by Ryan Newman. Another option is Rusty bringing his team up to Cup with Stremme, which the TV bigwigs say is OK now that fellow cars owners Ray Evernham and Brad Daugherty are part of the ESPN crew covering NASCAR races.

Stremme was spotty when he drove for Chip Ganassi last year, but he has showed flashes of greatness. I suppose in the right equipment, he could become a contender in Cup. But he has to be careful. He’s having some good runs in the Nationwide series, and if he goes to a Cup car and fails again, it could be a potential career killer as far as his Cup aspirations. Word is he’s already turned down some Cup rides for this very reason. Penske has been underachieving for a while, so maybe a hungry driver like Stremme is what they need to get some better results.


Anonymous Ed said...

Matt, man I gotta disagree with you again. I think fans see a helluva race each time they go to Indy for Cup. I was at the inaugural as a fan in 94 and that was a super race with Ernie Irvan gonna take that one until he blew a tire.

I just don't get the news media; always banging on their laptops that this race is boring and that race boring. Some media idiot had the gall to talk about a boring race at Bristol after they repaved it recently. What gives? At least Jeff Burton put the guy in his place.

These guys strap their butts in these hot cars for 400 miles at an average of 170mph, minus cautions. What is "short on excitement" about that? We have had Kurt Busch giving the finger to Jimmy Spencer after a bump up; we had Dale Sr. win; we have had Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett (once ran out of gas); and of course Tony Stewart's triumph twice at his "birthplace". We have had wrecks (for those who like that), drama in the pits and on the track. Harvick wins, Ricky Rudd owing his own team wins.

I bet these athletes would like to strap one of you guys into their cars and let you see for real "short on excitement." I just don't get you guys. Side-by-side like Daytona? Not gonna happen. But we have seen a ton of side-by-side at Indy. And we have had just enormous amount of human drama at one of the best motorsports facilities on the planet. And by the way open wheel racing hasn't had that much side by side in recent years. On a pure racing basis open wheel might not even be as "exciting" as Cup. But this is Indy. If you can't see excitement here you just can't see.

You are a good writer Matt but sometimes you fall in that "media grunts" trap of saying things without thinking them through. Now, the caveat here is tomorrow. This COT at Indy may or may not prove as exciting as we have seen. But I gotta tell ya man, Cup racing at Indy is exciting.

July 26, 2008 at 12:43 PM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

I hope Sunday's race proves you right and me wrong, Ed.

I recognize that the race is pretty much always exciting for the drivers, and I could never do what they do for a living, but as a viewer I am usually left disappointed after a Brickyard 400.

I'm hoping tomorrow isn't one of those times.

And for the record, I would never call Bristol boring.


July 26, 2008 at 6:08 PM 
Anonymous Ed said...

My point Matt, and you can post this or not, much of the media is hand winglers, always complaining about this race being boring that race being boring and on and on. I have sold cokes at short tracks at age 12; served on James Hylton's crew in 1974, Yates racing in 81, Ron Bouchard's in 84; wrote about Cup racing; sat with rookie Kurt Busch around LMS for 3 laps in 2001; stayed up 36 hours to help build a Cup car in 1984; and other things. Not one thing about this stuff is "short on excitement." Every now and again the product on the race track or during some years, or at some tracks, is less that the artificial side-by-side at Daytona/Talladega. There is just nothing in this affair that is short on excitement. If you focus on the negative then thats what you are gonna get. Is Indy that much different in "excitement" than Pocono? How about California, Infineon? They can get strung out at Michigan and at Chicago and at New Hampshire...

You and I just would disagree agreeably that Indy is "short on excitement."

July 27, 2008 at 10:48 AM 
Blogger Matt Myftiu said...

I see your point about focusing on the negative, Ed. I try not to do that too often,but I do recognize that it does happen to many journalists -- whether they're talking about NASCAR or politics or business.

And anyone who's worked with James Hylton is OK with me ... I was rooting hard for him to make into Daytona last year. My all-time favorite driver is Dave Marcis, and Hylton seems in that vein of racer, someone who just loved doing it and wanted to keep doing it as long as possible, regardless of whether they were winning.

July 27, 2008 at 10:44 PM 

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