Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rating the Brickyard 400: 3 Stars ***

A year of spectacular surprises continued Sunday at the Brickyard when Paul Menard … Yes, Paul Menard … kissed the bricks after winning the Brickyard 400. Overall, Indy had a race with a 3 Star Rating, but a 5 Star storyline.

Wow. Was that race even real? Is this season even real? The variety of drivers visiting Victory Lane is reaching epic proportions. Menard became the 14th different winner in just 20 races this season.

We’ve had several of the regulars make their visit and others snap long losing streaks, but we’ve also seen new drivers.

Regan Smith, David Ragan and Menard have shown steady progress of late and the win culminated a long stretch of improvement, but for years it felt like these guys were never going to win. Their job was to challenge the winners but never really factor into the win. All of a sudden they are all factors and could bring new faces to the Chase.

Regardless, Menard’s win at the Brickyard is a stunner. This was the low-performing, family funded, way too long sideburned driver of the brightest car in the field. Menard has always been the butt of jokes, but Sunday his butt was in the air as he made NASCAR’s most famous kiss at the finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

What an incredible season this is becoming. The action on the track has been curiously tame the past several months, but at the end somebody new comes to the front and is able to hold onto the lead, or at least hang in the top 10 for a good finish.

Interestingly, several teams have made crew chief changes in a year where a crew chief has to make a strategy call almost every race that either puts his driver at the front or relegates him to the back of the field.

There’s also no reason to think this type of racing will change any time soon. The series hasn’t been to a track outside of Daytona in months where it hasn’t been incredibly difficult to pass, the tires continue to show little drop-off in speeds week after week and there have been very few late-race cautions.

These ingredients continue to produce a race where strategy determines where a driver finishes nearly as much as the quality of his car. It will be interesting to see if some of the regular suspects start to rack up wins as the series returns to tracks for a second time.

Overall, Indy was typical Indy until the crazy circumstances that developed at the end. It’s amazing that one of the longest tracks on the schedule can also be one of the most difficult to pass. The speeds are so high entering a corner with only one groove that drivers rarely even attempt to race side-by-side. If they do, it usually results in a big wreck. That was the case Sunday when four drivers thought they could make it through Turn 3 four-wide.

Anyway, next week it’s back to the ever-exciting Pocono Raceway. Now that Menard has a win, the Race to the Chase is on as three drivers are now eligible for the two wild-card spots. The next month or so will be fun to watch that battle continue to develop. Have a good week, everybody.


  1. Okay jmayer, there were 120,000 empty seats (conservative estimate) for the Brickyard 400 this year...

    How far does this "tradition" continue before NASCAR finally figures out it was a mistake to bring stock cars to a 2.5 mile basically flat track?

    It seems to me NASCAR continues to look for some kind of acceptance from the racing community by putting on an event at IMS when they don't need the acceptance. They certainly don't receive a strong following there. I can think of a lot of venues that would love to have an annual Cup event and produce a higher quality of racing plus the stands would be full.

    Man... It's boring watching stock cars go round and round in a single file...

    Concerning the new winners this season. Do you think the COT has anything to do with it? Has it leveled the field so to speak?

    Thanks jmayer!

  2. JM... people at the track who were sitting along the front straight, said that several drivers were turning their cars off and coasting to save fuel late in the race. I don't care for that type of 'racing' every week.

    Dwindy... When NASCAR first came to Indy, the track blocked off about 100,000 seats because they didn't want NASCAR to outdraw the Indy 500. That's not the case now, but they still draw one of the largest crowds in NASCAR, even with all the empty seats.

  3. Forgot to add... they were coasting under green flag conditions!

  4. Dwindy1 - You're right that there are several tracks that could really use a date, and several others should have their second date restored. However, no matter how boring the racing is or how few fans show up, NASCAR will always continue to race at Indy. The place is too special and there is a lot of money involved.

    Gene - I'll take the fuel saving stuff at Indy. It made this week's finish much more interesting because the fastest car would've driven off and left everybody the way Kahne did early in the race. But, that's not the case every week. Good, hard racing to the end is fun to watch, so long as it wasn't created by a late debris caution.

  5. I found the end of the race pretty exciting even with the cars coasting and Big Daddy making his charge up thru the field. What I dont like is the single file racing most of the race...

    Congrats to Menard - that was impressive!

  6. klvalus - Unfortunately I'm not sure there is much NASCAR or IMS can do to change the single file racing. It is what it is.