|NASCAR drivers find passing tough at Brickyard|
|Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:00 AM|
INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe NASCAR should steal a page from IndyCar and install a push-to-pass button.
This past weekend saw the boring Brickyard at its worst.
Juan Pablo Montoya griped over his radio that trying to pass another car cost him position on the track. Jimmie Johnson suggested the track needed a second lane with more banking to help the cause. Denny Hamlin called passing “impossible. If impossible is hard, then it was impossible. It is just a product of the speed we run, the tire we’ve got and the surface. It all just makes for hard racing. It’s hard to pass anyone. You’ve just got to deal with it.”
Even super-snail “Tubo” would have been stuck in Sunday’s single-file snoozer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Never really considered an exciting 400 miles anyway, Indianapolis may have topped itself in the 20th Cup race at the famed track. There were three cautions, for stalled cars or debris, and no accidents or spins.
And such little passing. The field fanned out into single-file racing for most of the event — a plodding style that perhaps is a big reason why the crowd has dwindled from 200,000-plus in the Brickyard’s NASCAR heyday to maybe 80,000 fans on Sunday. There were scores of empty rows along the frontstretch and fans at home probably wound up changing the channel at times. The clean race was responsible for the fastest Brickyard in history at 2 hours, 36 minutes and 22 seconds.
The race was basically a yawner until Ryan Newman used a flawless final pit stop to top Jimmie Johnson for the win.
All this came only two months after one of the more thrilling Indianapolis 500s in history. Tony Kanaan passed leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to grab the lead in the last of a record 68 lead changes.
The stock cars? They turned the 2 1/2-mile Indy track into a leisurely Sunday drive. Just one pass for the lead under green that had nothing to do with pit stops.
“On a flat racetrack, it’s just tough to pass,” Johnson said. “These corners, they aren’t really that long. You have four, 90-degree turns. That puts a lot against this racetrack for side-by-side racing. But we still love this place.”
Drivers love the history steeped in the 108-year-old track. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Newman fell in love with the place as kids and they all talk of the reverence they hold for a place where A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Rick Mears made Indy and open wheel king.
Stewart was “baffled” at criticism of the racing and he gave a blistering defense.
“Look up ‘racing’ in the dictionary and tell me what it says in the dictionary, then look up ‘passing’,” Stewart explained. “If you want to see passing, we can go out on I-465 and pass all you want. If you can tell me that’s more exciting than what you see at IMS, the great race car drivers that have competed here. This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn’t have to be 2- and 3-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 do a better job with it.”
As difficult as it was to pass, it’s just as hard for this style of racing to hook the next generation of fans on NASCAR at Indy. The new Gen-6 was expected to help but it was the same old, same old.
IndyCar has figured out how to make the 500 more exciting — now it’s NASCAR’s turn, even if there might not be much the series leaders can do about it.
“It’s a one-groove track. It’s not going to change,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t care what you do. It’s not the race car. It’s not the tire or nothing like that. It’s just the track. It’s one groove, four, 90-degree corners. I mean, there’s not much you can do about it.”
Single-file racing sure beats the Goodyear tire debacle of 2008. And it’s better than not having the race at all on the circuit.
But the event clearly needs a boost — whether it’s installing lights and turning it into a night race or moving it later on the schedule to launch the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Plenty of ideas were kicked around this weekend in the garage. There were just no easy answers.
Busch quickly back on the road after Brickyard
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — With only six races left before NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, Kurt Busch isn’t about to take a break. Not with one of the coveted 12 spots still within his grasp.
Less than 24 hours after a disappointing 14th-place finish at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, Busch was back behind the wheel of his black No. 78 Chevrolet on Monday, blistering through the tricky turns at Watkins Glen International and giving as much feedback as he could to crew chief Todd Berrier.
“I always like to test at tracks I’m not exceptionally good on and polish up on what might be a weak spot,” Busch, the 2004 Cup champion, said. “We chose to come and test here because we’re putting a heavy emphasis and pushing all of our eggs into the basket of trying to get into the Chase. We’re trying to use this as a strength, come here and polish up and be even better.
“After Watkins Glen, it’s four to go and we like our chances.”
Busch and his Furniture Row Racing team, his third team in three seasons, were among six cars to make the trek to upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region searching for some sort of edge for the Cup race here in two weeks. Though he’s been in contention on a regular basis all season, Busch is winless and sits 14th in points. He’s hopeful two days here on the track will translate into something big when the green flag waves for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen on Aug. 11.
“We just haven’t quite delivered on a win,” Busch said Monday during a break. “Even if we had a win right now, what’s happening is everybody’s finding ways to win, so you have a grouping of guys that have that one win. It’s just as easy for us to make it in on overall consistency.”
The top 10 drivers in points automatically qualify for the 10-race Chase and the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins earn wild-card spots. Overall points are the deciding factor if more than two drivers have one win each.
As the 26-race preseason winds down, there isn’t much wiggle room in the standings. Only 11 points separate Greg Biffle in eighth from 12th-place Martin Truex Jr. Busch is just 19 points behind Biffle and 13 behind 10th-place Jeff Gordon, who also is winless, while Tony Stewart and Truex each have a victory and hold the wild cards.
Busch has been fast all year in practice — he qualified sixth at Indy — but hasn’t found the complete package.
“It’s ruining us,” he added. “There’s a full package that you have to have in this game and I see a weak spot for us. Once tracks rubber in, we don’t seem to have the front grip and the speed that we have in practice. It’s really odd to unload a lot of these weeks and be the fastest in practice and not have that same speed in the race. It’s a little frustrating, but we’re still in the mix.”
AJ Allmendinger, David Gilliland, Michael McDowell and Canadian road race ace Ron Fellows also had their first taste of the Gen-6 cars on the high-speed curves of The Glen.
Getting any sort of edge for the second and final road course race of the season is paramount for the underfunded teams.
“We can put a lot of focus on this race,” added Allmendinger, who again will drive the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing, one of a handful of races he’s running in an attempt for the single-car operation to get more feedback on its car and the overall program. “Right now, you look at guys that are trying to make the Chase and right on the outside looking in, every race for them obviously is big, especially right now the points are so close. But they can’t overemphasize one race. They’ve got to kind of look at one weekend and go to the next.
“For me, we can focus on this race, have two days of testing, go back and put a lot of emphasis on running well at this race, and I think we can. It’s a little bit different for everybody. At least with a small team like us, hopefully, it kind of makes the box a little bit smaller. I think it’ll help us a lot more than maybe a bigger team because they’ve got such resources.”
After Cup teams complained about negotiating right-hand turns on the other road course at Sonoma in June, NASCAR has changed the rules for The Glen. Teams will be allowed to hang the rear spoilers more to the left to alleviate the problem.