Indianapolis isn’t NASCAR’s crown jewel, but the Brickyard is special for auto racing.

The Brickyard is not the Brickyard.

Yes, the word race is in the title — the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. Indy is still Indy and Indy is always amazing. The circle raised by AJ Allmendinger after his shocking victory a year ago is the same as the one that Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and their fellow legends received. And like every Indianapolis winner – motorcycle or not – since Dale Jarrett in 1996, “The Dinger” dropped to his knees and kissed the brick wall.

It’s summer. It was Indianapolis. There are cars for sale in Indianapolis in the summer. But let’s be honest: It’s just different.

“When you leave as a driver, what do they have to do to measure you against the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR?” Denny Hamlin asked rhetorically. “They want to know how you did in the ‘crown jewel’ events. For me, those are the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400. I want to win at Indianapolis because of the I’m not going to have it. I’m going to be very happy. I’ve won the Brickyard, but I’m not going to win the Brickyard 400. Nothing, I think, from now on.”

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On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series will take the green flag in the Racing Capital of the World for the 29th time. That’s an imaginary number for those old enough to remember when the old-school Indianapolis 500 crowd said it would like “taxicabs” on their way like spitting on the floor of a church. But for the second straight summer, the bikes won’t be racing on the 2.5-mile sanctuary of high-horsepower, the 113-year-old circuit that holds the record for the cars of this year. period. Instead, they will only roll down a short chute and a large section of the front but enter and exit those straight lanes after weaving left and right. right through the main part of the Speedway road course 2.439 miles.

“I think that’s the weirdest thing about last year, just resetting how your brain approaches the whole weekend. Even the way you drive around the infield in your road car It’s different,” said Kevin Harvick, a three-time Brickyard 400 winner and winner in the last two oval editions in 2019 and 2020. He grew up wanting to follow the tracks. car of Bakersfield, California racer, four-time Indy 500 champion Rick Mears. “I’m not going to lie and tell you that I love it. For me, driving through that tunnel, looking right past the Turn 2 exhibition hall and back, I get sick just thinking about it. , ‘Well, hell, we’re not going there again.'”

To be sure, the new race is not good, at least as far as one can tell from the age. It was a fun start to the Cup Series road weekend. And this year’s schedule is filled with an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader. Again, this is an idea that seems impossible. See: IMS owner Tony Hulman led by Bill France Sr. was off the grid when the NASCAR founder was spotted wandering around Gasoline Alley in May 1954.

Again, being in Indy and driving his race car out of the Turn 1 oval, then hanging right into the field before reaching Turn 4, he just… yes … different.

“I don’t think anyone is going to try to sell you on the idea that an Indy road race is the same as racing on an oval,” explained Kurt Busch, one of only eight drivers to start 20 or older. Brickyard 400s. His best finish was in his debut, a fifth-place finish as a rookie in 2001. In 2014 he made his Indy 500 debut, a sixth place finish that earned him Rookie of the Year honors. Years old. He will not participate in this weekend’s race, recovering after training at Pocono.

“My sadness is that I didn’t win that race and I don’t think I’ll ever have the chance,” he said. “But those of us who have been around a long time are also saddened to see what has happened to oval racing over the years.”

Yes, it is: The whole point of the decision is to change the change.

One of the most amazing images of NASCAR’s glory days was created by the first appearance of the stock cars at the Brickyard. Gordon won the inaugural event in 1994 in front of 250,000 spectators, as they watched the Carmel, Indiana, high school graduate earn the second of his 93 Cup wins. Series. In recent years, those who have captured the silver lining have been a conga line of NASCAR Hall of Famers, from Earnhardt and Jarrett to Bill Elliott and Tony Stewart. The Brickyard serves as the last reminder each August that NASCAR has seized the torch from open-wheel racing as the dominant force in American motorsports.

But as the novelty wore off and bigger bikes continued to struggle to do side-by-side races on the narrow geometry of IMS, attendance declined. Then came one of the most disappointing days in NASCAR history, when the shoebox-sized Car of Tomorrow combined with a poor tire design from Goodyear to make a race that wasn’t a race at all. . The stage will run five laps and then pit to replace their cars that have been cut – those times. When Johnson pinned Carl Edwards, thousands of people left in anger. Most never came back.

As the race moves to the Fourth of July weekend in 2020, the idea is to create an All-American holiday for race fans. But cancer has other plans. When the 2021 schedule was announced, the oval was finished. The road schedule, originally designed for Formula One and then added to the IndyCar calendar (after the end of the fixed press, now in F1), is inside. The minimum Brickyard 400 was a crowd of 30,000 in 2017, and 3 million watched on television, double the crowd of 2018.

As with all things NASCAR, equating the current success with the Great Gatsby-like days of the late 1990s and early 2000s is a mistake. No one believed that the season of 250,000 Brickyard fans would return, but when measured using the yardstick of 2022 – it’s not 1999 either way, but it’s certainly more emotional than 2017 – it’s easy for those who care. argue against last year’s numbers as driving in the right direction.

“I don’t know that anyone really wanted to do what we did, but we also knew it had to be done,” Allmendinger said after his victory a year ago. The 40-year-old racer started 10th in the first Brickyard 400 and finished seventh in his only Indy 500 start, coming in 2013. He will return to defend his victory with Kaulig Racing this season. week. “I think it’s easy to say, ‘Well, Indy isn’t real’ before the race, but I think if you see my celebration there, it’s a special place and it’s a special race.”

Special, but not a crown. It’s not a milestone event on the long NASCAR schedule, but even Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Douglas Boles — a man with energy levels that make the Energizer Bunny look like a bastard — doesn’t remember it. racing fans through his social media. Sunday’s Brickyard 200 is the capstone for the entire racing calendar held at Indianapolis and Speedway, Indiana.

“It’s not the same and it’s not the same,” Harvick said. “But I don’t think anyone should run any harder to win.”


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