Guy Ellis

As a motorsports fan, and a fan of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in particular, I was very much looking forward to Sunday’s Brickyard 400 NASCAR race.

When plans were announced back in the early ‘90s for “The Good Old Boys” to come to Indianapolis, well, I had some reservations. A.J (Foyt) was for it, but Mario (Andretti) was against it, so I wasn’t sure what to think. But over the years I’ve come to appreciate the Cup races at the Speedway.

The 2008 edition of the 400 was a disappointment, not only to fans of the Speedway, such as me, but also to the die-hard Cup fans.

If you haven’t already heard the tires on the Cup cars, the NASCAR “Car of Tomorrow” was making its Indy debut, wouldn’t last more than 10 laps or so before blowing up. NASCAR was forced into throwing yellow caution flags, dubbed “Competition Yellows,” every ten laps so that cars could make pit stops for new tires. Some cars couldn’t even make it that long. The “race” was turned into a series of ten laps of at-speed driving, not racing, and interceded with long caution periods.

NASCAR, and the tire supplier they control, is the entities responsible for the Sunday debacle. A new design of car would be making its debut at the second largest race on the NASCAR calendar and only one test, with three cars in April, was undertaken in preparation.

I don’t know which the bigger outrage is: that the race was turned into a parade of yellows or that the race was even allowed to happen at all. The drivers were literally going around at 170 MPH with time bombs at all four corners.

So, depending on your point of view, it was either to NASCAR’s credit, or discredit, that they at least attempted to run a race Sunday.

In 2005 at the Formula One United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis the teams running one brand of tire discovered that the only way to make their rubber last any distance was to set the cars up in such a state as to be some six or seven seconds off the pace of the cars on their competitors’ tires. Rather than tough it out and take their medicine the tire supplier, and its teams, simply pulled into the pits on race morning during the warm up laps leaving 100,000 spectators to witness a “race” reduced to a field of six cars; the teams with the brand of tires that had shown no problems.

Some attempts were made Sunday by the NASCAR-media to cast the blame for the tire problems at the Speedway management, specifically its diamond grinded surface, which was completed in 2005. The NASCAR tire supplier stated that, in years past at the Speedway, excess rubber from the tires would fill the grooves of the surface, thus alleviating any blistering issues with the rubber. That expected phenomenon did not occur this year and so the grippy IMS surface shredded the NASCAR tires, and quickly.

These prior-years that the NASCAR tire supplier was referring to were conducted, of course, with the old NASCAR car design, not the new formula, which made its debut Sunday.

Trying to cast Sunday’s affairs as an Indianapolis problem doesn’t hold well to scrutiny. In May the IndyCars completed 500 miles at an average lap speed some 40 MPH faster than what NASCAR does there without any tire problems whatsoever. Couple that with the fact that the IndyCars carry 5gs of load through the corners and have thousands of pounds of downforce pushing their tires into the surface, again with no problems at Indy.

Clearly, lack of preparation and testing hurt NSACAR and its tire supplier Sunday. It was a sad situation, and in a sense everyone dodged a bullet in that no one was hurt or injured. They’ll get it right next year, I’m sure!

In the meantime the Speedway now turns its focus to the inaugural US Moto Grand Prix slated for September 14th. The event marks the return of motorcycle racing to the Speedway, after an almost hundred year absence!, and will be held on the in-field Formula One road course that incorporates parts of the famed oval.