By: Drew Hierwarter
It was called the “Allstate 400 at the Brickyard”. They should have called it the “Allstate 25, 25, 25, 25, 25, etc., etc.” By most standards, the “Brickyard 400” is the second most prestigious race on the NASCAR schedule. Only the Daytona 500 carries more cache. You add in the history, and the grandeur of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and you have an event that should be the very best showcase for any race series that runs there. Instead, the 250,000 fans who were there in person, and however many millions were tuned in on ESPN, saw a series of short 10-12 lap heat races. The longest green flag segment of the entire 400 miles was 13 laps, and that only occurred once.
The reason for this was tire wear. Severe tire wear that Goodyear knew would happen, NASCAR knew would happen, and all of the teams knew would happen. Instead of rubber building up on the surface of the race track, it balled up and flew off the tires like so much black dust. You could see it hitting the lens of the roof mounted cameras on the cars. You could see it piling up against the wall and blowing around like little black snow drifts. It got all over the inside of the cars and all over the fans in the stands. And the tires were ground away to the cords in seven to ten laps. The result was NASCAR throwing an artificial “competition caution” every few laps to allow the teams to come in and get new tires. And when some teams tried to work a little strategy by pitting early to gain track position, NASCAR took that away from them by closing the pits three laps before their planned caution periods.
What the fans got instead of a thrilling 400 mile race on one of the most famous and storied venues in the world, was a 4.5 hour long, coma inducing series of heat races. And when the track was green, no one really wanted to race. Instead they tried to go just fast enough to maintain their track position, but still slow enough to keep from wearing those tires out any sooner. Finally, with ten laps to go, NASCAR brought everybody into the pits for the last time. This set up a seven lap shootout which allowed the competitors to run as hard they could for the first time all day. Whoopie!
It will go down in the record books that Jimmie Johnson was the winner of the “Allstate 400 at the Brickyard”. In reality, his pit crew put him in the position he needed to be in to win the final heat race.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t good racing, and it wasn’t very entertaining. One can only hope that there weren’t too many first timers to NASCAR in the crowd. You can just imagine what their reaction would be, “Is this what everybody has been getting so excited about?”
It would be useless for me, or anyone else for that matter, to point the finger of blame afterwards on any single entity. The fact remains however, that through a series of misjudgements, the tire that Goodyear brought to Indianapolis was completely inadequate for the job at hand. NASCAR and the race teams did the best they could with what they had to work with. Goodyear had only performed limited testing of this tire and perhaps that was the problem. We can only hope that they learned something from all this and will come back to the Brickyard next year with a tire that will last longer than 25 miles.