The relationship between NASCAR and Indianapolis has been good, tumultuous, sometimes poor, and seems to be ever changing. The excitement that came in 1993 at just a mere test session at the most famous speedway in the entire world had the racing community as a whole buzzing. Mostly because seeing these heavy stock cars at a track that has been so exclusive to open-wheel racing was something people never thought would happen.
Yet so many fans came out for what felt like an impromptu test session, or a mini race even, and it set the standard for what was to come. Even the retired King came out and ran a couple laps in his No. 43, almost giving his blessing to the speedway. And at that point, it was clear, NASCAR had to come to Indy.
Through the 90’s and into the early 2000’s, this place was packed just as much in the late summer as it was in May when the spectacle of the Indy 500 was in the air. Sure, it was 100 fewer miles, but still, it is Indianapolis. It was NASCAR that began a tradition that happened almost just by accident.
It was 1996 when Dale Jarrett gave Ford it’s first win at the famed track, beating out his teammate of all things in Ernie Irvan, and cameras caught him walking to the finish line and the “Yard of Bricks” that have lasted since the track was built. All it took was a kneel down, and a smooch, and a new celebration was started.
At the same time, in later years, it felt like the luster was waning, and in 2008, the luster was not even present.
It’s hard to have an exciting event when the sanctioning body had caution flags every 11 laps just to ensure cars would not blow tires. That took away a lot of the prestige of the race, and it took nearly 365 days, and multiple test sessions with several drivers, to try and get that back. By then, the damage had been done since the huge crowd that would pack every corner of the track was suddenly not as large. Try as they might, it just did not have the same feeling.
The track became for one season the final race to decide the playoffs, and even then, it did not work as well as they hoped. Maybe the larger, and at that time Gen-6, car still wasn’t good on the flat track that it was.
Last year, just to change things up, rather than go 2.5-miles around, they reduced the distance, changed directions, and would see the cars go left and right.
What did we see…hard racing, a corner that shot cars up in the air like a Nerf gun, torn up cars, and a winner that with two laps to go was running third and got the win after one car got spun out by a car that was being penalized for cutting the course and then intentionally spinning said driver while under penalty. Everyone follow that?
Deciding to go on the road course that had seen more of an F1 and Indy car usage made it different, exciting, and provided some unexpected moments. But it is still taking time to understand the identity that Indy is trying to establish. The oval waned in years, changing when it was run didn’t help, and now running the road course now has some wanting the oval back.
What is it that Indy and NASCAR want?
Guess we will never know. Is the road course the right move, or do we need a year of seeing the NextGen car on the oval to decide? We just have to dust off this weekend’s action to see what happens. Let’s kiss those bricks.