INDIANAPOLIS – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard:
• After basically flying under the radar for the first half of the season, defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson's team is doing exactly what is expected of a championship contender. They're revving up for the Chase. Johnson's near-win at Chicagoland was just the preview for Sunday's dominating victory at Indy.
• Goodyear missed the target – again. Rather than dig up that dead horse and beat it once more, let's just say that everyone involved did his or her best to make chicken salad out of chicken waste Sunday. It may not have been NASCAR's finest hour, but the teams that made the right call and set their car up for short runs were rewarded with a top-10 finish.
• There's no question that the fans didn't get the race they deserved. But, did they deserve a repeat of the 2005 Formula One race? I think not. For those who may have forgotten, when faced with a similar tire issue prior to that event, the mindless glitterati that run that series wouldn't allow the tire manufacturer at the center of the controversy (Michelin) the opportunity to bring in a replacement tire. As result, that race was run with only six cars.
• I was at the Speedway for the entire month of May for the Indianapolis 500 and witnessed Indy cars run over a thousand laps using Firestone tires, with a lot more downforce, higher cornering speeds and not one tire failure all month. NASCAR is the only major racing series worldwide that has a persistent issue with tires.
• Race winning crew chief Chad Knaus said after the race the reason why crew chiefs didn't put Indy on the short list for testing is that it didn't make sense to use up one of the few dates available for testing at a track that didn't have any crossover potential for the data that was gathered.
"For instance," Knaus said, "if you want to go to Richmond, you can use it at Phoenix, Phoenix you can use at Loudon; Lowe's Motor Speedway, go to Texas and Las Vegas. Those are the types of things you want to do."
Knaus also discounted the value of testing at Indy.
"When you come here and test, you have the same problem every year," Knaus said. "About five laps, run the tires, you're done."
• Leading up to the start of race, the talk in the garage was all about Mark Martin (who practically guaranteed he'd win the race); Tony Stewart, who suggested that winning the race would come easier for him now that he's won it twice; and of course Kyle Busch, who wins just about everything these days.
All three were non-factors in the race.
• NASCAR's second-biggest event essentially was turned into a series of short track-like heat races where Jimmie Johnson won the "A" Main.
• Over the past few years, I've gotten many emails from fans that ask why NASCAR doesn't stop the action for commercials, like the NFL does. That way, the fans don't miss any of the action.
Sunday's race was a preview of that. Be careful what you wish for.
• Speaking of commercials, did you notice that Stewart's likeness has already been removed from the Toyota commercials running on television?
• The "Close Call of the Day" came when Kurt Busch lost it early in the race, slammed the outside wall in between Turns 1 and 2 and took out Kevin Harvick. Right behind both of them? Kyle Busch, who escaped unscathed.
• What happened to Martin? He admitted after the race that while his U.S. Army Chevy had a "monster" motor in it, he had nothing for winner Johnson. Martin had tire issues early in the race, fell back into the field and had to take four tires on every stop, robbing him of the opportunity to gain track position. He finished 11th although he had a car that could (and should) have finished in the top five.
• A tip o' the hat goes to AJ Allmendinger, who led four laps and finished 10th. Anyone who thinks this guy doesn't belong in NASCAR just doesn't get it. Come on Jay Frye (from Red Bull Racing), lock this guy in or you may regret it.
• Loser(s) of the Day: Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. Not a good day if your car was painted yellow, I guess. Kenseth dropped three places in the driver standings (11th) and Harvick dropped four (13th).
• Once again, there were plenty of empty seats when the race began. It's become such a regular occurrence nowadays that writing about a full house is really the news.
• Ford's head of U.S. sales and operations met privately with NASCAR President Mike Helton in the NASCAR hauler Sunday morning prior to the start of the race. I sure would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting. What do you think those two talked about?
• NASCAR officials confirmed what most of us had already suspected – that the Nationwide Series won't return to the road course in Mexico City in 2009. Attendance over the four years at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez had been on the decline, but that wasn't the reason given for the change. The date may shift to the recently opened Iowa Speedway, which already hosts the IRL, ARCA and lower-level NASCAR events.
• Marcos Ambrose was impressive in his Sprint Cup oval debut, finishing 22nd. I'm looking forward to seeing him next weekend at Montreal, where he nearly won last year's debut Nationwide event.
• The "crabby cars" are back. The practice of shifting the rear end to one side on the new car, in an effort to help it turn, was never so apparent as it was while watching any one of the 43 cars as they sped down the long straights at Indy.
• Patrick Carpentier, one of five drivers in the field who also has competed in the Indy 500 (Sam Hornish, Stewart, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya were the others), was also the highest finishing rookie (18th). Just what is George Gillett planning for Carpentier in 2009?
We all make mistakes, and this weekend Goodyear made a real whopper.
But, all the complaining about it won't change what happened. Instead of calling for the tire manufacturer's head on a plate, it should be the time to examine what went wrong here and take steps to prevent it from happening in the future.
In their defense, after the ugly race at Atlanta earlier in the season – the fault of a wrong tire compound – Goodyear went back to the track this past week to test with a different tire for the fall race with Kyle Busch and others.
There may never be a perfect tire for the stock cars at Indy, which may lend to the unique challenge that is racing at the Brickyard. But, you've got to believe that Goodyear's tire engineers could have gotten just a bit closer to the mark than they did this time around.
Next weekend, it's the Nationwide race in Montreal. Voyez-vous l, mes amis.