Storylines: Indianapolis

Jay Hart
Yahoo! Sports

Goodyear has made the fix, at least that's what we've seen through the first two practices for Sunday's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard.

There were no signs of tires falling apart Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when Goodyear's hard work was finally put to the test. Driver after driver hopped out of their cars eager to see what the tires looked like. To their delight, all was well.

This brought a collective sigh of relief from NASCAR, IMS and Goodyear, as well as the drivers themselves, who can now concentrate on racing instead of worrying about a replay of last year's race that turned into a farce as tires fell apart after only eight to 10 laps.

"It is done," Jeff Gordon said of the tire issue. "If anybody has an issue with tires, it is not because they are wearing out. [Goodyear has] done a great job. They have backed it up with testing and they have now proven it here at the race track."

Goodyear spent 11 months working on the fix, an effort that included 31 drivers logging more than 14,000 miles of test laps at IMS to make sure there wouldn't be a repeat of 2008.

"What I think is the most crucial is the practice that we had, and I think I could have probably run all day long on one set of tires if I wanted to," said Gordon, who expects the harder tire to bring pit strategy into play.

In other words, Goodyear appears to have gone from a soft tire that wouldn't last more than a handful of laps to a hard one that will allow teams the option not to pit and instead stay on the track to better their position.

Pit strategy will certainly be something worth watching Sunday.

Here are five other storylines to watch for in Sunday's Allstate 400 at The Brickyard:

1. How many fans will show up?

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has 257,000 seats. Early reports indicate that as many as 125,000 of those could be empty Sunday.

Though 135,000-plus is still a massive crowd, a nearly half-empty venue for what's supposed to be your second-biggest event of your season doesn't speak well to NASCAR.

Some of the blame can be leveled on the sagging economy. But remember, the Indianapolis 500 dealt with the same economic issue and still drew more than 200,000 fans.

It's clear that a large number of fans are still seething over what went down a year ago at IMS, and now they either aren't willing to risk paying to see another debacle or are, in their own way, lodging a protest.

Whichever it is, the message will be on full display Sunday in the form of row upon row of empty seats.

"I think certainly a lot of damage was done," Gordon said. "It might not take one race [to repair]."

2. Will anyone challenge Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson?

Between them, Stewart and Johnson have won the last four championships and, coincidentally, the last four Brickyard 400s.

Both enter Sunday's race on fire. Stewart hasn't finished worse than seventh in nearly two months, while Johnson has four top 10s in the last four races. Both are geared up for a run at the championship, but that's not their focus right now. The Brickyard is.

"We've been running well, and I feel good this weekend," Stewart said. "I feel like this is as good a shot as we have ever had."

Said Johnson: "I know it’s going to be a great battle and I assume there's going to be other cars in there as well. … I think in between Jeff [Gordon] and Tony and their desire to win here it’s going to be tough for somebody to take one of those two down."

3. Will the Kurt Busch-Jimmie Johnson feud continue?

Following the on-track incident between Johnson and Busch two weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway – the second run in between the two drivers in three races – Johnson says he texted Busch. Friday, Johnson said he's yet to hear back.

"It’s not uncommon to not hear back," Johnson said. "I don’t think a lot of people like talking about it. They would rather bury it and save it for another moment where they can settle the score."

The row began at Infineon Raceway when Johnson spun Busch, who was understandably angry following the race. Johnson, knowing he was in the wrong, immediately found Busch to apologize.

Feud over, right?

Two weeks later at Chicagoland, the two were again racing side by side when Johnson got loose, sending his car up the track and into the left side of Busch's car. The move clearly wasn't intentional, but Busch didn't care. He responded by turning down the track, steering directly into Johnson.

"I'm starting to lose faith in his ability to be a three-time champion on the track,'' Busch said following that incident.

When asked Friday if he was worried about repercussions, Busch said, "Not at all," adding that the two will talk and then "move on."

That very well may be the case. Then again, it looked like the two had moved on following the incident at Infineon, only it popped right back up again two weeks later.

4. Did Kyle Busch grow up over the off weekend?

It appears that his woeful performance at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago has had a profound effect on Busch.

"That was a bad week," Busch said Friday. "I need to become a better person in being able to pull our team together and lead these guys and ultimately, lead them back into the Chase."

It's a poignant admission from the 24-year-old, who rarely points the finger at himself, at least publicly. Over the last few months, his biggest criticism has been his unwillingness to talk when things don't go his way.

"I'm always focused on trying to make something better," he explained. "Whether it's myself better, whether it's the cars better – just trying to think – and sometimes I wear it on my sleeve too much and I need to shake it off and just figure that it's not going to be me that fixes the car. All I can do is help give feedback and information and tell them what it's doing."

This is exactly what he didn't do at Chicagoland. When the handling on his car went away, Busch could be heard over his radio doing little more than describing his car as "junk." He wound up finishing 33rd.

Maybe the most telling sign that Busch is ready to grow up came when he was asked if he plans on reading team owner Joe Gibbs' new book, Busch said, "Apparently it's a game plan of life, so maybe that's what I need."

5. What will be the preferred lane on double-file restarts?

Going into the race, there is no consensus on what will be the lane of choice. Drivers all agree that the inside lane gives an advantage, but only if you can clear the car on the outside by the time it reaches Turn 1. That's not a slam dunk considering the lengthy frontstretch at IMS – more than .6 of a mile – and the fact that NASCAR will move the restart zone closer to Turn 4.

"If you can get a good jump on the bottom, that is probably where you are going to want to be at," said Stewart. "If you can't clear the guy by the time you get to Turn 1, I would honestly believe you are going to want to be on the outside going in to Turn 1."

The lane of choice could change as the race progresses, either because drivers find out that one lane is working better than the other, or because the track and tire conditions warrant it.

Regardless, making the right choice could be the difference between winning and losing if there is a late caution.

"Our cars aren't set up to be side-by-side and when you are side-by-side your car drives completely different," Jeff Burton said. "I think [double-file restarts are] going to have a huge impact on the race."

What to Read Next