By Cole Cusumano
LONG POND, Penn. – Competing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the greatest honors across motorsports. Whether kissing bricks or downing milk, the motorplex mecca has produced some of the most iconic moments in sport’s history. However, people across NASCAR believe the prestige of racing at The Brickyard has begun to falter.
Long gone are the strategic days of endurance around the 2.5-mile oval – a tradition which began in 1994 and spanned 27 years. Instead, the world’s best drivers are subject to a 14-turn spectacle riddled with cautions, stage breaks and chaos.
Sure, road course racing may be fun to watch, but should entertainment outweigh the importance of tradition? It goes without saying since NASCAR made the decision to utilize the Grand Prix layout in 2021, the sport has disbanded one of its crown jewel events.
Denny Hamlin, who’s become an advocate for the sport in the later stages of his career, had strong opinions on the topic in question.
“It took a major off of our schedule,” Denny Hamlin told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “There’s no other way you could say it or think of it. I know there’s a lot of factors, but I just don’t see where taking a major race – which was the Brickyard – off the schedule and putting a road course … it didn’t ever really make sense to me.
“Even if the racing wasn’t fantastic, who cares? It’s a big event.”
Hamlin was less than two laps shy of kissing the bricks at Indy in his 16th attempt last year before being pushed off course in Turn 10. For someone as respected as the 41-year-old (and without a win at the historic venue) to get so passionate on the topic, it should serve as a wake-up call to those in charge of scheduling at NASCAR.
To complete all 400 miles of predominantly green-flag racing, it took a certain kind of excellence to conquer The Brickyard. Maybe the on-track product wasn’t as compelling, but each victory was earned. For 19-year NASCAR Cup Series veteran Martin Truex Jr., the glory of competing at Indy goes far beyond the track layout.
“It’s really cool to race at Indianapolis,” Truex told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We’re in the same garage, we still go through Gasoline Alley, we still are in the same place that all the legends have won. Yeah, it’s different than racing at the [oval] for sure, but I think winning at Indianapolis is still a big deal – even if it’s on the dirt track in the infield.”
Like anything in life, change is imminent. It just so happens the decision NASCAR made for Indianapolis was a highly divisive one among fans and those involved with the sport. No one is faulting the sanctioning body for being progressive, but there are other ways the iconic venue could be restored to its former glory for stock car racing.
Although 1-of-11 drivers to get caught up in the carnage at the revamped IMS last year, Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez embraced change, while looking at other crown jewel events as a way to also carry on tradition. What do the events like the Daytona 500 and Southern 500 have in common? They serve as the more glamorous competition at a venue that hosts two per year.
“I wish we were going twice,” Saurez told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “I feel like Indianapolis is a venue that we should be doing two races a year. Either road course or oval, I love it.”
Another thought is the solution to lack of compelling racing at Indy was in front of us the whole time. Or rather, would have been one year later. If there’s one thing the Gen-7 car has brought to the table in its debut season, it’s brought excitement to tracks that have been lacking character for years. Who’s to say it wouldn’t enhance the product at the 2.5-mile oval with the right rules package?
“I think actually these Next Gen cars would have a better chance – just because how much drag they have – of putting on a better show than what we’ve had in the past,” Hamlin said. “They have so much drag, you could see an Indy-type race where there’s a lot of passing down the straightaway. I certainly would like to see them revisit that for sure.”
At the end of the day, people have only had a year to let the newness of the Indy Grand Prix course sink in. While it may not be the same event legends like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt mastered, it ends the same – kissing the bricks.
Emotions ran high for A.J. Allmendinger, who relished the glory of becoming the inaugural winner at the new-look Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. Only time will tell if these victories hold the same value as a traditional race at the Brickyard, but another driver will look to add their name to the list of champions at IMS with the Verizon 200 at The Brickyard on July 31 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.