Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Johnson Wins at the Brickyard

Jimmie Johnson dominates, scores fourth victory at Indianapolis
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<p> Jimmie Johnson dominated NASCAR's Brickyard 400, scoring his fourth career Sprint Cup win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.</p>

It took Jimmie Johnson only 29 laps to steer his No. 48 Chevrolet to the front of the field in Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Once there, he rarely looked back, leading 99 of the final 131 laps to score his fourth Sprint Cup Series win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Johnson, who qualified sixth, also gave Chevrolet its 10th straight win at the famed auto racing venue, while team owner Rick Hendrick scored his eighth win at IMS in NASCAR’s 19 visits.

10 Tough NASCAR Questions: Part 2

Part 2 in a five-part series addressing issues facing NASCAR in 2012

Why has NASCAR taken one of the fans’ favorite venues on the circuit at Lucas Oil Raceway, and replaced it with a track that typically does not host the most exciting brand of stock car racing?

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<p> <span>As the 2012 NASCAR season approaches, Athlon Sports examines 10 controversial issues alive within the sport in the annual five-part, 10 Tough Questions feature, running each day throughout the week.</span></p>

Richard Childress vs. Kyle Busch: Did Kyle have it coming?

Following Busch’s on-track and post-race pit road run-in with RCR driver Kevin Harvick at Darlington, Richard Childress made it clear to Kyle Busch and NASCAR that if Busch damaged his vehicles again, there’d be hell to pay.

Richard Childress, to no one’s surprise, is a man of his word.

When Busch got physical with RCR driver Truck Series rookie Joey Coulter one month later at Kansas Speedway, Childress made good on his promise, hunting Busch down in the garage, putting him in a headlock and force-feeding him a few knuckle sandwiches.

It’s important to remember that this “feud” has roots stretching back well over a year. Busch had been involved in other incidents with Harvick, the mild-mannered Jeff Burton and former RCR driver Clint Bowyer. Harvick had also mixed it up with Busch’s teammates, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. So this episode may have been bigger than just Childress vs. Busch — indeed, it seems the 65-year-old team owner was sending a message to Joe Gibbs Racing.

The Kansas incident was the breaking point, though, and although Busch claimed to have not known of Childress’ declaration that he would tolerate no more, Busch took the brunt of the message.

Childress, who’s been in the sport since 1969, still appreciates the value of a buck. As Busch’s antics sent the fab bill in Welcome, N.C., higher and higher, Childress handled the situation in the same manner any number of rivals do on short tracks all across America every weekend.

Was it right? Probably not. Did Busch have it coming? Oh yeah. And NASCAR seemed to think so as well, as Childress got off with a $150,000 fine and probation.

Word is, donations were pouring in almost immediately.

Visit each day throughout the month of February for exclusive preseason coverage of the 2012 NASCAR season.


The Brickyard ... Steak or Sizzle?

Has Indianapolis lost its luster with NASCAR fans?

by Matt Taliaferro

The announcement in 1993 set the world of motorsports on its ear. And the inaugural race in 1994 captured the attention of millions. The fendered stock cars of NASCAR — at the time the “next big thing” on the North American sporting landscape — were racing at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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<p> Reports of sagging ticket sales and complaints from NASCAR fans that racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become boring begs the question: "Has the Brickyard lost its luster with NASCAR fans?"</p>


NASCAR on the Wrong Track(s)

New venues fail to attract new fans or retain old

by Vito Pugliese

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese notes that, while expansion for NASCAR is good, it can come at a cost if its new racetracks don't deliver.</p>

I was on hand at the track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park in ’07 when Toyota scored its first Nationwide Series victory with series stalwart Jason Leffler and fellow Toyotian David Reutimann in hot pursuit. There was racing throughout the pack, a clear view of pit road from virtually any seat and a full grandstand, to boot. The next day, while at the Brickyard 400, no one could have been aware of what was transpiring between Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick in the closing laps, until Smoke let loose with one of his more memorable post-race interviews that was broadcast over the PA system.

What’s more, that race was one of the few that had a relatively full crowd, and considering the typical margin of victory at a Nationwide race, I fail to see how the move helps anyone.

What is doubly frustrating is that the tracks NASCAR should be at — or looking at visiting — are largely ignored. Since 2000, the margin of victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway — which lost a date to Kentucky — stands at 1.14 seconds, with some of the most memorable last-lap, down-to-the-stripe finishes in the sport’s history highlighting its finishes. The margin in Saturday night’s Kentucky race was .179 seconds, courtesy of a late-race, double-file restart. With the exception of the start of the race and a lap 142 restart, there wasn’t much memorable about the evening with the exception of Jamie McMurray’s smoke show in Turn 2 and the aerial view of traffic backed up for miles on I-71 (not that TNT acknowledged the significance of the shot).

The Nationwide race at Road America last month, which looked like musclecar bumper cars, drew over 50,000 on a Saturday — with half of the track not visible or even having a place to stand and watch. The NNS attendance at Daytona, a track synonymous with stock car racing? 50,000. There are clearly tracks NASCAR should be entertaining to entertain, rather than racing at a venue just because the guy who owns most of the tracks owns it.

Considering NASCAR needs to reach as many fans as possible, racing at as many new venues and in new areas of the country is necessary. Five years ago, I was of the mindset that NASCAR should predominately run in the southeastern United States, but make an effort to visit most every area of the country at tracks at least twice. That was fine. It helped build the sport and NASCAR could reap the benefits.

An attempt to build newer tracks in untraditional markets, however, has run into stiff opposition.

The planned Bristol-esque track that was long-rumored to be built on Long Island fizzled, and when a big push for a track to be built in Washington state in 2007 was broached, the speaker of the house in the state’s legislature accused Richard Petty of having a DUI, while another house member stated publicly that, “These are not the kind of people you would want living next door to you. They’d be the ones with the junky cars in the front yard and would try to slip around the law.”

Considering the precarious position the sport remains in as the economy dictates what survives and what dies, Jeff Burton’s sentiment is right on target: Going to different markets and areas of the country are key, but only if it produces a better product.

NASCAR was arguably at its best in the early- to mid-1990s, with exponential growth, interest, excitement, appropriate coverage to pique curiosity and a lack of over-saturation. Each time a new track was built, a little piece of the past died, though. That will come with any evolutionary step, but is it too much to ask for the old favorites like Atlanta and Darlington to not be substituted for calamities like the tracks in Fontana and Kentucky?

This isn’t to say that NASCAR’s oldest tracks haven’t had issues of their own. I once sat in traffic reminiscent of Kentucky’s going to Michigan International Speedway in the ’90s. When Charlotte Motor Speedway brought the term “levigation” into our vocabulary, it did so by destroying the finest 1.5-mile track that motorsports had ever known. And regardless of how brightly Bruton Smith paints the walls yellow, it is not the same track it once was.

We’ve all watched as chunks of the track at Martinsville and Daytona started flying around, while North Wilkesboro never really looked much different when it hosted its final race in 1996 than its first 40 years earlier. The difference is each of these places provides something special, having been witness to some of the greatest moments in the sport’s history. If they are going to be replaced by new locations, is it too much to ask that they produce something tangible — beyond ROI for ISC and SMI — in return?

New tracks are needed in NASCAR, no question. The problem is, the ones that are awarded new dates continually resemble the same ones that no one cares about in the first place. That points to a downward trend — and at the absolute wrong time for a sport that has some distinct challenges that lay ahead.