There’s Racing, and Then There’s Passing

This, according to Tony Stewart, is just passing. Indy is racing. (John Clark photo)

This, according to Tony Stewart, is just passing. Indy is racing. (John Clark photo)

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Tony Stewart gets ready to race. (John Clark photo)

I’ve been up about three hours now. I’ve had a cup of coffee, gone through the social media feeds, checked the old email and fixed breakfast. I’ve played a few songs on the guitar and talked over the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 Powered by BigMachineRecords.com with a friend who, like me, watched it on television.

The title had more words than the race had lead changes, or at least those that occurred on the track without something on pit road causing it.

From the perspective of the journalist that I used to be, there are three kinds of race stories: (a.) great race, (b.) great story, and (c.) ones that are really difficult to write. Ryan Newman’s victory had (b.) going for it. The winner was not only a Hoosier but a graduate of a Hoosier college (Purdue University), one who dramatically ended a troublesome stretch and, wonder of wonders, doesn’t have a ride for next year. Now that’s a story that writes itself, as long as one doesn’t provide many troubling details of a race that was sort of like shooting a video of your kids playing musical chairs at kindergarten and then replaying it in fast motion at the next birthday party.

From the contemporary writer’s perspective, it had everything but a respectable Danica Patrick finish. The sport’s champion laureate, Jimmie Johnson, opened the door by suffering an imperfect pit stop. The winning driver’s owner, fourth-place finisher Tony Stewart, took time off from his busy schedule to rake the media for even suggesting that Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not the ideal NASCAR track.

Stewart hissy fits are always enjoyable. I hate I had to rely on a transcript. I’m serious here. I enjoy the spectacle of a Stewart rant. I like it when his eyes start to glow eerily. I’d hate to see what this sport would be like without Wild, Wonderful Tony Stewart in it.

“Look up ‘racing’ in the dictionary and tell me what it says,” Stewart commanded.

I wasn’t there, but, point of information: racing is (1.) a contest of speed, as in running, riding, driving, or sailing; (2.) a series of races, usually of horses or dogs, run at a set time over a regular course; (3.) any contest or competition, especially to achieve superiority; 4. urgent need, responsibility, effort, etc., as when time is short or a solution is imperative; (5.) onward movement; an onward or regular course.

“We’re racing here,” Stewart said. “That’s all I’m going to say. This is racing.”

Of course, it wasn’t all he was going to say.

“If you want to see passing, we can go out on (Interstate) 465 and pass all you want. If you can tell me that’s more exciting than what you see at IMS, the great race-car drivers have competed here. This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn’t have to be two- and three-wide racing all day long to be good racing.

“Racing is about figuring out how to take the package you’re allowed and make it better than what everybody else has and do a better job with it.

“I’ve seen races that were won by over a lap. I’ve seen 20-second leads here. For some reason, in the last 10 years, everybody is on this kick that you have to be passing all the time. It’s racing, not passing. We’re racing.

“It’s taking machines that are pretty even, package-wise, and let the drivers and teams figure out how to make the difference. I don’t understand where this big kick has come from. We need our guys’ help as much as anybody to remind people this is racing. When somebody does a great job, everybody hates that. I don’t understand that. It baffles me as a race-car driver.”

Got it. It’s racing, not passing. You want passing? Go to Talladega. Stewart made a valid point from the perspective of a driver. There’s that old cliché: I don’t know what race you were watching, but from where I was sitting, it was a great race.

This sentiment, of course, is also true. I would hope that, through the windshield of a car going at an insanely high rate of speed, given the variables and limitations, it would be exciting. I’d hate to hear of a driver falling asleep at the wheel out of boredom. The overriding perception of a race, though, is not from the windshield. It’s from the grandstands and the living rooms. The reason NASCAR is referred to routinely as a spectator sport is that it relies on spectators for prosperity.

I find myself satirizing Stewart’s remarks, but I really do have some sympathy. Stewart is right. The team that masters the conditions wins the race. The Brickyard is an important place. I don’t love Indy as much as Stewart – few love it more – but I do revere the place and find it awe-inspiring. I love watching the cars dive into the turns, but that alone gets monotonous since they do it close to 600 times (allowing for coasting cautions, of course).

I watched the race intently. I tried to pay attention to the nuances of strategy unfolding in front of my eyes.

Still, I required a strong cup of coffee shortly after the halfway point.

About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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15 Responses to There’s Racing, and Then There’s Passing

  1. Josie says:

    Ok…I watched the race..the entire race…and while I wasn’t yelling and screaming (until the final 10 laps that is) I did find enough around the track action to keep my interest. We should all pretty much agree that over 50% of the tracks NASCAR goes to aren’t that exciting…so why pick on Indy? The restarts were b’s to the walls (Stewart was dive bombing like it was the last lap)…and there was passing throughout the field. Passes for the lead?…unless you’re talking super speedway or short track…constant passes (or for that matter ANY passes not on restart or green pit stops) for the lead have pretty much gone out the window now that “clean air” has suddenly found its way to most of Nascar’s tracks. (I think Los Angeles should contact NASCAR and ask them exactly where all this clean air is coming from and how can they get some!). But I truly didn’t think the race was bad at all..we have Pocono coming up…is it really all that much better? I enjoy racing…Eldora was fantastic..Indy was good…it is what it is.

  2. Tony Geinzer says:

    Well,Monte, Ryan Newman is the Only Big Ten Alumni who is an USAC National Champion.

  3. Two points regarding Tony Stewart’s tirade:

    1) I think Tony’s rant was couched, at least in part, by his love for the track. He loves Indy, and I think he felt the need to defend it (though I don’t think anyone actually said “Indy sucks,” just “Indy sucks for stock cars”).

    2) I think maybe Tony meant (and should’ve said), “There’s more to racing than just passing.” Which is accurate. Thing is, a lot of fans (most of whom have direct access to Twitter, but not a mute button) can’t — or don’t want to — see that. I think his phrasing ultimately loses the point a little.

  4. Henry says:

    The cars are awful, you go into turn one fine, then turn two is awful when the aero goes away, same in three and four. Then you have to try and catch someone and race / pass them, good luck. And Johnson had a bad pit stop, or did he? Was a monkey wrench thrown into the wildcard race? hmmmm………..

  5. Bobi says:

    Methinks Tony doth protest too much. But I must agree his hissy fits are enjoyable. He’s almost as funny as Bowyer and he doesn’t even realize it.

  6. Damon says:

    Why are people that surprised by the inability to pass at Indy, particularly for the lead? Until Indycar produced the DW-12, they had the same issues as well with Penske and Ganassi whipping the field like Johnson/Newman did yesterday, most notably from 2008-2010, when those two teams led a staggering 513 of 600 laps, 85.5% and won all 3 races -including shutting out the field in 2009 by leading all 200 laps.

    If Indycar had that kind of issue on a track where they’ve been racing at 97 times, what makes anybody think stock cars at Indy wouldn’t have the same problem with a dominant car (see Montoya in 2009/2010, JJ in 2012) or cars (like yesterday) stinking up the show? Bottom line, the track wasn’t made for stock cars and they struggle to put on a good show at IMS, with the notable exception of the 2007 and 2011 races in recent memory, much of the Brickyard 400’s are slogfests…..that’s just the way it is.

  7. Tim Krantz says:

    It’s not Indianaplolis. It’s the race car. They are going too fast to have good racing. Get rid of the front spoiler/splitter, give them a certain square inch rear spoiler, and let them adjust that spoiler like they used to. To hell with more grip,more grip, give them less grip. MAKE THEM let off the gas more before entering the turns, better racing at lower speeds. It’s shameful that the most exciting racing is now on the road courses. Thanks for letting me vent.

  8. Andy DeNardi says:

    If Tony said that was racing then bygod it was. Tony knows racing, I trust him. What’s more, he’d be the first to tell you when it was just a parade or wreck waiting to happen.

    So that’s settled. Bu the fans still aren’t happy. I’d say that’s because the races are too long and there’s too much slack between the adrenaline fueled first laps and the eagar-for-a-win final laps. There’s racing alright, but not so much between laps 100 and 300.
    If I were Brian France, I’d drop 100 laps off every race. I’d also be in my cups by this time of the evening.

  9. Jeff Pogue says:

    Maybe Indy simply may NOT be a Good Stockcar Track. Is that a Sin? I’d bet these heavy things wouldn’t be fun to watch OR drive at Skadgit, or Knoxville. It’s Just NOT built for these kind of cars. OK, Big deal, say “Thank you Indianaplis you are a MAGIC facility however NOT for our racing Product. I heard/read Smoke’s comments and the dude is MY FAVORITE guy out there. But, even with the one’s we love we don’t always agree and Sorry Smoke, I don’t agree. (and REALLY NEITHER do you- go listen to YOUR radio Chatter from “the Bad Tire Year at Indy- ya weren’t too happy.)

    Well Smoke, you are my FAVORITE guy out there and Indy is one of the Most Storied tracks in the WORLD. But, I’m less and less convinced that Indy is a good “Stock Car Facility” I did look up BOTH “Racing” and “Passing” in the dictionary. What happened at Indianapolis on Sunday was NEITHER. That was a “Parade”. There is something wrong with the Car, The Track, or the competitors if there isn’t ALWAYS someone “Breathing down” the Leaders neck. If that can’t be done at Indy in a full-Bodied, Stockcar then you simply “fire the track”. Indy cars CAN Pass and they CAN Race at Indy, They are also much smaller, lighter, have better GRIP. You can run an Indy car “flat footed” all the way around the track and the design of the cars give them a “Second Groove”. Cup cars are just to Clumsy for a track THAT FLAT! You tell ME which “fits BEST”! Sorry Champ, I’m not with ya on this one.

    Racing (VERB)
    to engage in a contest of speed with (another)

    Passing (verb)
    1. to move past; go by:

    Parade (Verb)
    To cause to assemble in formation, as for a military parade

  10. Dave Fulton says:

    If Indy still has a stock car race when their current Crown Royal sponsorship expires, they should look to the NoDoz folks. That product would be a perfect match for those snoozer Indy stock car events.

  11. Andrew Smith says:

    Tony was pretty matter-of-fact when he answered the question (asked by an Indy Star columnist, the question was about what could be done to enliven the race). The *one* on-track pass for the lead was between Keselowski & Logano, two guys who stayed out under a yellow and weren’t in contention, and it was on the first lap after a restart.

    There was some decent passing back in the field, but my biggest beef was 4-5 lap cautions for guys who ran out of gas. That’s where road courses have an advantage with the “local yellow” concept. On an oval, just close the pits, slow ’em down and throw the green when the hazard is removed from the track.

    I did find the race somewhat intriguing, though, knowing pit strategy was going to be a key. Watching Newman catch up to Johnson on the second-to-last stint made me think he had a shot, and then, seeing if Johnson had enough horses to catch up to Newman and make a race of it in the final stint was also somewhat interesting after the pit mistake. There were 8 seconds of difference between the two pit stops, and they were 7 seconds apart when Johnson got back on the track.

    That said, last time I went to an oval race at Indy, I saw about 50 passes for the lead, the racing was spectacular … and people whined because the last lap was under yellow. The last 3 Indy 500s are probably three of the best races I’ve ever seen — live or on TV.

  12. Jeff says:

    Well…wasn’t the most scintillating races of all time, but Indy never is. But, this race had 3 cautions and they weren’t for my pet peeve, debris. It was a race that was properly officiated by NASCAR and was essentially old school from the days of the late 90’s and earlier, in that there wasn’t a debris caution just for the sake of “bunching em back up.” There may have only been 1 on track green flag pass and more is better of course, but the lead changes due to differing pitting schedules under green flag conditions, is very much a legit lead change. Ryan Newman’s crew chief pitting after Jimmie’s horrible stop led to the brilliant call of taking 2 tires and winning the race. Old school there. These kinda things used to happen often back 10 to 15 years ago or so. Now with the many debris cautions we get, we rarely see these kinda ends to races. We just need to get the tires softer and I think Goodyear will get there and match the tire to the car better next year. They are being conservative this year. And lastly, we need to find some way to get rid of the dreaded aero push. Softer tires are a step, but more still needs to be done. I prefer yesterday’s kinda race to having a non-seen debris caution(that is probably out there) and a re-bunching of the field to “create” a “more exciting” finish to the race. That’s my opinion.

  13. Ron Widman says:

    I like Tony and his passion for the sport. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is special place ! Been there many times only got to a race once and it is terrible place to watch a race from the grandstand. This race was one of the better ones I’ve seen broadcast from there the restarts were good and there was actual very close Passing in the corners occasionally . I used to stay at the IMS motor hotel whenever I traveled to Indy just so I could walk out to the outside of the corner in front of the suites and feel the aura of the place .

  14. Damon says:

    Andrew,

    Good post.

    I’ll just add this though, while the last 2 Indy 500’s were entertaining, no doubt, but they were no different than the restrictor plate races a lot of Indycar fans (i.e. folks at Trackforum) seem to hate so much.

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