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.