Indiana 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series Race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, July 28, 2012

U-G-L-Y, NASCAR got no Alibi

Putting Angela Jolie’s lips on the late Ernest Borgnine

does not a beauty make

story and photos by Tim Hailey, except where noted

 

Which one of these looks racy to you? photo by Jim Haines, IMS

NASCAR and its team owners must have their heads in the sand while blaming the economy, the president, and anything else they can point a finger at for their spiraling attendance and sponsorship problems, even while many other sports thrive. Because having their heads buried can be the only excuse for not seeing how ugly their equipment is, and continues to be.

Last week the ballyhooed new Nationwide Series Camaro was introduced. As if the car wasn’t ugly enough sitting on its own, someone made the mistake of placing it next to the street car. Now, throughout the history of cars and racing, race cars have always been the coolest things ever while their streetable brethren were the watered down version of the dream. Not so the Camaros. The street car looks positively racy next to the Nationwide car, which instead resembles the children’s racecar bed version. An unmade bed assembled by a dad with no screwdriver skills at that.

Most every racing fan I know is attracted to the sport in large margin by its aesthetics—the look of racing equipment, whether sitting still or hustling down the track. NASCAR’s current wallflower equipment is at risk of being left at the dance by even those big trucks that race the Dakar Rally, or racing lawnmowers.

The poorly named Car of Tomorrow was introduced in 2007, meaning that NASCAR’s had 5 years to get it right. All applaud the safety of the big greenhouse, it’s a great thing keeping drivers alive. But there’s no excuse for the ugly brick that surrounds it. The Nationwide cars were a chance to do better, and instead of the generic front of the Cup cars they do have manufacturer-distinctive grills. But putting Angela Jolie’s lips on the late Ernest Borgnine does not a beauty make. Who wants to watch these beastly machines for hours on end, let alone spend millions to paste your company’s logo on them? Well, on second thought, those slab sides and flat tops are perfect for logos...

The quality of the racing itself, at least at The Brickyard, is pretty awesome, even when one car dominates like Jimmie Johnson did in the Cup race and Kyle Busch nearly did in the inaugural Indiana 250 Nationwide Series race. The cars may be ugly, but they actually have to slow down for the turns, and that’s cool.

I'm a Monster! Kyle Busch clips the apex in turn 3 at IMS

Busch led a race high three times for 51 laps in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, but he never recovered from a slow pit stop under caution on lap 64 of the 100-lap race that dropped him from first to ninth on the ensuing restart. Busch ended up finishing 22nd, slowed by a spin after losing control between 1 and 2 on a restart on lap 79. He came within a hair’s breadth of side-swiping Sam Hornish during the incident, who continued in the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge without trouble and finished second to Penske teammate Brad Keselowski.

Elliott Sadler busted his move too early on the pivotal restart

Elliott Sadler appeared to have a chance at victory, taking the lead on a restart on Lap 83 in the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet. But NASCAR judged that he jumped the restart, and Sadler was forced to serve a drive-through penalty on Lap 89. Sadler claimed that he was pushed ahead by Austin Dillon while Keselowski spun his tires—both of which appeared to be true. Nonetheless, Keselowski was credited with leading the laps Sadler was out front, and Brad then pulled away from Hornish over the final 10 laps.

Brad Keselowski marveled at the Indy media center: "Does F1 really need such a big press room?"

"F1's an international sport!" a grizzly reporter (not me) snarled at Keselowski

It was a long-awaited Indianapolis Motor Speedway stock car victory for legendary team owner Roger Penske, who’s earned a record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories. But Keselowski’s was the first NASCAR victory for the team on the 2.5-mile oval. Keselowski passed 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner Hornish on lap 72 and beat him to the finish by 3.304 seconds in the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge. "I've been watching races here for a long time as a kid from Michigan," Keselowski said. "Everyone knows how special Indy is. To win the first Nationwide Series race is special here. This is for Roger. It's special for me to deliver it to him."

Sam Hornish keeps Denny Hamlin on his tail

"I didn't have any dreams of grandeur or whatever of going out there and passing him on the last lap," Hornish said. "It would have been awesome if we did, but I felt like as soon as I got within 10 car lengths, he was going to step it back up a little bit. I knew it was going to have to be one of those deals where he made a mistake for me to be able to get the job done and to feel comfortable about doing it."

Ty Dillon suits up

Austin’s brother Ty Dillon finished third in the No. 51 Wesco Chevrolet. Dillon, 20, is the grandson of three-time Brickyard 400-winning car owner Richard Childress. “I think a lot of the credit is to the Truck Series,” said about his high placing finish. “Every time you unload in the Truck Series you're wide open for the first 20 laps and you have to drive as hard as you can in that series, and just having that attitude that I've been able to have all year with the Truck Series and driving that and unloading here with an open attitude and knowing I was going to have to drive real hard with these Nationwide cars.”

Travis Pastrana

X-Games superstar Travis Pastrana finished 13th and had plenty to say about it. "Crazy. I mean, this is the biggest, fastest track that I have ever driven. It's the fastest that I've ever been in a car, and it's just an honor to be here. Really, I was nervous. I had really very little confidence coming in. We still got a lot to pick up on, and I learned so much about drafting. This was my first track that the draft really played a huge role in, and on the restarts, I was just a fish out of water. Everyone was going by, and I was like: 'OK, what just happened? I don't understand.' then I would have to try to pick back through. But they did a good job. They really got me out front. The cars I was racing against are all my heroes, so it was very cool."

 

2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick started alongside Pastrana and finished 35th in her stock-car debut at IMS. She was eliminated from the race on Lap 40 after rear-ending Reed Sorenson's car in Turn 1. Sorenson spun and collected Patrick, with both cars hitting the SAFER Barrier. "It was pretty tight to start the race off, and my crew chief, Tony, is a pretty smart guy and took a pretty big swing at it on that first stop,” said Patrick. “The car was definitely better, and we were working our way through after that rough restart, picking the wrong lane there, and so it took us a little while. But we were picking them off one by one and got up to the 98 (Sorenson) and into (Turn) 1, and he slowed it down quite a bit, and I was pretty hard on the brakes. And I think I just tapped him a little bit, and when I did, he slid sideways. I tried to go around him and didn't quite get by him and spun around, and unfortunately that was it. I am sorry if I did anything to affect his day, but I didn't mean to."

Later that night I saw Patrick dining with her sister and her sister’s fiancee at Meridian-Kessler pizzeria Napolese. I picked up their tab, eliciting a genuine surprise from the diminutive GoDaddy girl. After shaking my hand with a very strong grip, Danica sat and talked for a while. She was very gracious, and no doubt it was the first time a journalist ever bought her dinner. And so finally, NASCAR is bringing at least one great looking product to the track....

RESULTS

Eatmyink back in deep at The Speedway

While cruising into the pit lane at about a buck twenty, Danica can't look away from my socks....

The Indy Super Weekend is getting the Eatmyink treatment. NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Grand Am Rolex and Continental Tire races will all get put under the critical microscope of these web pages for your pleasure. If you're anywhere nearby, come out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and say "Hey!"

Sleepy-eyed Sprint Cup Series badboy Kyle Busch was the fastest driver in Thursday practice for the Indiana 250 NASCAR Nationwide race. Busch led both sessions on the 2.5-mile oval, posting a top overall speed of 175.836 mph in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota during the final 90-minute practice. "It felt really good," Busch said. "The car's fast, obviously. It's run well all day. We've just been trying to work on it to make it better in the long run. You've got to be snug here to be fast because the place is so flat. But, overall, it feels stable. Hopefully it will stay with us all day Saturday." The inaugural Nationwide Series race at IMS is scheduled to start at 4:50 p.m. Saturday.

Busch was one of four full-time Sprint Cup Series competitors among the five fastest drivers Thursday. His older brother, 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch, was second at 174.700 in the No. 1 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, followed by Kasey Kahne at 174.639 in the No. 38 Great Clips Chevrolet.

2006 Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. was the first Nationwide regular, fourth at 173.695 in the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge. Hornish also will drive the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge in the Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday due to the indefinite suspension of full-time Penske Racing Cup driver A.J. Allmendinger.

Sprint Cup regular Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five at 173.671 in the No. 18 SportClips Toyota. Hamlin was the only driver in the top five to record his fastest speed in the opening 3 ½-hour practice session.

Indianapolis 500 veteran Danica Patrick was 13th in the final practice at 171.916 in the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. This is Patrick's first race at IMS since the 2011 Indianapolis 500, as she is competing full time this season in the Nationwide Series.

Danica at speed, not looking at my socks, but unable to keep her mind off of them

Q. Let's talk a little bit about coming here to Indianapolis. Certainly you've been in this room a few times before, but talk about what it means to come here racing in the Nationwide Series, racing a stock car around this big track.

DANICA PATRICK: I don't care what I drive around this track, I love being here. I just like everything about it. I like the facility, obviously, and to me the special thing about Indy is obviously I've had great experiences, but it's about the track. It doesn't matter what kind of car I come in here, I've had great experiences, memories. So that's what I like so much about it. And I love the tradition.
The older I get, the more I realize how much history and tradition plays a role in what's important and what matters and what means the most to you.
I sound really old with that answer.

Q. Now that you've been out on the track, you knew it was going to be different than when you were in IndyCar, but was there anything that was more pronounced?

DANICA PATRICK: No, I don't think so. I mean, it's just about finding a balance with the car out there, which is no different than in IndyCar. You're just trying to find a balance. All you're doing in an IndyCar is trimming it out, and if I could have more downforce in these cars I'd probably take it, because in an IndyCar we learned very quickly that it's about how much throttle you could carry around here. You can definitely use a little more road in these cars I feel like. I feel like I wish I was using more right now. But cars are getting very low in the corners, and that can be a little bit of a danger in an IndyCar, especially if you get just a little bit too low and get a little loose. So that's a little bit different, I suppose, but nothing terribly unexpected.

It did feel a little funny driving through Gasoline Alley, though. We used to walk it. And I'm used to seeing the Alley Cats, and I didn't see them there. I just saw a bunch of yellow shirts, and that was nice. But I didn't see any Alley Cats.

Q. I was wondering if you'd discuss the possibility of maybe doing the double next year.

DANICA PATRICK: OK, so the Indy 500 next year, I would love to do it. I've said that all along. I love the track, I love the race. I've had I feel like I've had really good races. I feel like it was always one of my strongest races of the year in IndyCar, so I feel like that's something I would like to do, and maybe it will happen, maybe it won't, but I can tell you the only way it's going to happen if it's with someone I really feel I can have a shot to go out there and win because it's unfair to the history I've had here and to my memory to do anything less than that. I wouldn't want to wreck anything I've experienced here with something to take away from that.
So if we do it, it'll be with a shot to be able to win. On top of that, there's just a whole lot of logistical issues to iron out if that were to be the case. But first and foremost, a good car.

Q. Obviously you've had a lot of experience here, but I wondered, have you been able to gather from your team and maybe Tony Jr. and the guys, this is the Nationwide's first appearance here, have they been a little bit more excited about coming here this weekend?

DANICA PATRICK: No. Logistically this is not exactly the best layout for stock cars, I feel, and it's because they use the haulers so much. I don't think it has anything to do with the track. It's nothing to do with that. It is hot here, so that's just the time of the year. And it's also been like the hottest summer I can remember. That's a bit of the issue. It's hot and it's just the truck is so far away from the garages. So I feel like logistically it's just a little bit of a pain in the butt for them.

But I'm determined to make them all love it and make them see what I see. I think I'll get them there by the end of the week.
They say that the yellow shirts are pretty strict around here, but I see all the yellow shirts and they all like wave and hug me. I say you just have to be really nice to them, you have to smile, wave, "How you doing," just show them some love. That's what I always did around here, and then I come back and they hug me. So there you go.

Q. Do you have any Camaro stories? Today the Camaro was unveiled, and everybody seems to identify with that car. Do you have one? Did you have a Camaro?

DANICA PATRICK: I do. It was a car that was built by Funkmaster Flex with one of my sponsors, PEAK, sort of commissioned the whole thing to come together, it was for a TV program, and I got it here at Indy, at this track, and I think it was a '67, right, '67 Camaro, I think, something like that. Anyway, it was old. And I got it here at the track, and we shot a little piece about it, and it was cherry red, like fire engine or cherry red, and it had a No. 16 with a circle around it on the side of the door, sort of like a little bit not a bright white one but a faded look. So yeah, that's my story of a Camaro. It's actually very appropriate that I would have that story and that you would ask about that. It was very cool to see the unveiling of the new Chevy Camaro today for the Nationwide Series. It's a great looking car. Tony Jr. and I were sitting next to each other and said, man, that pace car is a good looking car. Maybe I'll have to get one of those in the future.

Q. You know this place is loaded with history. Do you realize you have a good shot at being the first woman to win here?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, I had a shot a winning my very first year here, so being the first woman to win at Indy is kind of not an unfamiliar concept to me. I think I had that in IndyCar sometimes, too, so I think it's just a matter of how the day plays out, the good work that you do leading up to the race, and then just having a couple of lucky breaks in the race and having a strong car. You know, I know that JR Motorsports has done everything they can to prepare a great car for this race, and Tony Jr. definitely has the experience here with coming here in a Sprint Cup car, so hopefully that'll play into our favor.

Q. When you were in IndyCar, which turn gave you the most trouble?

DANICA PATRICK: I would say that, again, it's this track. It's Turn 1. I always feel like Turn 1 is just it has the most amount of issues for whatever reason. I don't know if it's partly because you get there a little quicker because 2, 3 and 4 are a little bit more smooth and the arc is nice and smooth through the corner. I don't feel like there's as much adjusting. I don't know what it is, but Turn 1 has always been the issue no matter what car I've been in now.

So that was my answer for IndyCar, and it's my answer for today. It always gives you that little bit of a loose feeling getting in at times.
And with these cars especially I feel you have to set them up for the long haul. You have to set them up for the whole run as opposed to where in IndyCar they have so much downforce and grip that you could set it up and it'd stay like that through the whole race or the whole run. So there's a little bit of sacrificing and compromising on the car of what you have at the beginning to have a good car at the end. We're going to spend a lot of time focusing on 1.

Q. Your respect for the facility is readily obvious. So when you get here each year, what does it feel like for you when you first arrive and first walk in or drive into the facility, and what do you think about, and was it any different this morning than it's ever been before?

DANICA PATRICK: I think the best thing about coming back, and I got in last night, is that it feels familiar and it feels comfortable. I'm always happy I woke up this morning and pushed the blinds up in the bus, and I said to Paul, I said, "It feels good." It sounds like a story you wouldn't believe, but I said, "It feels good to look out the window and see Indianapolis," because it's out the window when I look out my bus from the bus lot. I like seeing it. It feels very comfortable, very familiar.

I just feel like I've had a lot of different experiences here that can help me, and again, it's just a special place, where I feel like from the beginning I've always really believed that you have to show this track respect, and it will hopefully show you the respect back.
I've always thought that, and especially in IndyCar this place can bite you pretty big. I don't think it's too much different in a stock car to be honest. I don't want to find the wall. I haven't found the wall, and I don't want to.

GRAND-AM Road Racing takes center stage Friday during the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard, with practice, qualifying and two races on the 13-turn, 2.534-mile Grand Prix road course. The Brickyard Sports Car Challenge for the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge starts at 1 p.m., while the Brickyard Grand Prix for the Rolex Sports Car Series starts at 4:10 p.m.

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