It is the most hallowed ground in motor sports, and can certainly define the career of those who succeed there, be it a driver or a manufacturer. While the margin for error at IMS is razor thin, it is ultimately your performance that warrants the praise or the criticism. Just ask the fine people at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, as they can speak from experience on both.
As the sole provider of racing tires for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Goodyear is indeed used to the challenges that go along with the various types of tracks and surfaces, but after the tire debacle at the 2008 Brickyard 400, there has never been more scrutiny placed upon them, and rightfully so.
With unusually high tire wear forcing NASCAR to run a caution flagged, controlled type race for safety purposes, many people especially the drivers, placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Goodyear. As a result, the tire giant has come out swinging and promises a more favorable result in 2009.
To avoid another embarrassing situation, Goodyear has spent a tremendous amount of both time and money in terms of testing, and the results have drawn praise from elite drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. All of them have stated emphatically that they anticipate no problems at IMS this weekend due to Goodyear’s testing and newly designed tire compound. The endorsement from Stewart carries some additional weight, as he has often been an outspoken critic of Goodyear in the past regarding tire issues at other tracks.
But ultimately weather conditions, which will largely dictate track conditions, may play a significant role in the success or failure of the revised tire formula, and for that reason alone, I say that it is way too early to forget 2008 and assume all is well this year. That, in my opinion, is a pass that must be earned, not granted, and will come only if the tires truly perform as billed.
Clearly, all eyes will be on Goodyear on race day, and if their tire strategy backfires, the damage to the race as well as their credibility may indeed prove to be totally irreparable.
Hopefully, we will be talking about racing after the event and not tires. Goodyear no doubt shares my sentiment as well.
Notes: Defending Brickyard 400, Jimmie Johnson joins Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as the clear favorites to win the 2009 race. These future Hall Of Famers have eight Brickyard wins between them, and Johnson, who is seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup Series Championship this season, comes to IMS in third place in the points standings.
Tony Stewart is enjoying a banner year in his first year as a team owner. Sponsored by Office Depot and Old Spice, Stewart is currently first in the point standings, just ahead of Jeff Gordon.
A source who works at IMS and chose to remain anonymous, told me that as of June 12, there were still 80,000 unsold tickets for the 2009 Brickyard 400. While I was politely told “no comment” by the IMS ticket office when I attempted to verify those numbers, there can be no doubt that attendance may be down this year due to the 2008 tire fiasco and the overall local economy.
Many people that I have spoken to plan to watch it on TV and that is bad news for an event that used to sell out quickly.
The green flag for the 16th Brickyard 400 will drop at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 26 and tickets are still available at the IMS box office at 16th and Georgetown or by calling (317) 492-8500 and choosing prompt number two. See you at IMS this weekend.
Danny Bridges, who thinks Mark Martin will win the Brickyard 400, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.