Commentary

NASCAR has a point to prove

Updated: July 31, 2009, 11:13 AM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Had a helluva interview for this week's D2D piece. Left my tape recorder in Charlotte.

Seriously.

The Six …

Marty,

Last year's Brickyard 400 [made me mad]. It really [turned] me off as a fan. How could NASCAR let that happen? You seem like a fan, as well as a reporter. Convince me why I take the time to watch this year's race when that crap happened last time?

-- John Thompson, Muncie, Ind.

Because NASCAR has a point to prove this year, John. Because it has fans to win back. Because last year was such an embarrassment for everyone involved that the entire industry has focused a concerted effort to make this event sing. Because Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon said, without pause, that there will be no repeat of last year's debacle.

Stewart, the harshest Goodyear critic breathing, praised Goodyear's efforts. Oh, and then there were the seven tire tests with 31 different drivers to offer feedback that totaled more than 13,000 miles. Oh, and because double-file restarts bombing down into Turn 1 will create mass chaos.

Because champions win here. Seven times the Brickyard winner has gone on to win that same season's title. Championship-winning drivers have gone to Victory Lane in 13 of 15 at Indy, the lone exceptions being Ricky Rudd in '97 and Kevin Harvick in '03.

Chumps don't win at Indy.

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Moreover, the key storylines are captivating -- namely Stewart's. When it comes to auto racing, Stewart is Indiana's favorite son. He was reared dreaming of racing at Indy. His two victories are the greatest of his career, unquestionably. This is his home. There is no better feeling, he said, than to take the lead at Indy and see the hysteria in the grandstand, knowing full well they've gone berserk for you.

This year, of course, is different. He told me earlier this week that he won't approach it any differently. He said you never do. You never change. You're still here for one sole reason -- to win.

But there's an added sense of pride to run the No. 14, made so famous by his racing hero, A.J. Foyt.

"Ya know that's obviously a big number to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, because of A.J. and his past," Stewart said. "Once we get in the car, it's going to be business as usual. Trying to figure out how to be fast and try to figure out how to win the race on Sunday."

I wondered whether he took the frustration stemming from last year's race personally, since Indy is so important to him.

"You know everybody works hard for this race, and to come here, and a lot of people could make it 10 laps on their tires, and the guys who were more aggressive couldn't," he said. "And it put us in a bad spot because we worked really hard to make sure we could [go] longer on our tires, so we weren't as aggressive on our setup. And it made it frustrating because guys would start falling off and that's when the cautions were coming out when we were making gains at the end of a run.

"It was just kind of a frustrating race. It was frustrating for the drivers, it was very frustrating for the fans and understandably so, but it was frustrating for Goodyear, too. And I give them a lot of credit. They worked really hard this year to make sure that is not going to happen again."

There you have it, John.

Lastly, it's on ESPN. I have a mortgage to pay.

Kidding.

Marty,

Can't wait for Indy! I'm a huge Kurt Busch fan, and he and Jimmie have wrecked a lot lately. Jimmie needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Are we going to see Kurt vs. Jimmie 4.0 this weekend?

-- Sarah in Kissimmee, Fla.

Quite possibly, Sarah, but not because they'll purposefully be out to get one another. They're not that dumb. Too much to lose. But they're both fast every weekend, and this weekend will be no exception. They'll be racing around one another, so there's potential for more fireworks. Busch said he lost respect for Johnson. That can't sit well. I think it's awesome. The sport needs more of it.

Marty, Can you explain for me the relationship between Braun and Richard Petty Motorsports? Is Petty just loaning drivers to Braun or is there technical help coming from Petty even though they run Dodges?

-- Dan in Shoreview, Minn.

Braun was the only competitive Nationwide team not otherwise affiliated with a Cup program, Dan. It's really that simple.

Marty, When I heard about NASCAR's process for inducting the first five-man class into the Hall of Fame, my first thought was, "Why not put all 25 nominees in?" When you're starting a Hall of Fame for a more-than-60-year-old sport, isn't it logical to make up for lost time?

-- Jamie Miller, Huntingdon, Tenn.

Absolutely not, Jamie. No way. It's the first class. It has to be exclusive. To me, five individuals make the cut: Big Bill France, Bill France Jr., The King, Big E and David Pearson. Cale Yarborough and Junior Johnson are in the discussion, too.

Marty,

Do you think NASCAR will ever add a third road course to the schedule, in the Chase, and where? Do you think it would be a good choice to race at Daytona's road course, Indianapolis' road course, VIR, or Road Atlanta?

-- Thomas Hitch, hometown unknown

No, I don't foresee NASCAR adding a third road course. In this game, though, saying never is ignorant. So I won't do that. I've long been a proponent of a road course race in the Chase -- make the eventual champion perform on every type of track represented on the schedule: superspeedway, intermediate, short track and road course. But in speaking with drivers, many disagree, mainly because the minimal percentage of road courses over the season (5 percent of the schedule) doesn't justify having them in the Chase. That makes sense, too.

Marty,

I've got three things for you. 1. Why can't the crew members/drivers/wives stand still during the prerace prayer and national anthem? Even members of the cars sponsored by a military service don't stand at attention. Can you somehow spread the word and tell everyone to stand at attention and put their hand over their heart during the national anthem.

2. On the double-file restarts, if the second-place driver is ahead when they come to get the green flag, does he become the leader? Seems like a cheap way to get five points if this is the case.

3. Your Hokies are going down Nov. 21. Go Pack!

-- Cody, Roanoke, Va.

It's not my place to tell anyone to stand still during the anthem, Cody. That's a decision each individual person must make for himself or herself. I'm not excusing it for one second, but you have to remember, they're about to hop in a 3,500-pound machine and go 180 mph. I might be a bit antsy, too. Personally, I do what my daddy taught me to do: I cover my heart with hand and I stare a hole through that flag and I reflect on what that song means to me. Every time. Every weekend of my life. My ol' man was as patriotic as an American can be. He appreciated the boys who died so he could do what he wanted to do, be who he wanted to be. He didn't tolerate any less from his kids. I think about my daddy when I hear it.

Regarding double-file restarts: If the second-place car gets to the start/finish line before the leader, he is black-flagged. The leader must take the green.

And regarding your last point … well, buddy, you're crazier than a football bat.

That's my time, folks. I appreciate yours.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.