The Brickyard 400 has been an annual fixture on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule for 10 years and as the speedway prepares to host this weekend's event, Ford Racing asked some of its drivers their thoughts on how things have changed since the...
The Brickyard 400 has been an annual fixture on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule for 10 years and as the speedway prepares to host this weekend's event, Ford Racing asked some of its drivers their thoughts on how things have changed since the inaugural race in 1994.
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus
WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN THIS RACE OVER THE LAST 10 YEARS? "Probably the biggest thing that has changed has been the setups on the race cars themselves. They've become a lot more complex over the years. The guys get smarter and smarter on aerodynamics and it's more about aerodynamics than it is anything right now. You've got to put the springs under the car to keep the aerodynamics of the car working correctly. When we won here in '97 it was headed in that direction, but not to the extent it is today. It was more about you put chassis under the car to make good corner grip. Sometimes the two were not always the same."
HOW MUCH HAS THIS RACE EVOLVED IN 10 YEARS FROM A STATUS STANDPOINT? "I think as time has gone on - for a while there everyone was thinking about Daytona and Indy were almost equal to one another or maybe Indy was starting to outshine Daytona a little bit. But I think as time has gone on, a little bit of the novelty of running at the Brickyard has sort of worn off just a little bit. It's still a very important race, don't get me wrong, but I'd say it's second behind the Daytona 500 as far as importance and financial rewards. The nostalgia of coming to Indy is still there, but guys kind of get complacent with it a little bit."
DO YOU FEEL WHEN NASCAR CAME TO INDY THAT IT BROUGHT THIS SPORT TO ANOTHER LEVEL? "Yeah, I really felt that. We came here years ago - it had to be the early nineties or late eighties - and there were five or six teams that were invited here by Goodyear for a tire test. I was fortunate in that I was one of the first guys to hit the race track with a stock car. That was a pretty neat event that day and there was a lot of camaraderie in the garage area. You could tell that everybody knew that they were participating in an event that was gonna go down in the history event. Even though it was several years later before we came back here and raced, we knew it was probably a pretty important test. Everybody was really loose that day and enjoyed themselves and we all hoped we would be back here to race and, sure enough, we did."
CHICAGO, CALIFORINIA, KANSAS - ALL OF THOSE PLACES HAVE BEEN ADDED RECENTLY. WAS INDY THE START OF THAT GROWTH? "You know, it had been quite a while since we had been to any new race tracks. You really can't put Indy and Chicago in the same category just because of the historical value of Indianapolis, but when it was announced that we were gonna be here, there probably wasn't one competitor in the garage area that wasn't really excited about it. To me, it was like stock car racing had sort of made it to the big-time - not that it wasn't before, but that sort of took it to a different category once we came to the Brickyard the first time."
IT'S MORE NATIONAL NOW. "You have to look back. At the time, nothing else was raced here but the Indianapolis 500, so to all of a sudden have the stock car boys up here it was a little bit, I wouldn't say the word would be intimidating, but I think everybody had a lot of respect for all the open-wheel guys that had made this place such the historical landmark that it is today. There may have been a few ruffled feathers from some of the fans, but I think the true fans found out that we weren't here to compete against the open-wheel guys. Like basketball and football, they're two different sports even though they're played with a ball. That's sort of the way I think that the stock car guys were able to step in and have success without stepping on the toes of the Indy car guys."
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
DOES THIS RACE STILL HAVE THE LOFTY STATURE AS IT ORIGINALLY DID? "Yeah, it does. I fight real hard to struggle down the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 because, to me, if they were the only races each year, then we would need to stay home and work on those races. They're a big deal and the Brickyard is a very big deal, but we had a race last week and we'll have a race next week, so, to me, they're all a big deal. I feel like this is a big race."
DID NASCAR ARRIVE WHEN IT STARTED RACING HERE AND SELLING OUT? "I could go along with that statement. When we were able to get a race here, that was big. When we showed up here and packed the stands, that was bigger. I didn't think the track was gonna be conducive to racing stock cars. I thought it was gonna be a horrible show with 90-degree corners and everything, but the grip is so good here that it's a good show. So as it turned out, they've got a great show and it's very popular."
GROWING UP IN THE MIDWEST, DID THIS PLACE MEAN ANYTHING TO YOU? "I didn't have the proper appreciation for this place. When I was growing up the Indy 500 was the race, but because I was far enough away from here, I didn't understand the track part of it - it was just the race part of it. I didn't have the right appreciation for the significance of the speedway itself. I only understood the significance of the 500. You know me, I don't see much except what I'm looking at and I wasn't really looking at that, although I did realize that the Indy 500 was the race of the year. Later on I came to recognize the Daytona 500 as being one of the races and now I look at it as though there are three really big races and I wouldn't weigh one more than another today."
GREG BIFFLE - No. 16 National Guard/Subway Taurus
AS SOMEONE WHO IS FROM WASHINGTON STATE, WHAT WAS YOUR PERCEPTION OF THIS TRACK BEFORE YOU RACED HERE AND WHAT IS IT NOW? "I always considered this an open-wheel track, so I didn't pay that much attention to it. But I remember the first race when they came here and it was a pretty big deal. I watched all of that take place, but I was really more in awe of Daytona than here. I don't know why, but I just didn't perceive this as a place where stock car racing had been racing at forever. Of course, open-wheel racing has and I've always watched the Indy 500, but it's a neat place and it's great to be able to run here."
NOW THAT YOU'VE BEEN HERE A FEW TIMES DO YOU APPRECIATE THE HISTORY OF THIS PLACE? "Absolutely. Like I said, I've been watching the races here for a long, long time. It has a lot of history unlike some of the other races we go to, so that's kind of neat to be part of that history now. If I had to rank this race, I'd have to put it number two. Daytona is obviously our Super Bowl and this is probably the next highest profile and one of the higher paying races. Teams put a lot of energy in it, so I think this is really second on the list."