On a rainy day in Indianapolis, as fifty-thousand fans sought shelter from the rain (or boredom) during a daylong drizzle, there was little to do but talk about racing at the world's greatest racetrack two days ahead of the NASCAR Nextel Cup...
On a rainy day in Indianapolis, as fifty-thousand fans sought shelter from the rain (or boredom) during a daylong drizzle, there was little to do but talk about racing at the world's greatest racetrack two days ahead of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series' most important summertime classic: the AllState 400 at the Brickyard.
Jimmie Johnson, who won here on his way to the championship in 2006, offered some thoughts on the relatively close association the winner at Indy has held to the eventual series champion. "I think it's relative to how difficult this track (Indianapolis) is to the other tracks on the schedule. The teams that have been performing well figure out early what it takes to win here, too, and it carries over. It's obvious there's no other track like it, and I think that's one of the reasons the top teams seem to do the best here."
Denny Hamlin, whose number eleven FedEx Express car has already logged a pole at Martinsville and a win at Loudon, offered a similar view. "I see all the guys that win the championship and the Brickyard the same year and think it's related because every teams puts on its best show here. They pull out their best equipment, and don't save anything in reserve for next weekend."
Matt Kenseth, whose sole win this year so far has come at Fontana, talked about a need to have all the ducks in a row for an assault on the Brickyard that meets any measure of success. "You need it all, here," he said. "You need the downforce, you need the horsepower, you have to have the car loose enough that you don't get behind people and get tight underneath them, and you need to be able to get a run off the corners to overtake."
Mark Martin, whose Ginn Racing team is still getting used to its Dale Earnhardt Incorporated name-addition, probably put the race over the famous 2.5 mile oval in Speedway best in perspective by saying, "It's pretty overwhelming!"
"I think the biggest thing is these days it's a lot more about technology and engineering. When I was 25 you had to have the experience of a 40-year old to even drive one of Junior Johnson's cars. The drivers were the engineers. The driver isn't expected to do that anymore. That part of it is not as valuable as it once was."
Newfound partner Dale Jr. also chimed in on the Brickyard's importance by commenting, of the race scheduled for Sunday July 29th, "It's right behind the Daytona 500. It's pretty important. And yeah, it's fun. I remember when they first started talking about us coming here and testing, I was just as interested to see what the stock cars looked like on this racetrack. After you seen oepn-wheel here for so many years, it was really unique just to see the stock cars out there for the first time. I enjoy it here."
Though he's yet to score a victory yet this year, holding only a pole at Las Vegas to trumpet as his signature move in 2007, Kasey Kahne makes no bones about what his emotions turn to when he sees the Wing and Wheel entrance off Sixteenth Street that leads beneath the track and into the giant racing complex in Speedway, Indiana.
"I always like Indy, any year, always like racing here. It's really special. This is my favorite track to come to each year, and the track I most want to win it all. It's difficult, there's a lot to get through each corner, which is different from the others, and just trying to get your car to handle at each end and making the right adjustments in or out of the race time is something I really enjoy about it."
A pole at Darlington is the only superlative Clint Bowyer of Emporia, Kansas can crow about this year; but he's eager to test the Speedway's oval one more time (where he was fourth in 2006 in his only previous contest). "You have to have a well-rounded package when you show up here. It starts in the shop. We had an awesome car last year and we brought the same car back this year. Hopefully she still knows her way around this place!"
Finally, Jeff Burton stood down from is AT&T Mobility number 31 ride to tell us "I think this place has corners unlike anyplace we go. If you look at the entry of each turn, and how closely the exit of the corner is the entry--there's just no other place like it. This is its own racetrack, very unique and unlike anyplace else we go. Comparing it is so difficult, it's just almost crazy to even try."
If the rain clears, which the meteorologist says it will, we should see these thoughts and words turn to rast deeds on Saturday as NEXTEL Cup qualifying unfolds over the yard of bricks in summertime Indianapolis.
Rain affected NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series day at O'Reilly Raceway Park in nearby Claremont, IN. However, the series was able to get in both practices. Stay tuned to tonight's possible race.