Brickyard, Baby!

Jul 25 2011 - 3:13pm

Most of you know I hold the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in high esteem. Over the past six-plus years, you’ve heard how great the place is, how historic it is and how much of my childhood was spent within its hallowed grounds.

So I won’t go into all that here, except to say that it is my favorite place for racing of any kind.

That said, it’s also the place where the Race to the Chase puts on a nastier, more desperate face. Rhyme aside, it’s about to blow up big time in the Circle City. The Brickyard 400 will be the watershed for Chase hopes among the 20 contenders for the coveted 12 spots.

You can mark it down.

One or more of the Chase hopefuls will be dealt a severe blow as the vagaries of racing upon the track that is considerably narrower than the wide-open courses at Michigan or Texas or Atlanta take their toll.

One of them will run afoul of the pit lane, which was built for smaller cars with a bigger turning radius and open wheels. Still others will find themselves in the middle of one of the four distinct corners and suddenly lacking in grip…or grit…and wind up smacking the ancient concrete walls (rather, the SAFER barriers that were pioneered there) in most damaging fashion.

Still others may find themselves at the wrong end of the fuel hose. A 2.5-mile track is very unlike Richmond or Martinsville. Run out of fuel on the front straight, as at Pocono or Talladega, and your goose is cooked.

Teams are changing crew chiefs like they normally change sponsor decals. Another one bit the dust today, as Todd Berrier was reassigned somewhere other than the pit box for Jeff Burton, and Luke Lambert is now the shot-caller for the Mayor.

Greg Erwin and Brian Pattie suffered similar fates in the past 14 days. There will be more, especially after the Brickyard. Pocono looms after Indy, and Watkins Glen lurks in the mist just three weeks from now.

What’s going on in the sport these days happens every year. Teams that aren’t going to make the Chase will start to make changes for the 2012 season, and the silly season will begin in earnest.

At bigger risk is, of course, what’s going to happen with the sponsorship at several teams. Roush is set to lose Crown Royal at the end of the season, while Aflac is pondering its future with the team and the sport.

Several other sponsors, some of them high-profile in the extreme, are in similar straits. The NASCAR Hall of Fame, fantastic place though it is, is under fire from elements in Charlotte’s city government, as is the entire purpose of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Association. The $10 million ask for the fiscal year was trimmed by 75 percent to $2.5 million, and that meant that heads did roll, including the man who spearheaded the effort to get the Hall here in the first place.

The Brickyard, where so much motorsports history has been made, will be the first domino to fall in the race to find out what comes next. We’ll be there, both on the ground and in cyberspace with Cover It Live!...details are coming as soon as they are finalized!