Indy’s prestige makes Brickyard 400 worthwhile

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Today, NASCAR’s legacy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the Brickyard 400 – turns 20 years old.

It reaches this milestone having secured a firm status as one of stock car racing’s most important events. And while its history is nowhere close to matching that of IMS’ crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500, it was still able to, for a time, supplant the ‘500’ as the most popular event at the world’s greatest racecourse.

But in recent years, the ‘400’ has appeared to lose favor with the fans. Multiple factors have combined for this, including single-file racing, brutal Indiana summers, and perhaps most damaging of all, the tire fiasco that turned the 2008 event into a disaster. Attendance has tumbled dramatically in a short span, and it’s been reported that today’s crowd could be the worst in ‘400’ history.

The Indy faithful, some of the most knowledgeable race fans in the sport, can’t be attacked for their indifference. They know that, racing-wise, this event pales in comparison to not only their beloved Indy 500, but a good portion of the other events on the Sprint Cup calendar.

However, we’re still talking about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, or simply, the Speedway – and you better make sure that S is capital, because that’s the sign of respect you ought to give to a track that’s delivered so many memories.

The Speedway’s legend is very real, and every driver in the NASCAR paddock wants to be the one that adds to it every summer. They want to experience the indescribable rush of winning at Indy, to plant a slow, sweet kiss on the famous Yard of Bricks, to be able to tell their grandchildren, “I won at Indianapolis,” long after they’ve turned the final laps of their careers.

Crowd issues aside, the Brickyard 400 is still a race filled with prestige. And it’s still a race that is treated with respect by those who compete in it. This isn’t just another weekend at the office. They know that a triumph at 16th and Georgetown can put them among the sport’s greats, like Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Stewart, all of them past winners of the race.

The complaints about stock car racing at Indy will likely never go away. Barring something truly seismic, the 2.5-mile oval is going to be what it has been for over a century. But there’s no doubt that in its 20 years of existence, the Brickyard 400 has created its own special tradition on the biggest stage of them all.

Let’s see what the next 20 years will bring.

Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”