Random Thoughts on The Brickyard Weekend

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They have been running stock car races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1994, when the first Brickyard 400 ran in August of that year. Although the name, date and now format of that event have gone through several changes, the general public still refers to this as the Brickyard weekend. I have been attending the Indianapolis 500 since 1965, although I’ve certainly missed several of them in that time frame. Not until this past weekend have I ever seen stock cars on this track. I am not kicking myself for not doing it sooner.

We always enjoy going to the Grand Prix weekend. Some IMS road course races are better than others, but it always serves as a sufficient kickoff for the Month of May – especially since Qualifying has been trimmed down to one weekend.

Our level of enjoyment was not as high this past weekend. It was great being at IMS and seeing some old friends that we didn’t get to see in May. The IMS Media Center staff did their usual great job of making us feel as welcome as NBC and The Indianapolis Star. But it just had a different feel.

First of all, it didn’t seem like there were as many people here this weekend as at the GMR Grand Prix in May. That seems odd because there were two top level races this weekend instead of one. Xfinity was here also, but usually the Road to Indy is here in May so maybe that is more of an attraction than I realized.

There seemed to be more fans in seats for the IndyCar race on Saturday than the Xfinity race. Looking north during the IndyCar race, Turn Four of the oval sections overlooking Turn One of the road course were full. Those same sections appeared to be only half full for the Xfinity race. Is that a very scientific measurement? No, but common sense would tell you it’s a pretty good indicator.

In full disclosure, I typed the majority of this on Sunday morning from our Indianapolis hotel room, I wrote the last couple of segments after we got home. We could have attended the Cup race, but we chose to get home at a decent hour instead. So I have no idea what Sunday’s attendance was like for NASCAR Cup’s first appearance on the IMS road course. I know their drivers were not excited to be pulled off of the oval this year. Perhaps their fans feel the same way.

There was no buzz here this weekend – at least on Friday and Saturday. Maybe it’s because the Grand Prix in May is serving as the kickoff for a big month. This weekend, you could certainly sense that the IndyCar season is winding down. Then there is the whole IndyCar paddock in the parking lot issue, which I covered extensively through the weekend.

I am probably making too much of all of this, but it was just an altogether different feel here than what we face each year in May here.

As far as the IndyCar portion of the weekend went, we had a good time. When IndyCar practice and qualifying were going on, things felt completely normal. The racing was normal too. There were drivers we expected to have a good weekend that did (Graham Rahal, Pato O’Ward and Romain Grosjean). There were also some we expected to struggle that did just that (Cody Ware, Dalton Kellett and RC Enerson. Then there were those that had the unexpected weekends one way of the other (Will Power, Scott Dixon, Christian Lungaard and Alex Palou).

As you know, Will Power dominated the race, after Pato O’Ward looked like he would run away with it at first. Power led fifty-six laps to O’Ward’s sixteen. All other leads were due to pit stop shuffles.

After the race started, Susan and I watched most of the race from the Tower Terrace stands, just north of The Pagoda. In all honesty, the first sixty-five laps were a bit of a snoozer from the stands. It may have played out well on television, but if you’ve been to a race – you know that being there offers wonderful things, but knowing exactly what is going on at the time is not one of them. I say that because there may have been something totally fascinating that the TV crew was alerting viewers to, but we weren’t aware of it. Until Palou lost his engine on Lap 67, it looked like a typical old-fashion Will Power beat-down from the stands. But the two cautions in the last eighteen laps made things very interesting, especially knowing that the points leader had just suffered a DNF.

In the end, it was Will Power with a well-earned victory. Even though this was his fortieth career IndyCar win, it’s always good to see that it never gets old for him.

TV Coverage: As usual, we have not watched any of the Peacock or NBCSN coverage. We will catch up this week. One thing I definitely want to see is Robin Miller’s tribute to Bob Jenkins. I’ve heard that it is very emotional and few can watch it through with a dry eye. If you’ve seen it, let me know.

Not a Bad Weekend: This will upset the Jimmie haters out there, but Jimmie Johnson had decent weekend, relatively speaking. Most will look at his nineteenth-place finish after starting twenty-second and wonder how I can call that a decent weekend. Remember, I said “relatively speaking”.

This was the first track that Johnson had raced on in an Indy car before. He qualified better than seven drivers, including the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, and finished on the lead lap. Johnson also finished higher than nine of his fellow competitors; and just one, two and three places behind former IndyCar champions and Indianapolis 500 winners Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud respectively.

Was this a turning point for Johnson? No, but it did show progress. Still, that wasn’t enough to silence the vicious trolls on social media who like to throw verbal rocks at the seven-time NASCAR champion from their keyboards.

What I don’t understand is the problem people have with him. What damage has he done to the series? He has proven that IndyCar is a tough series to succeed in, he has brought a major sponsor to the series that has invested heavily in TV commercial time. As far as I know, he has not taken anyone out as he tries to learn the nuances of the IndyCar road and street courses. Plus, who’s to say that the rising TV ratings this season aren’t due to curious NASCAR fans wanting to check his progress.

I guess unless he wins the IndyCar championship or the Indianapolis 500, they will continue to take joy in his struggles. It’s a new branch of The Legions of the Miserable.

A New Fan Favorite? I will admit that you can put me in the camp of those fans that have found themselves drawn to Romain Grosjean. At a time when so many drivers can be very surly when things don’t quite go their way; Romain Grosjean has breathed some fresh air into the paddock.

In the post-race press conference on Saturday, the second-place Grosjean was asked about his time in IndyCar. He emphasized how much he has enjoyed this season. His wife and kids were present in the press-conference and he just beamed throughout the entire press conference.

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He referred to the camaraderie of the IndyCar paddock as compared to the Formula One paddock where he spent nearly a decade; and said there really was no comparison. He said he truly enjoys being around every driver in this paddock and he hopes it doesn’t change at all next season.

I think back to Nigel Mansell and how his ego made everything all about him in the two years he spent in CART. Some others in the past that have migrated to IndyCar have not been as happy as Grosjean seems to be. He talked about how he pursued racing for the pure joy he got out of the sport. He discussed how Formula One was a business and he had lost the joy he had derived from the sport in his earlier days. Now that he is in IndyCar, he says he has rediscovered the joy and how fun racing can be again.

During driver introductions, Grosjean got one of the biggest cheers from the crowd. To me, it sounded like he got the largest ovation of any of the three podium winners. I think it’s safe to say that through his first season that has yet to be completed, Romain Grosjean is a new crowd favorite.

The Third Rahal Car: For six races this season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) have run a third car – the No. 45. For five of those races, the car was sponsored by HyVee and piloted by Santino Ferrucci. I thought Ferrucci did an admirable job. His only finish out of the Top-Ten was at the Music City Grand Prix, where he finished eleventh.

Even before he finished outside of the Top-Ten for the first time in Nashville, I was hearing rumblings in Nashville that for all the good work Ferrucci had done for RLL this season, there was a good chance the team was not going to bring him on for 2022. I argued with the two different people that told me that and noted his record with the team. They both fired back that he crashes too often. All I could remember was his practice crash at Indianapolis and a qualifying crash at Belle Isle But they both insisted he was out of favor with some key people at RLL.

I still didn’t believe it, but when the team announced last week that Christian Lundgaard would be in the car for The Brickyard weekend – it occurred to me that maybe they were right. Maybe you had, but I had never heard of Lundgaard until the Rahal announcement early last week.

I’ll say this – I was very impressed with the young Danish driver. He qualified a very impressive fourth and was hanging around fifth for the first half of the race, until ultimately finishing twelfth.

Many questions are now surrounding the third car at Rahal. By finishing twelfth, Lundgaard gave the No.45 its worst finish of the season. I noticed that with Ferrucci out of the car, that HyVee was off of the car. Is Ferrucci HyVee’s chosen driver? If so, why was Lundgaard in the car? Was it to validate Ferrucci’s results? This is going to be an interesting situation to watch. At this time, I have no idea if there are any plans to run the No. 45 car, and if they do – who will drive it? Stay tuned.

Tenderloin Update: On Friday, I mentioned that I tried one of the breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches from one of the stands directly behind The Pagoda. Considering I live in the south, it was decent enough. Living in the south, we can’t get tenderloins because no one has ever heard of them. When you say “tenderloin” in Nashville, everyone thinks you mean a beef tenderloin – as in a filet mignon. As we took our sweet time going home, we decided to give the Edinburgh diner just one more try.

Located in Edinburgh, Indiana about thirty miles south of Indianapolis; the Edinburgh Diner appears to be inside what used to be a Dairy Queen. They have a lot of specials on a chalk board, a fairly extensive menu and they serve breakfast at any time. Susan was happy about that.

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In May of 2019, we stopped there on our way home from the GMR Grand Prix. The place is famous for their giant breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. I had seen pictures of these things on Facebook and had to try one. To be honest, I was disappointed. The reality did not come close to the hype. Mine had been pounded way too thin and was vastly overcooked. The meat inside had been turned into an inedible chip on the edges. What recognizable meat I could see, was still very tough and dry. The only positive thing I could say was that the breading had a very good flavor. I left being very underwhelmed.

For the past three years, friends of mine have gone there and insisted I give it another chance. Yesterday I did, and I’m glad. I must have gotten a rare dud three years ago, because this one was delicious! The meat was thicker and it was cooked perfectly. The white meat inside of the perfectly seasoned breading was still juicy and flavorful.

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Susan said she wanted to get a picture of my first bite. What she didn’t tell me was that she got a full twenty-five second video of me trying to situate the mammoth piece of meat on the actually not-so-small bun. The funniest part is when I dropped it on my plate after the first bite, with a resounding thud – that’s how heavy it was.

Did I eat it all? No way. We boxed it up and it is currently in our refrigerator. I figured the air-fryer will bring it back to life nicely and it should make for a full dinner tonight. If you ever find yourself on I-65 just south of Indianapolis, make a point to stop at the Edinburgh Diner. It’s worth the five-minute detour.

Drive of the Day: In all honesty, I would have to give the Drive of the Day to Will Power. He only moved up one spot from his starting position, but he drove a flawless race and did what he needed to do. He was under a lot of pressure to perform, after taking out two of his three teammates in Nashville

Others worthy of mention were Alexander Rossi, who drove from tenth to finish fourth in a tight battle all day with Jack Harvey; Graham Rahal with another solid drive, starting sixteenth and finishing seventh and Josef Newgarden, who started way back in twentieth and managed to finish eighth.

All in All: We were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway watching Indy cars on track. We got to eat a great dinner Saturday night at Dawson’s and we got to see a lot of our racing friends. What’s not to like?

The IndyCar race was decent. From what I’ve heard, it will show up even better on television. I’ve also heard that Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race was a debacle, but I really don’t care. If I had cared, we would’ve stuck around for it yesterday.

I wasn’t wild to see IndyCar not in Gasoline Alley, but in a hospitality parking lot under nylon awnings. It was a NASCAR weekend, and IndyCar was something of an uninvited guest. Most people I talked with had no problem with it, but I did. I guess that’s the old curmudgeon coming out in me.

But it was fun, we made it home safely and we were both happy we went. Now it’s time to unpack, do laundry, go to work for four days and head to St. Louis for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Worldwide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Friday. That’ll be three IndyCar weekends in a row at three different tracks to close out our in-person racing season. Life is good!

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Random Thoughts on The Brickyard Weekend”

  1. I hate that Will Power whined about James Hinchcliffe during the race and then took another shot at him after the race. It looked on tv that Power wasn’t close enough to complain. It seems to me that Power should worry more about trying not to hit his own teammates as he did at Nashville and not take shots at competitors. Color me not a Will Power fan. (also Joseph Newgarden took shots at Hinchcliffe after qualifying saying he was too slow. What did James do to puss off the two Penske drivers?) I respect team Penske but am not fans of the drivers at all.

  2. Jimmie qualified and finished ahead of Helio, which helps prove my point that outside of Indy, Shank is taking a step back with him in that car full time! Love that sandwich George and I hope you enjoyed it, I was checking their menu and couldn’t believe that was on 9.99 for that giant (maybe prices have gone up a bit but still, seems affordable).

    • It was still $9.99 as of yesterday, and that includes a side choice of fries or soup. I chose the soup and it was good.

    • I feel Shank has hired Helio because he won the 500 and thereby helps bring sponsors to the team. Also because the team want to buy driver experience of a winner and hire a younger driver who will benefit from that driver experience. Why I do not know but the team has apparently got an invisible wall in the garage at present ( like Valentino Rossi/Lorenzo at Yamaha back a few years ) so changes required. Whether these are the right changes time will tell.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    That is quite a tenderloin!

    O’Ward will be champion for sure when he learns to manage his tires better, he may be anyways. Lundgaard also struggled managing tires, but that’s to be expected given his experience. IMS seems to be the one track where Harvey really keeps his tires under him.

    Ferrucci’s reputation for crashes seems to be worse than the actual number of crashes he has been involved in. I expect Hy Vee will determine whether or not he drives for Rahal next season as much as anyone.

    The Cup race was good until the mess with the curb at the end, but no race that ends with an AJ Allmendinger victory lane interview is a debacle. Will Power should watch one and take notes.

  4. That sandwich is completely insane…..and yet, now I want one! haha. If that outlet mall in Edinburgh is still around, I might be able to convince the wife this is a necessary road trip!

  5. jollinger Says:

    Re whether drivers come back next season or not, and for which teams: the problem for us is that we only see the visible part of the iceberg. On-track performance isn’t the whole thing. We don’t know how the driver gets along with the rest of the team or the sponsors, and whether sponsorship dollars are involved. Those things matter.

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