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Random Lugnuts: Indianapolis and Unconventional Wins

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Open Wheel Racing Topics:  NASCAR, Indianapolis Motor Speedway What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: Indianapolis and Unconventional Wins

Bill Crittenden
July 22, 2009

Opening Lap

Underneath Yahoo!'s NASCAR coverage headline "Who's zoomin' who?" was the question:  "Indianapolis Motor Speedway is known as the racing capital of the world, but does NASCAR still need it?"  Basically, what I can discern from the video commentary is that, having got what they wanted from Indianapolis Motor Speedway (prestige and attention in an era when open wheel racing was the premiere American motorsport), the question now is why bother to stick around at a track that doesn't provide the most exciting racing?

My take on this is that NASCAR needs Indianapolis for its credibility.  NASCAR is an organization that likes to show off its history, but it's also been abandoning that past recently, cutting dates from historic tracks in favor of "New Markets."

Although NASCAR's stock cars didn't take laps around the track until 1992 and didn't race until 1994, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most historic track in the United States.  Not even Daytona (sorry, but it's true) can compare to the elder statesman of American racing, which as of last month has been in business for over a century and whose signature race, the Indianapolis 500, has been run since 1911.  For perspective, that was a little under four years before Red Byron, NASCAR's first Strictly Stock champion, was even born.

Leave Indy, and the races run there just become more footage for those nostalgic video montages that NASCAR likes play to show off its history, more lip service to history that NASCAR doesn't truly respect as long as they're busy chasing the mirage of dollar signs in the distance known as New Markets.  But when the heart of the arguments against staying at Indy are essentially "we got what we came for, now let's get out of here?" it makes me wonder if NASCAR really does respect its history, or if their references to the past are just there because someone in Marketing thought it might help the bottom line?

Also, to leave the most historic track in American motorsports because of a lack of action while running TWO races in Fontana, California is a real slap in the face to NASCAR fans in the Midwest.

Victory Lane

Strategy wins have been a part of racing since the days of Oldfield and DePalma.  Don't recognize those names? They're some of those guys who raced at Indy four decades before NASCAR even existed.  I think the only racing series that doesn't have to deal with fuel mileage wins is drag racing, and that's for quite obvious reasons.

Anyway, in the particular case of David Reutimann's win at Charlotte, all those teams ahead of him on the track when NASCAR threw the final caution knew that the yellow flag could be followed by the red flag, and the red flag followed by calling the race. How many cars came down pit road for service and let Reutimann pass them for the win?  It's not like the other teams didn't have a choice in the matter.

The controversy is created when drivers who haven't won a full distance race win the rain-shortened ones (like Reutimann and Logano). It gives the impression that if that's the only way they've been able to win, that somehow it's easier or unfair to win a rain-shortened event. I think that the situations these drivers find themselves in allow them to take chances that teams in championship points contention are too conservative to try, and occasionally success is the result.  Similar to how sometimes the go-or-go-home cars take the pole on impound races, when many of the other cars could have easily beaten them but didn't want to sacrifice their race setup to do so because they're worried about the big picture and making the Chase.  Reutimann and his team, in a situation where a win was unlikely, took a risk other teams ahead of him on the track were unwilling to take. And it paid off.

And while on the subject, I can also say that fuel mileage wins are earned, no doubt about it.  Just as winning any race is a combination of a competitive, well tuned car, the driver's ability and the pit strategy needed to be in the front of the pack at the end of the race, these factors are essential in a fuel-mileage win: a well tuned car, the driver's ability to drive his car fast enough to run up front yet efficiently enough to get across the finish line, the brains to figure out just how close to the edge the car's fuel is and the guts to make the call and go for broke.

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