For the longest time, lap after lap, many who watched or heard the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway steadfastly panned it.
Jimmie Johnson, the five-time Sprint Cup champion whose unbending control over his NASCAR competition has alienated many of the sport’s fans, dominated the 160-lap race around the 2.5-mile Indy layout – almost to the end.
There was practically no passing for the lead. Only the two-car restarts following caution periods offered any anticipation, drama or excitement. And in the end, there wasn’t much of anything.
Via the power and speed of the social networks, many fans expressed their disgust:
“This race would be a good cure for insomnia.”
“Well, guess what? Jimmie is in the lead. Have we seen this before (yawn)?”
“This proves again that Indy is more hype than substance.”
“Understand the history and hype at Indy. But is this race really a crown jewel? Should be Daytona, Bristol, Darlington and Talladega.”
That, again, a relatively small crowd by Indy standards attended the race simply fueled the negative reviews.
An individual who had years of experience at the track estimated the crowd for the Brickyard 400 to be around 70,000.
Not a bad number by any means, but when compared to the estimated attendance for many past NASCAR events to be in the 300,000 range, it is so low that it is virtually mind-boggling.
Again, the social networks buzzed. Comments ranging from Indy’s poor sight lines to the economics of the day – not helped by Indy’s jacked-up hotel rates – to the lame NASCAR competition were blamed for the loss of attendance.
To be fair, attendance at most NASCAR events has dwindled over the years. Indianapolis is simply a part of it.
Maybe there’s a reason for this – one, I might add, that has been expressed often and was repeated on the social networks:
“Why should I spend good money to go to a race when I can stay home and watch it on TV? No, TV is not perfect. But it is cheap.”
But also expressed was the notion that no matter how dull the race was, it might well become something much more substantial and entertaining in the closing laps.
After all, that has happened many times in NASCAR.
And, indeed, it happened at Indy.
No, the result was not a side-by-side dash for victory, or a late-race crash that set up a green-white-checkered finish.
It was a scenario in which the only competitor who could keep up with Johnson beat the race’s dominant driver.
And for that to happen a mistake made all the difference.
With 27 laps to go Johnson, who had led 73 laps, made his final pit stop. The decision was made to change four tires.
But what appeared to be a problem on the right-rear tire change extended his stop to 16 seconds – four more than was routine.
A lap later Newman pitted. His crew chief, Matt Borland, realized the difficulty experienced by Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
So he directed that Newman pit for two tires and fuel only. He knew Newman would have a distinct advantage.
Although Newman and Johnson emerged in 10th and 11th place, respectively, that would change as those ahead of them made their final pit stops.
By lap 149, Newman was in the lead and his margin was 3.3 seconds over Johnson.
Only a late-race caution offered any chance things could change. But it never happened.
Newman went on to victory over Johnson by 2.657 seconds. It wasn’t close.
“Matt and all these guys did a great job,” Newman said. “It was probably the best race car I have ever driven in my entire life.
“I watched Jimmie, kept quiet. I played the old (David) Pearson role. I knew I had a good car. I didn’t want to have a good car and not win the race.
“Matt’s call gave me the track position I needed, taking the two tires. I was just counting down the laps from that point on.
“I didn’t know how far back Jimmie was. I was told it was four seconds at that point. I knew I had to manage my race car and my tires.
“I knew it was so difficult to pass. His car was looking looser and looser as I ran behind him. It was just an exciting day.”
It was Newman’s first victory since he won at Martinsville in the spring of 2012. It was the 17th of his career.
He started from the pole position after he was the last driver to qualify, and ironically, knocked Johnson off the No. 1 spot.
It was Newman’s first win since it was announced earlier this year that he would no longer be part of Stewart Haas Racing next season.
But it’s likely Newman won’t have difficulty getting a good ride. After all, the Brickyard 400 is his second victory among the crown jewel events. He won the 2008 Daytona 500 when he finished ahead of Tony Stewart, presently his team owner.
He is the third Indiana native to win the Brickyard 400. The others are Jeff Gordon, who has won four times and hails from Pittsboro, Ind., and Stewart, a two-time winner from Columbus, Ind.
Newman is an engineer, a Purdue University graduate from South Bend, Ind.
“To me, it’s awesome to be here at Indy,” he said. “It’s awesome because it’s my home state. I grew up racing around here. That makes it special.
“Most people don’t know, I lived out in a shop in Jeff Gordon’s old shop before I ever made it in NASCAR. I slept with the race cars. That was my summer job, working race cars, sleeping in the shop with them.”
As for Johnson, his ninth finish among the top five not only secured his No. 1 standing in points, it enhanced it. He’s now 75 points ahead of Clint Bowyer with six races remaining before the Chase.
As for Indianapolis, there is no doubt this year’s Brickyard 400 did nothing when it comes to enhancement.
But that can – and might – change.