Opinion: Stewart is Wrong

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart says it's racing not passing and that fans should be fine with an event even if the leader runs away from the field. (Photo: Getty Images)


Running 400 miles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway wasn’t enough for Tony Stewart on Sunday. Fresh from his fourth-place finish and excited about teammate Ryan Newman’s victory, Stewart chose to lecture those at the track - and those who skipped the event - by defining what racing is and should be.

“Look up racing in the dictionary and tell me what it says ... then look up passing,’’ Stewart said when asked what can be done to increase passing at the Brickyard. “We're racing here.’’

It’s a nice thought and understandable from a competitor’s point of view. Of course he’s going to view it that way. But in this era where people have so many choices for entertainment and limited funds, Stewart’s explanation is as outdated as the term schoolmarm.

Sunday’s race had 20 lead changes but only one was made on the track. The other 19 were the result of the leader going down pit road.

Is that exciting? For purists, such as Stewart, it is. To fans who equate entertainment with constant action, this race was as lame as the film “Sharknado’’ In case Stewart doesn’t understand the reference, the movie was panned.

The lack of drama is a reason why attendance has declined at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Five years ago the estimated attendance was 240,000. Sunday’s crowd estimates were about one-third that total.

Although empty seats are not just a problem at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the issue seems to be more disconcerting there than at other tracks. There is more talk about what is wrong at Indy and how to fix it - Lights? Make it the opening Chase race? - than there is about what is right with that track.

Think about this: Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Race at Stewart’s Eldora Speedway overshadowed the Brickyard for much of the week regardless of ESPN’s promotions. 

Why all the questions about Indianapolis? 

Despite the historic setting, the show - we’ll call it a show instead of a race if that helps Stewart - isn’t as exciting to most. Many fans view excitement as cars running close together, side-by-side, jockeying for position. Indy’s narrow track and tight corners inhibit such action. 

With three cautions, fans saw few examples of tight racing, particularly at the front where the leaders stretched single file. In the last 20 laps, Stewart was the only driver in the top 15 to gain positions without the benefit of a car in front of him pitting. He gained two spots, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth.

That returns us to the racing vs. passing issue that Stewart decried and added “that’s all I’m going to say.’’

Then he continued.

“If you want to see passing, we can go out on 465 and pass all you want,’’ Stewart said of the interstate that circles Indianapolis. “This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn't have to be two‑ and three‑wide racing all day long to be good racing.

“Racing is about figuring out how to take the package you're allowed and make it better than what everybody else has and do a better job with it.’’

Again, that’s the way competitors and some fans view it but not the majority. 

If you want to run more fans away and keep only those who believe in the sport’s purity as Stewart does, then don’t change a thing. Those smaller crowds will make it easier to leave the track after the race with little traffic to avoid.

“I've seen races that were won over a lap, I've seen 20‑second leads here,’’ Stewart said, continuing his discourse. “For some reason in the last 10 years, everybody is on this kick that you have to be passing all the time. It's racing, not passing. We're racing.

“I don't understand where this big kick has come from. We need (the media’s) help as much as anybody to remind people this is racing. When somebody does a good job, does a great job, everybody hates that. I don't understand that. It baffles me as a racecar driver.’’

Let this media person help Stewart. To fight and resist a movement that has been in place for more than a decade, while noble, is the definition of lost cause.

Don’t just take my word. Look at what NASCAR is doing. A key part of the movement to the Gen-6 car was to improve the racing, particularly at the 1.5-mile tracks. Actually, it should be to improve the passing at those tracks.

NASCAR wasn’t seeking to change cars and rules to make it easier for one car to pull away and run away from the field. The goal was to help make it easier for the cars to pass. Why would a sanctioning body want  better passing instead of better racing?

Oh yeah, it’s what fans say they want.

Fans can be wrong, but when they vote with their wallet and decide not to attend your races as often, then one has to listen to them. No matter even if Tony Stewart, one of the foremost leaders in American motorsports, opposes many of them.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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