Bruce Martin
Monday August 4th, 2008

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- A week that began with NASCAR apologizing for the embarrassing tire situation at the Brickyard, ended in similar fashion as Pocono winner Carl Edwards apologized for fighting with crew chief Bob Osborne over pit strategy in Sunday's Sprint Cup race. In other words, just another week at the races.

But there's another person who has a little apologizing to do. And it's none other that Dale Earnhardt Jr., himself.

In the wake of the Allstate 400 at Indy, where Goodyear's tires were so bad that the longest green-flag run was 12 laps, Earnhardt had this to say last week: "I'll tell you this. Tony George [owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway] said that they weren't changing the track and I don't blame them. It's expensive to pave the track. But diamond-grinding the race track with the grooves does directly have an effect on tire wear. Directly. And anyone who wants to say otherwise is just in denial. All right? So, with that said, obviously I wouldn't expect [Tony] to repave the race track, even though they did diamond-grind it for no good reason."

Hey, Dale, ever heard of the Indianapolis 500? They've been holding that race ever since 1911, so you might have heard about it. Then again, it's not a NASCAR race, so you probably haven't.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was repaved in 2004, and when the track was actually too slick and too smooth following the repaving, IMS officials diamond-ground the surface before the 2005 Indianapolis 500. The surface has produced some incredibly competitive Indy 500s during that time and NASCAR has now competed on that same surface in four Brickyard 400s.

Earnhardt said he was in favor of "not testing" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. "Pocono is a tough, tough race track to get a hold of, more so than Indy," he said. "That's why we picked it to test instead of Indianapolis. It's not that the teams didn't want to test there. There were more important places to go."

Well, Dale, an open test could have given NASCAR and Goodyear officials information that may have prevented the tire situation that developed at the Brickyard this year.

There is no denying that NASCAR is the most popular form of racing in the United States with loyal fans and strong corporate support. But this is yet another example of how some Cup drivers don't have respect for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to auto racing.

It's enough to make Indy legends Ray Harroun, Bill Vukovich and Wilbur Shaw roll over in their graves.

Pat on the back for Goodyear, which redeemed itself last weekend. As rain started falling during the Nationwide Series race in Montreal, Goodyear officials brought out rain tires that they had been carting around for the last six or so years. Because Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a road course, NASCAR officials allowed the use of those tires, and what followed was a highly entertaining, if rain-shortened, race, won by Canadian driver Ron Fellows. It was the first time a NASCAR race had been conducted with rain tires.

"We felt the race probably came off as good as it could have," said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR. "In hindsight, there might have been one or two little things we could have done different. But we have no experience at running races like that."

Pemberton said standing water, not the tires, caused most of the problems. "When it was [just] wet, everybody's deal went fine, competitors and our stuff alike," he said. "I think it was just making sure that the standing water was gone. There were some areas that the drainage didn't keep up with the precipitation."

The drivers in the race, however, had a blast splashing in the rain. One of the lasting images was Carl Edwards driving around the track with a Squeegee in his left hand as he tried to wipe rain off the windshield

"It was a lot of fun," Greg Biffle said after swimming to an eighth-place finish. "I'm glad I made history."

"It was very cool having Kiefer [Sutherland] here. I had not seen him since I had the chance to be on their show. My girlfriend sent me a text and said he was cheering for me, so that was really neat of him." -- Carl Edwards on 24 star Sutherland attending Sunday's race.

"I walk in and I see this huge picture of Bobby Rahal. He was the inaugural winner. Obviously the competition has always been fierce here, and walking in and seeing that picture of Rahal. I called Mike [Andretti] and said, 'What do you want me to do with it?' We all had a laugh about that." -- Kevin Savoree, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing on taking over the Toronto street course race and finding a picture of Andretti's rival, Bobby Rahal.

Next year's 18-race IndyCar schedule bears a strong resemblance to the old CART schedules of the 1990s as the series said no to two ovals and added two of the most successful street course races in North America. The once "oval-based" IndyCar Series is moving closer to a 50/50 split, according to Terry Angstadt, the president of the commercial division of the series.

"We think it is a good move towards balance," Angstadt said. "Because Champ Car brought a lot of opportunities and a few challenges as exclusively road racing, we think that working towards that 50-50 balance is good. So by incorporating three and possibly four [street and road course races] for the future for now, with continuing interest in some of the other premier markets, we think that a 10-8 for '09, 10 ovals, eight street and road, is a good balance."

New to next year's schedule are the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19 and the streets of Toronto on July 12.

While the IndyCar Series continues to evolve, it is moving away from its oval track heritage, especially after turning down a chance to return to both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway -- two premier ovals that are part of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

The snub drew an angry response from Jerry Gappens, the president and general manager at NHMS who believed the lucrative Boston market was ready for an IndyCar return.

"I think it is a slap in the face to Bruton Smith, our Chairman, and to our company, who have both been very supportive of the Indy Racing League since its inception," Gappens said. "From a historical perspective, Bob Bahre, the former owner of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, was one of the first to agree to go with the Indy Racing League (IRL) when they split from Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1995.

"I sat in a meeting and watched Bruton ask them for a race here, which they seemed extremely interested in doing, pending scheduling conflicts with Japan. In addition, in that same meeting, they asked him to host the series finale in Las Vegas, which Mr. Smith agreed to and even offered the speedway and financial support for it to happen this year. Having attended that meeting in early June, it's hard to believe that neither facility is on the new schedule.

"The feedback that has been conveyed to me is that they don't want to add an additional race to the schedule because of the increased cost to the teams. However, I believe that the purse and the strength of adding the seventh largest media market in the country would offset those costs and concerns. I think this market and facility have a lot to offer the team and series sponsors."

When Angstadt was questioned about the comments made by Gappens when the schedule was officially announced last week, he said he had a cordial conversation with Bruton Smith two days earlier and is hoping to keep an open dialogue with him.

"This is a business. They are a big and successful company. And we hope we can work together in the future, in fact in both venues. But we'll see how that goes. But I was somewhat surprised at the tone as well."

Angstadt believes that while the IndyCar Series has shown growth this season, it isn't ready to fill massive venues such as the 92,000-seat NHMS or the 140,000-seat Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After long consideration, the IndyCar Series finally announced that it will participate in the Gold Coast Indy 300 at Surfers Paradise, Australia on Oct. 26. The final decision to compete was delayed until July 30. Many of the top IndyCar Series teams questioned the value of traveling to Australia for a non-points race and how it would affect the newer teams in the series that are struggling to stay financially afloat.

But in the end, the IndyCar Series decided to honor a commitment made to former Champ Car Series head Kevin Kalkhoven during the unification process in February.

The 2.75-mile, 14-turn street circuit in Queensland has hosted Champ Car and CART events since 1991. Following the event at Surfers Paradise, the IndyCar Series will continue its postseason celebration with a championship banquet in Las Vegas.

The 2008 Gold Coast Indy 300 will run from Oct. 23-26. However, it is not listed on the 2009 IndyCar Series schedule that was announced last week.

With just one race in a five-week period from September until the season-finale at Homestead, Florida on Oct. 11, IndyCar officials believe there is a natural spot for the Australia race if an agreement can be reached for 2009.

"We are in active conversations regarding '09," Angstadt said. "We are keeping a couple of slots open for them. And we're hopeful it can be announced. When we conclude those we'll certainly let everyone know. But we're hopeful we will get them included for '09. But just can't indicate that as yet."

With the Twin Ring Motegi race moving from April to mid-September, Angstadt would like to have the Gold Coast race the following weekend.

"That would be a good spot for it to fit, yes," Angstadt said.

The IndyCar six-race stretch that began June 22 at Iowa, concluded July 26 at Edmonton. Five drivers, including series points leader Scott Dixon, recorded victories during the stretch. Dixon outscored every driver in his quest for a second IndyCar Series championship. He pocketed 221 points during the six races, including 50 each for wins at Nashville and Edmonton. Helio Castroneves, who trails Dixon by 65 points in the standings with four races remaining, was the second-highest scoring driver, with 191 points.

"It's been a stretch where I think we probably could have maximized a little bit more as well, but that's the way it goes," said Dixon, whose only finish outside of the top five during the stretch was an 11th at Watkins Glen International. "You have to try and make the most of it, especially when you have races that you don't do the best at."

McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen scored his first-ever Formula One victory in the Grand Prix of Hungary after Felipe Massa's Ferrari broke down while leading just three laps from the finish. Lewis Hamilton was able to finish fifth after suffering a punctured tire, but he retains his championship lead with 62 points, five more than Kimi Raikkonen.

Massa would have led the standings if he had made it to the finish. He was nine seconds ahead of Kovalainen when his Ferrari conked out. He is third with 54 points.

It's too bad that NASCAR won't allow the rain tires to be used at Watkins Glen this week when the Sprint Cup Series competes in its final road course race of the season. While the tires can be used for the Nationwide Series race, NASCAR announced it won't use the rain tires in the Cup race. Now, that would have been something to look forward to.

After a one-week break, the IndyCar Series heads to Kentucky Speedway for a twilight race on Saturday night. With just four races remaining, Dixon is closing in on his second title.

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