By Bruce Martin
July 28, 2008

The crowd at last weekend's AllState 400 at the Brickyard was the smallest in the 15-year history of the race. After Sunday's tire debacle at Indy, imagine how small the crowd could be next year.

The fans were once again the big losers as NASCAR and Goodyear gave them something they would like to forget in what could forever be known as the "Competition Yellow 400." About the only thing these two groups did right was put safety first, deciding to throw a competition yellow every 10 laps or so to keep the right rear tires from blowing up and potentially injuring a driver.

"I've never seen anything like this," said four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon. "I really hate that it happened at the Brickyard. It's such a big race. I think all of us are disappointed with what happened here today. It's embarrassing, and it's disappointing. I don't know where to start, really. We've got ourselves into a position here where obviously something's going to have to be done."

NASCAR and Goodyear certainly didn't anticipate the issues that would develop in the new car's (previously known as the Car of Tomorrow) first trip to Indy. Instead of staging an open test at the unique 2-1/2-mile oval in advance of the annual trip to Indianapolis, crew chiefs and officials decided to skip it and use the dates at a different track. That was a terrible mistake as the yellow flag flew so often it left the fans seeing red. The longest green flag run was 12 laps, capped by a seven-lap dash to the finish won by pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson, who claimed his second win in this race in the last three years.

But this was certainly no race to celebrate. And don't blame the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this sordid affair because the track surface has remained constant since 2005. That was the year of the Formula One tire fiasco, in which 14 cars on Michelin tires pulled in on the parade lap to boycott the race, charging that the tire company had badly misread the track conditions when it built its tires. Its competitor, Bridgestone, had no tire issues in that race, in which only six cars fought it out.

"We just have to take what we learned today and do a better job next year as a group," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition. "It's fair to say we won't do the same thing next year we did this year. We tried to put our best foot forward and make the best judgment calls that we could getting prepared for this race. For sure, it didn't come off the way we wanted it to."

It may have been a single-car crash, but the aftermath of Matt Kenseth's right-rear tire exploding gave tremendous visual evidence of the incredibly precarious conditions the NASCAR drivers faced on Sunday.

The explosion from the tire blew the right-rear quarter-panel off the car, making it look like a bomb had ignited.

"I could see it in the mirror that part of the quarter-panel was blown off," Kenseth said. "It's a really, really, really disappointing situation. This is one of the two biggest races of the year, and to never have this tire here before and not come and do an open test and to work on these things and work on the tires, it's pretty darn disappointing. We had a great car today. I feel bad for the fans; we're running three-quarters speed because we're worried of the tires blowing out, and they got blown out every eight laps.

"You get about six corners' worth of warning, about a lap and a half. It'll just get loose if it's the right rear. That's when it started shaking, about three seconds before it blew out."

"I'm sure after a long, hard race I'll be ready for a good old drink of water." -- A.J. Foyt IV describing the IndyCar street course at Edmonton's City Centre Airport.

"We're all IRL people now," -- Graham Rahal, when asked by a Canadian reporter if the IRL drivers had made improvement on the track compared to the former drivers from Champ Car, who had raced here in the past.

"Once a driver; always a driver. You just have to give him a car." -- Team owner Derrick Walker on Paul Tracy's successful return to the cockpit of an IndyCar.

"I really don't know. I've only lived as a girl so..." -- IndyCar driver Danica Patrick when asked by a Canadian journalist if it would be different how she were perceived if she were a male race driver.

"Maybe we should give them some boxing gloves."-- IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe when told that Danica Patrick would start 14th and Paul Tracy 15th in Saturday's Edmonton IndyCar race.

Excited fans everywhere, with big crowds for the three days of the event, and a city buzzing with excitement.

No, that's not a description of the scene at Indianapolis, the site of Sunday's AllState 400 at the Brickyard. That's a description of the IndyCar Series' first-ever race in Canada. Suffice to say, the Rexall Edmonton Indy at the City Centre Airport was a stunning success.

When the IndyCar Series unified in February, Edmonton was an event that had to be put on this year's schedule because it was one of the most successful races on the old Champ Car schedule. During the first year of the Edmonton race in '05, a three-day total of over 200,000 spectators came to the airport circuit.

With this year's race being held from Thursday through Saturday, there was concern that the spectator attendance would be off from the traditional Friday-Sunday schedule. But with perfect weather all three days, there were big crowds for Thursday's practice sessions, Friday's qualifications and a capacity crowd for Saturday's race won by Scott Dixon.

While the track promoter did not announce attendance figures, Saturday's race probably drew 60,000, with 50,000 fans on Thursday and 50,000 on Friday for a three-day total over 160,000. The "Festival City" looked like the host city of an NCAA Final Four, replete with race souvenir booths set up throughout the airport and the city.

"When I first went out I couldn't believe how many people were here for a practice on a Thursday," said Dixon. "I haven't seen anything quite like that before. It was fantastic to see that support and the fans were quite knowledgeable, too. They are great fans."

"I love Canada," said Tony Kanaan. "On Thursday it looks like a Sunday for us. We could barely walk through the paddock. This is the kind of event that we need. It's amazing."

And for the drivers, it was a demanding circuit, with fast speeds and slick areas that made it a handful for even the best drivers to keep it on the race course.

Paul Tracy's return to the cockpit of an IndyCar literally brought him from laying on the couch to a top-five finish in the Rexall Edmonton Indy.

"It shows that I wasn't going to come out and get in bad equipment and run around at the back," said the 39-year-old Canadian driver. "I feel that I can do the job with the right car. I showed that today. Waiting for the right opportunity was the right thing to do.

"It sure feels like a win. A week ago I was hanging out in England and a week before that I was hanging out on the beach in San Diego. I've been out of the car since April and people were telling me to get in any car and drive, but I didn't want to get in a bad car and drive. I knew with the right equipment I could drive. That opportunity came along to race in Canada and we delivered the goods. It's a relief to know I can race with these guys."

That right opportunity came from Vision Racing team owner and Indy Racing League CEO Tony George and Derrick Walker, who joined forces with Subway of Canada to bring back the one big name driver that has been missing from IndyCar unification.

Tracy was unable to get a full season ride when his Champ Car Series team owner, Gerry Forsythe, refused to release the 31-race winner from his contract and Forsythe chose not to join the unified series.

George, once his bitter rival after he ruled against Tracy following the disputed finish in the 2002 Indianapolis 500, came up to the driver and gave him a warm congratulation for the monumental finish.

"People were saying I've got to come out and prove myself and show that I could still drive at my age," said Tracy. "We came from 16th to fourth. It was a hard race and I'm really proud of the guys who worked hard in the pit. I have to thank everyone for this opportunity and hopefully this will lead to something bigger and better for us."

Tracy and Walker want to continue their relationship in more IndyCar races this season but that is dependent on sponsorship over the last four events.

A little bit of that spark came when Tracy heard about a bet some of his former crewmembers at Forsythe Racing made with Walker's crew; that Tracy would be a flop in his first IRL race since losing the 2002 Indy 500 to Helio Castroneves in a blink of the caution light, a ruling by chief steward Brian Barnhart and a final decision by George.

"They made bets against me that I wouldn't break the top-20 all weekend because they think the problem at Forsythe was me and not the team," Tracy said. "They bet some people on my team that we would be lost all weekend and not competitive. In practice we ran in the top six or seven, so it was nice to rub some salt in their wounds."

And, he was able to win his crew members a little extra money by taking up the bet with his former Forsythe crewmembers.

While Danica Patrick continues to fight off controversy, she remains the face of the IndyCar Series and has been nominated for the Teen Choice Awards this weekend in Hollywood.

"I'm very honored and flattered to be up for such prestigious awards like Best Female Athlete," Patrick said. "I was fortunate enough to win best female athlete at the Kids Choice Awards earlier this year and was up for best female athlete again at the ESPYs and now the Teen Choice. I'm looking forward to going out there. One of the very big fan bases that I have is children and kids, so it's always nice to be able to see them. Nothing puts a smile on your face quite like kids, especially when you can make them smile. I'm looking forward to going out there next Sunday."

Patrick continued to be asked about her confrontations with fellow drivers, most notably the celebrated incident with Milka Duno at Mid-Ohio last week.

"As a driver, I am not afraid to have conversations with other drivers, which sometimes, I think in my life, I'm definitely under a close eye and there are always cameras and TVs and things around so I just have to watch what I'm doing and where I'm doing it at," Patrick said.

"That's probably the lesson that I have learned over the past few years; people are always watching. What can I say? It's a double-edged sword. You do good things and that's fantastic, and then you do other things that are good or bad or just indifferent or can be something that people can draw their own opinions about, and those are the fine lines that you walk. I just have to be aware of that."

A recent survey by Forbes listed Patrick as the seventh top earning female athlete.

"I know as a team, my family and myself, everyone that works closely with us has worked very hard to make sure that we do a good job with public image, with endorsements, with marketing and advertising for companies," Patrick said. "That's important to us, so we've made sure that we've done a good job trying to maintain as well as get to a new level. I think it works. I'm flattered to be in the top-10."

A weekend off for the first time since Easter Sunday on March 23. That and watching from afar as NASCAR heads to Pocono for the second of its two trips to the Pennsylvania track.

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