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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will witness the farewell race of Tony Stewart and the return of retired legend and champion, Jeff Gordon, as he fills in for recovering Dale Earnhardt Jr. As the whole world knows, Dale Jr. has been suffering from concussion symptoms and is taking time off to recover from them. The plan so far is for Gordon to fill in for Jr. for the next two races, this one at Indianapolis and next week at Pocono.
Of course this fan knows none of this is news to anyone because it has been pretty much the main topic of many discussions for the last couple of weeks. In fact, it may have taken a little bit of the attention away from this being Tony Stewart’s farewell race in Cup at Indy. That may be a bit of an understatement and it may not be new news but it does add a completely new dimension to the weekend, not to mention the expanded interest it is generating.
With Tony Stewart retiring at the end of this season and this being his final race at Indy, much is planned for the hometown hero himself. It is definitely an emotional time for his fans and, from this fan’s view, probably Tony as well. We all know he is quite capable of focusing on racing and he is definitely doing that this weekend and it is possible he could be kissing the bricks at the end of the day on Sunday. That is by no means a lock and in no way means he has no chance. What it does is add to drama of the other big story taking place this weekend.
Jeff Gordon never said he wasn’t ever going to race again, he only said he wasn’t going to race competitively in the Cup series. He also added if opportunities came up, he would take advantage of them. So… this is not a big a surprise to this fan and not really too many others either. In addition, he will also be filling in for Jr. at Pocono next weekend (barring any unforeseen circumstances) and both of these tracks are places he has won at multiple times.
I don’t think anyone can deny that this is probably the best opportunity that could ever have been imagined for Jeff to make a temporary return to the Cup Series. After all, in his career, Jeff has won at the Brickyard five times and that is the most of anyone. In the same span of his twenty-three year career in NASCAR, he has six wins at Pocono. You add all of that up and it comes to eleven of his ninety-three career Cup wins. No matter how you look at it, “that ain’t too shabby” and I don’t think anyone can argue the point that it’s not a bad set of statistics either.
Apparently, there are those in the media that are at least somewhat surprised and some have even offered the opinion that it is a bad move on the part of Jeff and Hendrick Motorsports too. They have questioned why, with all of the available young talent out in the wings and available to Hendrick Motorsports, they chose to call in a retired “old” driver. They offer their concern that he may be jeopardizing his illustrious career by not performing as well as may be expected. They also offer their concern about the future of the 88 team and what it might be like if Jr. decides to exit in the not-so-distant future because of his susceptibility to concussions. Where they get their ideas from this fan has no idea.
Let’s just be real for a moment or two. Hendrick racing is in a little bit of a slump this year and I don’t think anyone will deny that. Every team goes through times they fall a little behind the competition and have to work their way back to the top. Even Rick Hendrick knows and admits that you can’t be number one forever and knows that once you fall a little behind you have to work hard to regain the edge you once had.
Hendrick Motorsports may be struggling a little but they will come out of it. If they put an up-and-comer in the #88, it could be a good thing for that younger driver but not such a good thing for the #88 team that is presently in the Chase. It also might not be the best thing for the sponsors of the team.
Like it or not, it takes a lot of money to be competitive in NASCAR and sponsors play a large part in that part of the equation and sometimes it is simply a business decision that has to be made. To be fair, they pay a hefty price for the attention they receive from sponsoring a team in NASCAR and they deserve to “get their money’s worth” from the person driving the car on any given race weekend. That may sound a bit cold to some but the reality is in answering the question of which situation gains them the best “visibility” – an unknown “up-and-comer” or a known 4 time champion like a Jeff Gordon? Personally, this fan thinks that question answers itself.
So, in this fan’s opinion, the Brickyard 400 at Indy this year has multiple story lines and probably even more attention grabbing headlines than just the “usual” yearly event. It isn’t just made up of things like the Tony Stewart farewell race or the absence of Dale Jr. in the #88 and his being “replaced” by Jeff Gordon for the weekend. I’m sure there will be lot of people watching just because Jeff Gordon is filling in for Dale Jr. and hoping he just might be in the mix for taking the checkered flag when it falls. Since this is Tony Stewart’s farewell and final race as a real competitor in the Cup series, I am just as sure there will be many pulling for him to win too. That’s not to mention there are 38 other drivers and their fan’s pulling for them to win also.
I can’t help but say, as a fan of NASCAR and the two drivers there has been a particular focus on this weekend, I will be watching this one with particular interest. I think it would be great if, when it comes down to the final laps, the real race comes down to which one will win, Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. I don’t think it will happen as much as I hope it will and I know that it might be a little selfish on my part for it to happen that way BUT… can you think of a better way for this one to end?
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 23, 2016 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, Nascarfansview.com and Justafansview.com
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All music TwoBuckThemes from Mike Stewart unless otherwise stated