To those who watch a vast array of motorsports, the word “Indygate” may ring a bell to you. To those who do not know, “Indygate” was a Formula One controversy during the 2005 United States Grand Prix. To make a very long story short, Michelin- one of the tire suppliers in Formula One- brought tires that were not up to spec with the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit. Rather than risk getting drivers injured or killed, Michelin had all of their teams retire from the race after the formation lap, leaving the Bridgestone teams alone on the grid. Only six cars would run the 53-lap race distance, and this controversy tainted the United States market for Formula One. This market took five years to recover with Circuit of the Americas opening.
For some context, NASCAR had been racing at the Brickyard since 1994 and it can be argued that the Brickyard 400 (and its other titles) was a massive event on the NASCAR calendar, a marquis event even. However, NASCAR has a similar story that would take place three years after “Indygate.” It wasn’t that this controversy came about because NASCAR had never been to Indy before or Goodyear brought the wrong tires (much like Michelin); it was the opposite. Goodyear had tons of data on Indy and even made modifications to their compound after Indy was resurfaced and diamond ground for the 2005 season (This is what Michelin did not account for the 2005 US GP). There are two crucial details to account for: Goodyear held one tire test in preparation for the race. It was not an open test but a closed one. Goodyear had thought they had enough data to construct a proper tire for the race and did not think another test was necessary. The other detail was the car itself: The Car of Tomorrow.
The Car of Tomorrow (CoT) was the next generation of a race car that was first raced in 2007 on a part-time schedule. The car would go full-time in 2008. While many drivers, teams, and fans hated the look and drivability of the cars, this was the solution to the problems NASCAR had identified with the Gen 4 car: cost management, safety, and aerodynamic performance. Whether they succeeded in this venture is up for debate; however, the CoT posed a problem that NASCAR and Goodyear did not account for, the car’s handling and pressure on the tires. Goodyear had constructed the tires from the data collected from the closed test and assumed that the tires would wear like previous years. This was not the case.
During practice, teams reported that the tires wore out exceptionally quickly, roughly ten or twelve laps. Goodyear had no idea why the tires were wearing out so fast and couldn’t find a solution before race day. NASCAR stated publicly that they would be throwing a competition caution every ten laps on the grounds of tire wear- this was a rule NASCAR had on the books due to the 1969 Talledega 500 (a future story) where tires wore extremely fast. This was a good move considering their circumstances. However, that did not stop the race from being a dumpster fire; a sold-out crowd witnessed cars run up to speed for ten laps, a caution came out, cars come down pit road, change tires, and run ten more laps; lather, rinse, repeat. Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch, and others would have tire failures or tire-related issues to compound the poor racing further. At the end of the race, Jimmie Johnson would win from the pole, but no one cared. NASCAR, Goodyear, the fans, the drivers, and the teams were happy that this race was over. Goodyear and NASCAR made changes to their tire testing after this event, yet another good move by NASCAR and Goodyear. Fans, however, were furious and expressed their rage with their hard-earned money.
If you were to ask a fan what caused NASCAR at the Brickyard to collapse, they would point to this race, and the stats show it. The race suffered significant attendance drops every year, going from one of the most attended races of the year (200,000 attendees) to barely having anyone show up (slightly 50,000 attendees). Want to know why NASCAR races on the road course and not the oval? This race is why. Sure, there were great moments from NASCAR’s history at the Brickyard, some that will have to be visited in later stories, but the memory of this race overpowers all of those great moments. Some fans wish NASCAR would return to the oval, and some drivers share that sentiment, and it could if the market for it is there, but would a return to the oval work out? Would NASCAR be able to escape the shadow of 2008? Maybe we’ll see the oval return to the schedule in five years. It took Formula One five years to return to the United States after “Indygate,” but only time will tell.
“Race Results – Racing-Reference.” Racing, 28 July 2022, https://www.racing-reference.info/race-results/2008_Allstate_400_At_The_Brickyard/W/