Tuesday, July 28, 2009
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NASCAR, fans move on after '08 Indy debacle

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[July 28, 2009]  INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- John Destin wiped the sweat from his forehead with a $5 can of beer, ran his hands through his brown hair and took a sip.

RestaurantIt didn't matter that it was only 10:30 a.m. or that the green flag for Sunday's NASCAR race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was still four hours away.

The sun was out. The beer was cold. The nightmare that was NASCAR's visit to the Brickyard last summer was firmly in Destin's rearview mirror.

"I'm over it," Destin said. "I hadn't really thought about it to be honest until somebody asked me."

That's the way NASCAR and Goodyear would prefer it following the embarrassing tire debacle that marred last year's race, which was reduced to a series of 10- to 12-lap sprints because the tires had trouble holding up.

Jimmie Johnson held off Carl Edwards for the victory, but the maddening day at one of the circuit's showcase events left fans fuming and Goodyear scrambling.

It took a ton of research and seven tire tests, but Goodyear appears to have gotten the formula right.

Practice sessions leading up to the 400-mile race produced long runs with no major accidents, and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon called last year's tire woes a "non-issue."

During the prerace drivers meeting, NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton called Goodyear senior vice president Jean-Claude Kihn "my new best friend" and congratulated the company for developing a tire they expect to hold up to the unique challenge of racing at Indy.

"I speak for everybody, good job," Pemberton said.

NASCAR wasn't the only one trying to reach out to fans.

The track slashed ticket prices along the backstretch -- from $75 to $45 -- to help make the race more affordable during the economic downturn.

While there were still large pockets of empty seats less than an hour before the race, track spokesman Ron Green called the promotion a success. Green, however, said the drivers deserve most of the credit for doing their best to ease the fears of fans still steamed at last year's disaster.

"When Tony Stewart left his last tire test here and said they have a tire that's going to make a good race, the following week we had our best week of selling tickets the entire year," Green said. "That continued on after the test."

Still, there were plenty of good deals on the corners outside the massive 2.5-mile oval just hours before the race.

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Karen Morris and boyfriend Michael Smith didn't decide to head to Indy until Saturday night, when the forecast predicted blue skies and cool temperatures.

No tickets? No problem. Morris and Smith picked up a pair of seats along the pit road terrace for $40 a piece from a scalper, half off the $80 face value.

"We might have gotten them even cheaper, but we didn't want to spend all day looking for it," Morris said.

The bigger surprise to Morris was the lack of traffic around the famed speedway. The couple left Columbus, Ohio, around 5:30 a.m. and by 10 a.m. they were standing in line at Stewart's merchandise trailer.

"We thought maybe we wouldn't get here until 11 or noon at the earliest," Smith said as he waited to buy a bib emblazoned with Stewart's No. 14 for a friend's son. "I don't know if it's good for NASCAR, but it's good for me."

Stewart's stand was one of the few where business was hopping on Sunday morning. While the crowd stood 10-deep to pick up gear featuring the Indiana native -- who began the day atop the season points race -- vendors at nearby stands appeared to have plenty of time on their hands.


There was no line at all at stands for David Ragan and Cliff Bowyer, and a couple of Stewart fans mocked the slow going at next door neighbor Kyle Busch's truck.

"Oh, there wouldn't be anybody there anyway, even if we were packed," Smith said with a laugh.

[Associated Press; By WILL GRAVES]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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