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Prestige of Indianapolis doesn’t match quality of racing

Indianapolis may be one of NASCAR’s biggest races, but what unfolds on the track often leaves something to be desired.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway represents an abundance of wonderful things. It's viewed as a motor sport cathedral, the symbolic home of American racing. An ideal canvas to test a man's bravery, an engineer's ingenuity; where reward far outweighs any risk.

All of these beliefs carry a vestige of veracity. Built in 1909, Indianapolis is the second-oldest racetrack in continuous operation within the United States. And that history has created an unmistakable aura no other track can come close to replicating.

Long straightaways and sweeping corners ideal for Indy-cars that buzz around the 2.5-mile layout at frightening speeds, demanding drivers delicately balance their natural impulse to slow down with a yearning to go faster.

Yet of all the inspiring things the speedway is to so many, they almost all emanate from the track's main attraction, the Indianapolis 500, not from what will be on display when NASCAR pays its yearly visit for Sunday's Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at The Brickyard.

As is obvious to most anyone who's witnessed stock cars lumbering around the track, Indianapolis simply isn't conducive to staging a great NASCAR race. Oh, there have been moments of excellence. Except they're fleeting, often giving way to strung-out fields and little passing.

The insufficient banking, though idyllic for Indy-cars, doesn't provide sufficient grooves for stock cars to run side-by-side. And with drivers able to quickly separate, a dearth of close racing exists. An issue by no means exclusive solely to Indianapolis, but made more noticeable due to its grand stage, where NASCAR's issues with aerodynamics are most noticeable.

"When you look historically, Indy had been a pretty challenging race; a tough place to pass," Jamie McMurray said. "And then you look at when IndyCar goes there, it's one of the best races they have. So, the track has the capability of putting on a really good race."

That traditional lack of excitement seen at Indianapolis, which has turned a near capacity crowd into a sparse throng, is the impetus behind NASCAR introducing a new high-drag rules package for this weekend.

"For us, Indianapolis is one of the marquee events on the schedule each and every year," NASCAR executive vice president Steve O'Donnell said when unveiling the changes July 7. "I think you can see how important it is to our drivers, our race teams, our manufacturers to win that event, so anything we can do to potentially improve upon the race product for the fans, we're going to do that."

Of the changes, most distinct is a 9-inch spoiler -- 3 inches higher than introduced prior to the season and 6 inches higher than the Kentucky-specific package used two week ago.

The bigger spoiler is designed to generate drafting, therefore making it easier for drivers to pass. Opinions vary on whether the new rules package will have the desired effect differ, though drivers are largely in agreement that something must be done to improve the on-track product.

"We'll see how all that pans out and if it produces exactly what NASCAR is looking for," Kyle Busch said. "I'm not 100 percent certain it will, but sometimes I'm not always the most positive person."

If the answer to improve the racing at Indianapolis isn't drafting, then another solution needs to be found. Because as a spectacle, there's no doubting the speedway's stature as one of NASCAR's four major races; it's just beyond the prestige, history and pomp and circumstance actual substance is required.

Indianapolis is still Indianapolis. It matters. Its relevance cannot be overstated. But for too long the style of racing NASCAR puts forth hasn't befitted that significance. Hopefully that changes Sunday.