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NASCAR mailbag: Should Indianapolis still host a Sprint Cup Series race?

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The lack of fans at the Brickyard 400, Tony Stewart’s future, and the suspension of Kevin Harvick’s crew chief are among the topics in this week’s mailbag.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

He may have stormed to a commanding Brickyard 400 victory, but the attention wasn't on Kyle Busch Sunday. Instead the spotlight was elsewhere, including what is likely the final race for Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the dearth of spectators who witnessed Busch's dominating performance.

Not surprisingly, these two topics are also the chief focus of this week's NASCAR mailbag. That and lug nuts, of course, as that season-long issue again came to the forefront with the suspension of Kevin Harvick's crew chief, Rodney Childers, on Wednesday.

Mailbag questions can be submitted by emailing jordanmbianchi@gmail.com.

When is NASCAR going to wake up and realize that Indy shouldn't be on the schedule? The racing is terrible and the crowd is worse. Using your failed marriage analogy, why don't both sides just admit this isn't working and move on?

--Sam

Because of the recently established five-year agreement between the sanctioning body and its tracks, Indianapolis is locked into hosting a Sprint Cup race through the 2020 season. Not that NASCAR would seek to remove Indianapolis from the schedule, as it would essentially be admitting publicly it failed to deliver a product worthy of racing at the landmark speedway.

That's a bad look for a company already struggling to recapture market share and trying to entice a major Fortune 500 business to sign on as entitlement sponsor.

Now, what could potentially happen is track officials go to NASCAR and ask to get out of the sanctioning agreement citing high operation costs and little return. The Indianapolis Business Journal had an in-depth report last week on how the Brickyard 400 is not the moneymaking venture it once was, and it's devolved to the point where the once unthinkable is now possible.

Then again, despite Sunday's race being rather dull, television ratings saw an 11 percent viewership increase over 2015, according to Sports Media Watch, and it was the most-watched program in NBC Sports Network history. And with television ratings trumping attendance in all sports, not just NASCAR, there obviously is still interest in seeing stock cars race around Indianapolis -- no matter how boring it may be.

Do you think Tony is really done racing at the Brickyard? That race just means so much to him that I can't believe he won't come back and race there again.

--Andy

As Gordon showed in coming out of retirement to fill in for an ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., it's hard to resist the overtures of a strong-willed owner needing a last-minute substitute. Loyalty combined with the allure of racing at a special track is quite tempting.

And as Stewart himself said Friday, if a scenario developed where Stewart-Haas Racing found itself requiring a substitute driver, Stewart is the ideal candidate to step in. He checks many of the same boxes Gordon did for Rick Hendrick: deep ties to the team, which makes for an easy transition, and he's more than capable of being competitive.

Beyond a relief role, however, Stewart's options for returning in a one-off are limited by NASCAR rules prohibiting him from driving for a team other than SHR. To do otherwise would circumvent the rule limiting an individual from having an ownership stake in the maximum four cars. Hence, the only way Stewart is racing in Sprint Cup after this season is with one of the existing four SHR teams and no one else.

Everyone always talks about how Indianapolis isn't a good NASCAR track, but is there anything that can really be done to fix it?

--Ian

Short of Indianapolis adding banking or NASCAR magically finding a way to make the cars less aerodynamic-dependent, there is little that can be done to improve the on-track product. Big flat tracks simply are not conducive to hosting quality stock car races.

And Indianapolis becoming a substandard track for NASCAR isn't some kind of revelation. If you go back and review previous Brickyard 400s, you'll notice there have been very few great moments due to a great race or dramatic finish. Most of the memorable happenings have involved factors such as Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart winning in front of their home fans, the Bodine brothers engaging in a family feud, or Paul Menard's surprise fuel-mileage victory.

What Indianapolis is about is prestige, history and winning at an iconic venue. Take away those elements and what's really left?

How crazy is it Kevin Harvick loses his crew chief for a race, but Matt Kenseth gets to keep his New Hampshire win despite his car failing tech?

--Fran

It is puzzling. A crew chief whose car won -- in this instance, Jason Ratcliff -- yet failed postrace technical inspection was permitted to keep the victory. Why? Because NASCAR has a longstanding policy of wanting fans to know the winner immediately after the checkered flag flies, even if the winning car may have been cheated up. This practice is archaic, stemming from a bygone era when social media and continuous news coverage didn't exist.

Which is all well and good to some extent. A minor infraction like the one found on Kenseth's car isn't necessarily deserving of having a victory stripped away when it had no bearing on the outcome. The problem is, if you're going to suspend a crew chief for lug nuts not being tightened properly -- something a crew chief doesn't control -- then a suspension certainly seems warranted for an issue they do oversee, like the ride height and chassis alignment.

But that's NASCAR in a nutshell in its current state: full of contradictions that leave fans and competitors alike confused on how the sport is governed.