There are a few races that NASCAR fans can instantly remember as soon as you mention their name.
Mention the 1998 Daytona 500 and everybody knows that’s when Dale Earnhardt scored his first and only win in the iconic race after 20 years of trying.
And every race fan remembers the 2001 Pepsi 400, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the track where his father was tragically killed earlier that year and scored one of the most emotional wins in NASCAR Cup Series history.
But mention the 2008 Brickyard 400 (officially known as the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard) and NASCAR fans remember that race for a very different reason: It was a total disaster.
Taking the stock cars of NASCAR to Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a controversial decision from the start. Back in 1994, NASCAR became the first race other than the Indianapolis 500 to run at the famed speedway since 1916. NASCAR fans weren’t sure how the bulky cars would race on a track usually reserved for IndyCars, and IndyCar fans didn’t necessarily like the idea of NASCAR running on what was considered sacred ground for their sport.
But for 15 years, the race was one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events, and regularly drew crowds in excess of 275,000 a year as fans packed in to see which of the sport’s top stars would get to “kiss the bricks” at the start/finish line after the race.
Then, the infamous 2008 Brickyard 400 happened.
It was the first full year of NASCAR’s “Car of Tomorrow,” a new style of car that was developed in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death that was supposed to improve driver safety and make for better racing.
But once the cars got on the track for practice, teams quickly discovered that they had a big problem: The tires wouldn’t last.
NASCAR and tire supplier Goodyear had decided not to schedule a test at Indianapolis to test the tire package that they brought for the weekend, and once the cars hit the track the tires quickly wore down to the cords after just a few laps, and would eventually blow out less than 15 laps into a run.
At a track with such high speeds, it was a risk NASCAR wasn’t willing to take. So before the race started, the decision was made to throw a competition caution every 10-12 laps to allow teams to come to the pits and get new tires so that they didn’t have a blowout and wreck on the track.
Of course there were plenty of drivers who didn’t make it that far and had tire failures anyway. Kevin Harvick blew a tire on lap 14. Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew a tire on lap 26 while leading the race. Matt Kenseth hit the wall hard after blowing a tire about 20 laps later, and would later call the race a disappointment for the fans:
“It’s a really, really disappointing situation. You know, this is one of the biggest races in the year, to never have this car here, before or not come into an open test and then working on this things working the tires, it’s pretty darn disappointing…
I feel bad for the fans and everything, when we’re running three quarters speed because we’re worried the tires are going to fall off and we got them blowing every 8 laps. I’m pretty disappointed.”
The whole debacle was an embarrassment for NASCAR and Goodyear, with Jimmie Johnson winning the battle of survival in the final shootout. By the time the checkered flag waved, every single tire that Goodyear had brought to the track had been worn out and was unusable.
After the race, NASCAR apologized for the disaster of a performance, but the race is often seen as the starting point for the decline of the Brickyard 400.
Attendance began to nosedive at the race, and by 2021 NASCAR removed the race from the schedule altogether, instead replacing it with a race on the track’s road course. And many fans even blame the race for the sport’s overall decline, which saw ratings and attendance fall dramatically in the following years.
It was definitely not NASCAR’s finest moment. But mention the 2008 Brickyard 400, and chances are any NASCAR fan who was around back then can tell you exactly what happened during the race on July 27, 2008.