(by John Oreovicz espn.go.com 7-24-16)
Just how tedious was the 23rd annual Brickyard 400?
The most intriguing story coming out of Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday for people who follow racing was the public confirmation that Tony George was quietly named chairman of the board of the speedway, in addition to its parent company, Hulman & Co., some four months ago.
Sure, there was Indy's 160-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race -- actually, make that 170, thanks to a series of overtime crashes -- which to the surprise of no one was dominated by Kyle Busch and the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas.
Busch swept the Indianapolis weekend for the second year in a row, winning the Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 on Saturday as a warm-up to his triumph in the main show.
His mastery of IMS was even more convincing this year, as he won from pole position in both races and led 149 laps on Sunday.
With the race itself an unwatchable dud, hopes that Jeff Gordon's temporary comeback or local hero Tony Stewart's final Brickyard start would provide compelling storylines fell flat.
Gordon's return to replace the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. fizzled out, with the No. 88 car never showing strongly all afternoon and taking a quiet 13th place. And Stewart's recent return to his old form was blunted Sunday by a pit lane speeding violation that relegated the hometown hero to 11th at the flag.
That made George's ascension to the chairman's seat of his family's companies the biggest story of the day, marking a comeback that rivals any we've ever seen on the executive side of the sport.
The news broke in unorthodox fashion. George was voted into the chairman roles during Hulman & Co.'s annual meeting in March, but there was no public confirmation of the change until he was introduced as the IMS chairman over the Speedway's public address system when he stepped out to give the command to start engines for Sunday's race.
Talk about a private company that really keeps things private.
Now 56, George was named president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1989 when he was just 29 years old, kicking off a turbulent 20-year run.
During his tenure, George brought NASCAR to Indianapolis with the first Brickyard 400 in 1994, and he also built a road course in the IMS infield that hosted the Formula One United States Grand Prix from 2000-07.
But George is more famous (or infamous) for creating the Indy Racing League and using the Indianapolis 500 as a bargaining chip in the quest to take control of Indy car racing from CART. The 13-year civil war between the two Indy car series from 1996-2008 caused huge damage to the sport, which it still continues to recover from.
After Indy car racing was unified as the IndyCar Series under Hulman &. Co leadership, George resigned as the league's CEO in 2009, and he relinquished his board roles in 2011. He was reinstated to the IMS and Hulman & Co. boards in 2013; with his 82-year-old mother Mari Hulman-George in failing health, his recent ascension to the chairman role doesn't come as a surprise. Just family business.
Still, the fact that Hulman & Co. chose not to publicize the move indicates they understand the perception of putting George back in charge still carries some public relations baggage with longtime Indy car fans -- even though as the board chairman, he will have little or no influence on the company's day-to-day operations.
Critics should not lose sight of the fact that while TG takes most of the blame for what has happened to Indy car racing over the past 20-plus years, many of the things that he did were positive for the speedway.
The Brickyard 400 was a huge success for the first half of its 23-year existence, and it still remains a moneymaker for IMS. The F1 race and a subsequent Moto GP event on the road course delivered a new audience to the famous old oval.
George was also the driving force behind the creation of one of the most important safety innovations in the history of oval racing -- the SAFER Barrier, with IMS commissioning and financing its development.
With the Brickyard 400 a total snoozefest, perhaps it was a stroke of genius for IMS to release news of George's promotion on a day when the track was otherwise generating negative headlines due to the poor quality of racing.
If it isn't clearly obvious by now, NASCAR stock cars are simply not compatible with the Brickyard oval. The unique single-groove track, with long straights and four low-banked 90-degree corners, just sets up for boring, single-file running.
Add in a 110-degree heat index like we had on Sunday, and it's no wonder the Brickyard struggles to attract 50,000 fans these days when it was a 250,000-plus sellout in the early years.
It's still a profitable event for IMS, but with all those empty seats, it's also a bit of an embarrassment to the grand old track.
As the chairman of the board, it's not Tony George's responsibility to fix the Brickyard 400 -- that job falls to Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles and IMS president Doug Boles, among others.
But you can bet your bottom dollar that he's going to be paying close attention to whatever solutions they come up with.