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Continued: Kiss the Bricks: NASCAR celebrates 20th Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

  • Article by: DAN GELSTON , AP Sports Writer
  • Last update: July 27, 2013 - 6:30 PM

That feeling didn't last for long. Stewart won in 2005 and 2007 and was won over that NASCAR could truly call Indianapolis home.

"It was everything to me," he said. "My whole life, since I was a kid, that's what I wanted to do. Not that I had some fascination with kissing bricks as a child. But my fascination to do it here was pretty obsessive."

NASCAR first kicked the tires of running in Indianapolis in the early 1990s. By 1992, the stock car series was ready to take a dip in the Indy pool with two days of tire testing.

An estimated 30,000 fans at the Speedway chanted "We want a race," as the cars roared from the pit past a hand-lettered sign, "Indy fans love NASCAR."

In 1993, former IMS president Tony George extended the official invitation for NASCAR to come aboard.

On Aug. 4, 1994, NASCAR hit the track for its first practice on the 2½-mile track.

Cup veteran Ken Schrader was the first driver to complete a lap. Greg Sacks was the first to bring out a yellow flag as his engine burst just minutes into the opening session.

Tim Steele became the first to crunch his car against the speedway's concrete walls in an official practice. Steele slid off turn three and slammed into the barrier.

Gordon was the fastest driver in the opening practice.

So it began — and there was no turning back. Gordon, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte have raced in all 20 Brickyards.

IMS later added Formula One, Grand-Am, and motorcycles to the racing schedule. With IMS set for a $100 million makeover, there's even talk of adding lights.

NASCAR at IMS got off track, though, after the Goodyear tire debacle in the 2008 Cup race that soured fans on attending.

Tickets once hotter than the Memorial Day sun are available at bargain prices, and Sunday's race is far from sold out. Crowds and interest have waned as the novelty of stock car racing faded, a problem at most tracks on the circuit. There were empty sections all down the frontstretch for Saturday's Nationwide Series race.

IMS President Doug Boles said the track would have around 100,000 fans on Sunday.

"It's still six figures, it's still a great, big event," he said. "Daytona's tearing down their down grandstands and they're coming up out of the ground with 101,000 seats. Because the Indianapolis 500 has a significant crowd, we don't have the ability to eliminate seats."

The Cup was overshadowed this week by the Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway that marked NASCAR's return to dirt after a four-decade absence. Drivers were still buzzing this weekend about Eldora even with the 20th Indy race on the horizon.

Because the track oozes racing history, winning still means the same to drivers, even if the checkered flag is grabbed in front of 100,000 fans instead of 250,000.

"It's a pretty big deal and there is a good amount of envy to the guys that have won this race before, more so than I feel at other race tracks that I haven't won at," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "I would say it's a pretty important race, it ranks right up there."

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