A couple of weeks ago in this column I penned all the reasons I could think of that moving the Nationwide Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway to Indy’s big track was an asinine decision. And true to form, NASCAR made that asinine decision this week, announcing that stock car racing’s AAA division, along with the Grand-Am road racing series, would all be making appearances at the Brickyard during 400 weekend. The Indy purists who opposed the introduction of NASCAR to the venue back in 1994 must be at a loss for words.
Rather than restating the number of significant issues there are that will plague any stock car race run on the 2.5 mile oval, now that the schedule has been changed and the damage done it’s time to analyze what this means for the Nationwide Series.
For one, the series is down a standalone race. Sure, the short track is scarcely a hop, skip and a jump away, but run as a night race immediately preceding the early afternoon start of the Brickyard 400 and a race that, being run on a 0.686 mile bullring, has little if any value in terms of information gathering for Cup drivers to run, Saturday night in Indy was always devoid of being completely the Cup light show that most companion races for the series are. Not to mention that the venue in question was never seen on the lengthy Cup circuit over the course of the season.
Further, the series is now also down another short track merely two years after losing the Memphis Motorsports Park. Any respite that the series got with the Iowa Speedway scoring a second race date is now gone, with a bullring replaced by yet another intermediate oval. And for a faulty rationale at that…how is including a Nationwide Series race on the docket going to improve Sunday attendance? Hasn’t the justification of all the companion races run the last decade been that the Nationwide Series needs Cup drivers and the crowds they draw to survive itself? Yet now the Nationwide event is being called up to save the viability of the Brickyard 400?
It’s always good to know where the Nationwide Series falls into place; one of its most competitive races annually axed to facilitate a glorified tire test for the Cup Series, all in some cockamamie scheme to grow the 400’s attendance, when all signs point to both the inferior racing product of the big track and the tire debacle of 2008 as the reasons behind the decline.
NASCAR screwed up royally with this one. This will not be a popular move amongst the fans they’re trying to curry favor with, and a crowd of 15,000 at a 250,000 seat venue is going to look hideous on TV.
Ironically, the chance to rectify that same glaring mistake came this very same week, with the announcement that funding all but necessary to continue hosting Nationwide Series races on the road course of Montreal will not be forthcoming in 2012. Frankly Montreal, for all its travel complications, is far from the first race the series needs to lose; the highly technical road course has produced thrilling races in each visit, from the Robby Gordon/Marcos Ambrose scuffle in 2007 to the same Ambrose losing a 2009 race he dominated in the final corner to the Boris Said/Max Papis drag race of a season ago. And in terms of crowd size and enthusiasm, well, there’s not much that needs to be said…the fans have shown in droves and stuck out rain year after year.
That said, it’s likely gone, and with that the Nationwide Series experiment north and south of American borders will come to a close. Such is perhaps fitting; another market foreign to stock car racing’s past proving unable to sustain a run as a viable race host. That yields yet another opportunity for NASCAR to throw the fans a bone, and to give the Nationwide Series another marquee standalone event. This time, however, at a true stock car racing venue.
A late summer race date is a prime slot to give a venue in the Southeast or Midwest a shot. Be it a return to the Rock, a true standalone date at Lucas Oil Raceway or any of the premier short tracks across the country, a big loss of the Montreal road race could very well be an opportunity the like of which couldn’t be timelier, a chance to undue the damage that forcing another stock car race onto the open-wheel mecca of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will do to the on-track product of NASCAR’s AAA ranks starting in 2012.
The Nationwide Series’ schedule has two torpedoes bearing down on it as this week comes to a close. Strong evasive action could prevent one from detonating.
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