NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Uncertainty Ahead as Indianapolis Motor Speedway Enters a New Era

For the legendary oval in Speedway, Indiana, 2016 has felt somewhat like the final chapter of a lengthy novel.

The chapter began in May, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the much-anticipated 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500, a milestone that brought out upwards of 350,000 fans to the famed Brickyard and harkened to the days of old.

The day was special, with American rookie Alexander Rossi riding fumes to an improbable victory in front of the first sellout crowd in Indianapolis 500 Mile Race history. However, the feeling leaving the event was one of uncertainty, as everyone pondered what would come next for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

In many ways, that same uncertain feeling came rushing back following Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard.

The sensation of uneasiness started early in the day, as attendance for the once beloved race again appeared to take another downward turn. Running in unusually high temperatures and humidity – even for a Midwest summer day – Sunday’s race at the Brickyard was a difficult sell for the thousands of fans that used to flock to the 400-mile event.

The crowd was estimated to number somewhere around 50-55,ooo people by the SportsBusiness Journal, a record low if it proves true.

The tweet reads: “Attendance for today’s #Brickyard400 is in the 50-55K range, sources with knowledge of the tally tell @sbjsbd.”

Adding to the sense of finality were the swan songs of Hoosier drivers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Having combined to win seven of the 23 races at IMS in their careers, Gordon and Stewart have elicited the largest cheers from anyone save for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., for many years at their home track.

Gordon was thought to have been done with his time at the Brickyard following a crash early in the 2015 edition of the race, but the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion returned for a final Indianapolis start in place of Earnhardt, who continues to sit out with concussion-like symptoms.

In many ways, the two Hoosier heroes failed to live up to the hype in struggling to finishes of 11th and 13th, but the cacophony that erupted from the crowd when the two drivers elected to run a parade lap side-by-side after the checkered flag reminded everyone that they – not dominant winner Kyle Busch – were the story of the day.

However, after a heartwarming embrace on pit lane both Gordon and Stewart are presumptively done with their careers at the 2.5-mile IMS. That leaves only Ryan Newman, the 2013 winner at IMS who may be done himself depending on how talks with Richard Childress Racing go, to lead the way for Indiana natives at the state’s most famous track.

That Gordon and Stewart will both be gone next year must be discomforting for the IMS front office. That their combined finales failed to provide any more than a slight loss in attendance? That’s downright nerve-wrecking.

Over the years, a race that once drew sellout crowds at IMS has turned into a laughingstock to many of the sport’s biggest fans. A track that was looked upon fondly, if not enviously by NASCAR supporters before stock cars competed on it has become a venue known for single-file parades and a 2008 tire debacle, leading many wishing it would be removed from the schedule.

NASCAR and the speedway have exhausted multiple options to try to breathe life into the struggling weekend. The series took the XFINITY Series race from nearby Lucas Oil Raceway and moved it to IMS, much to the chagrin of the paddock. Unfortunately the race has failed to entertain, prompting NASCAR to include it in the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash program and add heat races to try to reinvigorate the 250-mile race in its fifth year.

Other attempts to generate excitement, such as running an IMSA race or bringing in a musical artist such as Kid Rock on Saturday have also fallen flat, failing to garner the attention necessary for long-term success.

If May’s IndyCar festivities ended with a feeling of uncertainty, then the feeling surrounding the Brickyard in NASCAR’s annual July return was one of desperation.

Attendance is dropping, and with the track’s biggest stars beginning to fade away, finding a marquee name to bring fans back to Speedway, IN, becomes a larger challenge with each passing year.

Stewart and Gordon’s final race in Indianapolis brought with it the end of an era for the world’s most famous race track. Their story is closed, and with it comes a new chapter for NASCAR at the Indianapolis oval.

2017 will be a critical year for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in many ways. On the IndyCar side, the track will be forced to try to live up to the hype of the Indianapolis 500’s 100th running, a near-impossible task. On the NASCAR front, both IMS and the sanctioning body will have to search for a way to end their continual losses in attendance without the track’s two biggest stars.

For many years, IMS has been able to rest on their laurels and ride continuing storylines to success, but in 2017 that will no longer be the case. For the first time in many years, a new era has come to one of racing’s oldest venues. Whether the era will be one of renewed hope or continuing loss remains to be seen.

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Mike

“the once beloved race”

It wasn’t beloved. It was a novelty. It was a means for old time fans to stick it to the open wheel crowd by saving their bacon in the wake of the IRL/CART disaster.

“A track that was looked upon fondly, if not enviously by NASCAR supporters before stock cars competed on it”

“Other attempts to generate excitement”

There in lay the issue. The racing isn’t / has never been exciting at IMS. All other attempts are mere gimmicks.

IMS is the lame horse with no quality of life. Put it down and end the suffering…
I’m one of those gray hair’d old time Southern fans. I can assure you Indy was not looked upon with envy.

phil h

indeed Mike. Nascar has no business at this venue. It is follow the leader, and always has been. For open wheel automobiles, have at it. It is for their benefit.

Yes, it is a legacy for all who have captured and earned a checkered flag at this historic track. However, for Nascar to treat this facility with kissing the bricks, and bringing out the entire crew for this achievement in my opinion is a low blow to their own backyard, the Daytona 500! There is no shining moment for the entire crew and family on the track at the start/finish line for Nascar’s (and in the sanctioning bodies on moniker) Super Bowl of Racing? Are we to believe that an Indy win outshines the Super Bowl called the Daytona 500?

get a grip, and throw the black flag on Indy!

Upstate24fan

The only thing I could think to do is start by bringing Trucks and Xfinity back to IRP. To me its a more attractive trip to have two short track races complementing the Brickyard 400. Maybe move the race to start of the Chase in September too. Your likely to avoid scorchers like this past weekend. I’ve always liked racing at Indy. To me its about the challenge of racing there versus “3-wide” in the corners. The teams and drivers preforming the best always seem to do the best there. However, I’m now beginning to wonder if “Old Yeller” needs to be taken out back. If something doesn’t improve, then there should be a serious look at eliminating this race after the current sanctioning agreements end in 2020.

Bill B

Agree with all the comments, Indy does produce a snoozer 95% of the time (giving it the benefit of the doubt on the other 5%), however there are other tracks that also produce crappy races most of the time (unless NASCAR throws some fake debris cautions to manufacture excitement).

I’m not sure why Indy should be singled out. At least we only go there once a year.

I have an idea to make it interesting…. half the field runs clockwise, the other half counter-clockwise. :)

Capt Spaulding

Not a bad idea….but maybe even better run the xfinity cars with the cup cars at the same time, one series racing CW and the other CCW with a competition caution at lap 10 just in case they need to inspect tire wear and drivers underwear. It also would make Kyle pick a series.

rg72

I’ll be on the edge of my seat waiting to see how many fan engagements there were this week.
Talk about a made-up measurement for which there is no historical perspective.

Josh Owenby

At some point you have to stop performing CPR on the patient, declare it dead, and wheel it to the morgue.

Josh Owenby

I was one of those people who wanted a NASCAR race at Indy so bad before it ever happened. Sometimes perception is better than reality. I can remember when they did the first tire test there in 1992. Kyle Petty was probably the only NASCAR guy who stepped up at the time and said, “Maybe we really shouldn’t be doing this.” He also said, “They don’t run dogs at Churchill Downs.” The track isn’t built for stock cars. NASCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway got along fine without each other for years. I’m sure they can survive a divorce.

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