While I watched Sunday’s Crown Royal 400 from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway I was torn. On one hand the lack of passing, terrible attendance, and made for TV cautions was making me think maybe this track has no place on the Sprint Cup Series schedule. On the other hand, the strategy aspect to overcome the lack of passing was fascinating, and as always the history and prestige of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway makes me think it should stay.
I was absolutely against the track and quite frankly bitter this weekend when discussing the race until I saw a question on Twitter. It was asked, next year if given the chance, would you go to Eldora or Indianapolis? Immediately I thought Eldora, but then I thought about it more and realized that Indianapolis is a track on my bucket list I’d want to see for myself. So my answer was Indianapolis, even though I was fuming about the race weekend. That doesn’t make any sense, right? It’s that hard to pass up a chance to see where Foyt, Andretti, Mears, Gordon, Stewart, and Earnhardt all made their way to victory lane.
Eldora would be a fun track to visit too, but for a completely different reason. For me, I grew up watching local asphalt racing, not dirt, so the idea of dirt would be fascinating. My worry about Eldora is that the allure of the race will wear overtime, that NASCXAR will jump on the bandwagon of popularity and dilute the experience. I think it can sustain and be a must visit for NASCAR fans, if properly done, but it will take forever for the track to build the history that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway holds to all motorsports fans.
You can’t deny the attendance at the race Sunday was pitiful at best. The estimates I saw was between 80,000 and 90,000 fans, I’d say more realistically it was 70,000 or maybe a tick more. Now, 70,000 fans would be a victory some places, just not a speedway that boasts to have over 250,000 seats. When you can’t even get halfway full, then it becomes a glaring problem everyone will notice.
The racing itself was boring in one way, but exciting in another. After cautions, some drivers took extra chances knowing it was their only opportunities to make up some ground. Those moves, fanning out four wide into turn one, would make you hold your breath. To further overcome the passing issue strategy by teams was very interesting, if you could follow it. ESPN dropped the ball a bit here by not focusing in on that aspect of the race, instead they just showed the top cars.
The final 30 laps I was on the edge of my seat. Figuring out who would try and stretch the fuel, who would with a pit strategy, could Ryan Newman’s gamble pay off and get lucky? It doesn’t hurt I’m a Newman fan, but it even brought in some non-NASCAR fans I was around to watch the end. They stuck around to after passing by to see how it would play out. I thought Jimmie Johnson would reel in Newman, but the gap evened out, and Newman won the race.
Does that make the race a failure? I’m not sure. Also, add that this “boring” race was just over two and a half hours. That puts it as one of the fastest races run this year. It was nowhere like a 500 miler at Pocono where it feels like it goes on forever and the race time backs up that feeling.
With politics and TV money coming in, odds are there will be no changes between NASCAR and Indianapolis. Something would need to go horribly wrong for this relationship to break up. NASCAR likes to leverage the associates with the track, this was emphasized by how much he NASCAR media site was pushing the event and how the Speed Network was also pushing it. The millions that will be coming in with the new TV deal will help offset the empty seats at the track, so that won’t scare the track. I, and a lot of fans, are not happy with the race, but it’s hard to pinpoint what can be done to make the race better for everyone.