Once again, NASCAR went to the hollowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I find myself agreeing with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. According to Twitter feeds during the race, Earnhardt said over his team radio that the speedway was made for Indycars. Of course, Earnhardt was talking about pit road, but his observation rings true. The great Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not a stock car track.
[media-credit name=”Brian Douglas” align=”alignright” width=”235″][/media-credit]For most of the day, fans must have fought sleep. While the great Indianapolis 500 is a spectacle not to be missed, the Brickyard 400 is a snoozer. It came down to a fuel mileage race. Wow, we get that at Michigan and Pocono. How nice. And we had a surprise winner again. Of course, the class of the field didn’t win, and the so-called aero push led to runaway leaders, so there wasn’t much excitement. It was nice to see Paul Menard finally win a race, but many fans felt like Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth had the best cars, or did they?
Just like at Darlington (and many other venues this year), fuel mileage was king. If your car was able to stretch fuel and not pit as the laps ran down, you could win. Put Mr. Menard in that category. And to make things worse, we get to go to Pocono next. Why? It is woefully obvious to me that stock cars need to run at tracks with banking. It’s just the way things should be. Sure, Martinsville isn’t banked so much (exactly the same 12 degrees as Indy), but its small size welcomes close racing. Not so at Indy .
The attendance tells the story. NASCAR and IMS seemed to be happy that attendance only dipped 2,000 from last year. The place holds 257.000 people and it was only about 54% full (NASCAR’s estimate of 138.000 was probably generous). You could see the empty seats all around the speedway. So the question is why does NASCAR continue to run this race.
It was a great thrill, and probably still is, for the NASCAR drivers to run at Indy. Many had dreamed of running there and have to be a rush to do so once a year in a stock car. Unfortunately, the show isn’t so great. Much like the two road races run every year, the races just don’t fit in what stock car racing is. In the effort to make NASCAR racing a national sport, we go to tracks that just aren’t suited for stock cars. While places like Darlington, Rockingham, and North Wilkesboro were suited for this brand of racing, they were pushed aside to go into California, Chicago, New Hampshire, and other places that don’t fit the norm. It’s like playing football in Wrigley Field. Something’s wrong with it all.
And yet we continue and will continue for the foreseeable future. As attendance continues to decline in places where stock car racing is only partially appreciated, the end game will eventually come. It’s just a matter of time. But what Dale, Jr. said today is known by most everyone competing. Stock car racing needs banking and a wide pit lane. And someday, everyone will get the message. Maybe.