The Brickyard 400 doesn’t matter anymore.
Excuse me, the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard presented by Florida Georgia Line doesn’t matter anymore.
In fact, it hasn’t mattered for the better part of a decade. NASCAR and its media partners have tried relentlessly to convince drivers and fans alike that this race remains a Crown Jewel race on the calendar. All while completely ignoring the putrid racing and atrocious attendance.
When NASCAR came to the speedway for a test in 1992 some 20-25k spectators showed up to watch them turn pointless laps. A Goodyear tire test boosted the excitement that NASCAR was coming to the crossroads of America.
Just two years late in 1994 the first Brickyard 400 was held in from of 350,000 fans. An astronomical amount of fans, more fans than any other NASCAR race. The Daytona 500 hosted about 130,000 fans at its peak and currently still hosts 100,000 fans each February. It was a resounding success for NASCAR and it was only amplified by the fact a Hoosier in Jeff Gordon won.
The Brickyard 400 carried some massive weight for the better part of a decade. Every driver wanted to win there, fans wanted to watch a race there. If there is a cathedral for racing, it’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway. NASCAR was so popular the race was only 400 miles so it wouldn’t take away from the prestige of the 500. Things have certainly changed back since 1994 but at the time this was the biggest race in NASCAR next to the Daytona 500.
Flashforward to 2019 and the Brickyard 400 isn’t even a shell of its former self. Moved from it’s traditional August date to the cut-off race for the playoffs last season in hopes of boosting attendance didn’t help. Indy 500 qualifying likely had more fans in the stands than the Cup race last season. In 2020 the race will once again move dates this time to the Fourth of July weekend taking Daytona’s traditional summer spot. It once again will not help ticket sales. Indy in July is abysmal and the Cup race at the speedway isn’t a vacation destination for many.
Some folks in Indianapolis have mentioned that the track has sold less than 20k tickets for the Brickyard 400 this season. The tire debacle of 2008 combined with the sports incessant need for more downforce has killed fans interest at the track. If fans wanted to watch a parade there’s a lovely one every Thanksgiving morning.
In the lead up to this race, some of the sports media personalities have done everything but beg fans to come out to the speedway. “We need people in the stands, we don’t need to see empty seats” is what one member said.
The fans no longer care. Outside of 2017, there hasn’t been a memorable race at the speedway since 2008. Both of the races named here were chaotic completely abnormal races. For the most part since the introduction of the CoT and Gen 6 cars, the racing has been sleep-inducing and the fans responded.
NASCAR would be better served to visit the short track 7 miles away in Brownsburg. Or maybe take some turns on the IMS road course. The Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world, let them have the oval. NASCAR needs to lick their wounds and move on or debut the Gen 7 car with less front downforce. One thing we do know is the stands this Sunday will be baren.
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