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Mark Martin wins, in a brilliant finish at Chicago, but where were the fans at Chicagoland Speedway?

Mark Martin: adds a Chicago victory to his wins at Phoenix, Darlington and Michigan (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



   By Mike Mulhern

   JOLIET, Ill.
   Mark Martin held off Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin in a furious finish, to win the Chicago 400, and a $1 million bonus from race sponsor Lifelock.
   And the final 20 minutes were certainly furious. And there were a lot of angry drivers and badly battered race cars at the end of the night.
   However up till then the story wasn't action on the track, but rather the lack of fans in the stands.
   There are nearly 10 million people in the greater Chicago metropolitan area, the third-biggest market in the United States. So it was a decided disappointment, if not a flat embarrassment, that 75,000-seat Chicagoland Speedway was barely half full for Saturday night's 400-miler.
   The good news: for new track president Craig Rust, everything looks up from here.
   Martin was blowing away the field in the nearly-incident-free race, until Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard ran out of race track while dueling late, triggering a big crash with 60 miles to go.
    From that point on, things finally got hot, really hot.


Mark Martin! A championship-caliber season continues (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   A key moment came when Toyota men Hamlin and Brian Vickers did a banzai charge on a late restart, taking Jimmie Johnson by surprise and taking Johnson right out of the game, when it appeared he was ready to run away to victory.
    Seconds after that, Martin took advantage of the Hamlin-Vickers duel to regain the lead.
   "I just knew that double-file restart was going to cost us…but I've been watching Ron Hornaday," Martin said after a league-leading fourth victory this season. "That was fun, that's what it's all about.
   "This will be a good birthday president for Rick Hendrick."
   "On that last restart Mark got a good start and I just spun the tires," runner-up Gordon said of the two-lap shootout finish. Gordon's crew chief Steve Letarte made a daring call with 30 miles to go, to pit for fresh tires, while running ninth. The eight men ahead of them didn't stop for rubber, so Gordon had a little edge to work with, and he almost pulled it off.
   Hamlin had no apologies for his run-in with Johnson: "He's won a lot of 'em…and he got into me at Martinsville….we're just all going for the win right then."
   "Jimmie….we just got run into at Sonoma…and I'm beginning to question how he won three championships, and lose faith in his ability," Kurt Busch said of his run-ins with Johnson.   "We've had a couple of run-ins with Jimmie and we're not going to take it."
   Johnson, after cooling off, was more circumspect.
  "I think Jeff got me loose, and then we got slammed," Johnson said. "It was just hard racing. I thought we had this won at one point.
   "There was some wild racing. We were bump-drafting on the straights, and I didn't think you could race like that at 190 mph on a 1-1/2-mile track."
   Nevertheless, the weak crowd and the questionable marketing effort here clearly overshadowed much of what was happening out on the 1-1/2-mile track, which has been a Cup tour stop for nine years now.
   This is a very nice facility, with good access right off I-80, one of the nation's premier highways, and a brand new toll road runs straight up to Chicago's O'Hare airport, and another series of wide Interstates running right up to the heart of Chicago itself, about an hour up the way.
   Chicago is one of America's premier sports towns, with fiercely passionate aficionados…so the Los Angeles argument – that there are so many other things to do, that NASCAR's Fontana stops might simply get lost in the rush – doesn't hold water here.
   And the weekend's weather has been ideal – dry, warm (but not hot) and sunny. This race could have been run as easily in the afternoon as at night; and given last weekend's dismal TV numbers for the Saturday night Daytona 400 (down 20 percent from last year), arguments against Saturday night NASCAR Cup racing might be heard more loudly.
   On top of all that, Martin had a runaway…in a race devoid of much real action, until late in the game.
   The best drama was listening to Kyle Busch whining on the radio to his crew. Busch was never a factor, complaining about both lack of horsepower and poor handling. Later in the race his engine lost a cylinder. Busch declined to talk about his night.
   The most significant incident occurred when Earnhardt and Menard banged doors late, and Menard slammed the wall. In the melee behind them, Jeff Burton and Scott Speed crashed hard.
   "That's four weeks we've been in crashes with these double-file restarts, none of them our doing," an irate Burton said. "I know they may be exciting for the fans, but I've about had my fill of them."

I think the attendance issue

I think the attendance issue is pretty easy to solve. The problem is the Track Pack. Due to a combination of economic factors and some of the air having been let out of NASCAR's balloon, the idea of paying for tickets to an IndyCar race you may not care about, a CWTS race you may not care about and even a Nationwide race you may not care about just so you can go to a Cup race is a non-starter. I understand why ISC would resist dropping the Track Pack because once it is done away with it would be very hard to reinstate, however the fans are voting with their wallets.

certainly; the idea of having

certainly; the idea of having to buy indy car races when you only want to go to cup races is absurd. i've never bought into that. that is just arrogance on the part of promoters.

The economic discontent in

The economic discontent in the United States has existed for all of a year and yet no ISC effort was made here to adjust to reality. Instead fans were asked to purchase the same package regardless of whether they were actually going to attend more than one races--and getting out of the parking lot is so time consuming it mitigates against back to back attendance. The other races could be sold rather easily on E-bay, but this year things were different and people demonstrated the difference by not purchasing and then reselling or giving away what they didn't want. More or less the same can be expected next year. And those who didn't attend were probably not watching on Saturday night TV! It's time for the Frances to do their much vaunted readjustment thinking--but then it was also time last spring.

what a joke I drove 2 hours

what a joke I drove 2 hours with 3 other people willing to spend 70-75 dollars for a ticket. there were no tickets to be had they were all in the box office there were hundreds of people standing out there. Talked to a guy that drove from iowa he couldnt find a single ticket his wife got in as some friends had an extra ticket. I wont be back they didnt only loose our 300 or so dollars they lost some fans.

I think Kyle Bush just needs

I think Kyle Bush just needs to go back home to Mommy and let her change his diaper and give him his bottle. And let the real men run the Nascar Races, I'm so tired of his whining all the time if he don't win.

Maybe the poor racing had

Maybe the poor racing had something to do with it.

I live in the Chicago area,

I live in the Chicago area, and it's cheaper for me and my family to travel to another city, pay hotel, tickets, and other travel expenses, then to buy the Track Pack. The Chicago news market only covers NASCAR news one week a year, they spend more time covering Tennis. The Track needs to re-energize the event and the fan support for the area. The downtown 'Fanfest' is a joke, and most showcar events and driver appearances are kept quiet. The Jewel-Osco showcar program had more publicity than the track.

Agreed. I'm sitting my

Agreed. I'm sitting my camper, in Chicagolands lower ridge right now. It's the old "It's Nascars ball, play or go home. I've been here every year. This may be my last. I simply don't care about IRL Dave from Joliet

It's not just Chicago that

It's not just Chicago that has seen embarrassing attendance numbers...Daytona is a bigger venue and there was PLENTY of bare aluminum to be seen there.

The "bubble" of popularity NASCAR has experienced has clearly "popped".....betraying their core fan-base wasn't such a brilliant move, was it?

I've heard some people brush it off as a result of the bad economy, that is a cop-out.

An out-of-control sanctioning body, drivers that could easily sub as "Stepford wives", spec-car racers......it's over, folks.

Either Track Pack is going

Either Track Pack is going away or fans will stay away. Homestead tried that for a few years, when NASCAR was hot, but it no longer requires the purchase of the package. $250 for one seat is OUTRAGEOUS. Wake up Chicagoland, ISC and NASCAR!

TRACK PACK Ill tell ya what

TRACK PACK Ill tell ya what they can do with the track pack

I look for the same thing to

I look for the same thing to happen at Kansas. You can not buy tickets only for the cup race. The absurd notion that out of towners will buy a package just to attend the cup race is not based in reality. Bravo to those fans such as myself who would like to attend the cup race but refuse to give in to strong armed tactics.

So in order to attend races

So in order to attend races at Chicagoland you need to purchase a Track Pack ? I live in Western NY... why would I wish to buy a Track Pack in order to travel to Illinois to see a Nationwide/Cup race ? I for sure would not be travelling back out there to see an IRL event later in the year.

Finally,I think that NASCAR has more problems than this Track Pack deal. TV ratings are mostly down and like many other fans, this new car for me is a total turn off.

I agree with pb. The Track

I agree with pb. The Track Pack worked early because fans were so excited to see NASCAR at the new track. However, after one boring race after another, fans slowly drifted away. Let's face it, before all the late-race cautions (including one for "debris"), this was another boring race. I'd blame the CoT, but the Nationwide race was a sleeper, too. This track is boring.
Another problem is the location of this track. It is nearly an hour's drive (under ideal conditions) from the Loop to the speedway. That's way too far to gain any kind of walk-up crowd on nice weather days.
Without the ability to draw a walk-up crowd, something has to be done to change this track to make the racing exciting. Otherwise tickets will never sell.
+ Leonard

Whats going on with

Whats going on with Mayfield's drug test results that were supposed to be back on Friday?----the media sure got quiet about it

yes, we have all noticed

yes, we have all noticed that. nascar isn't saying anything.....suspicious? looks like jeremy must have come back clean....this whole mayfield thing is making nascar look silly. either mayfield is guilty as charged, or nascar has made a big mistake and needs to 'fess up.

With all due respect, I was

With all due respect, I was there. The stands were about 80% full. Yes, it is a shame that this was only the second non-sellout in a decade. I would guess that it is a reflection of the area economy. Last year there seemed to be a ton of people there on the "corporate entertainment dime" - would guess that many of those businesses couldn't afford to do that this year. Remember, this is a venue that sold out with Tiger Woods playing golf less than 15 miles from the track and with the White Sox in town on the way to a World Series title and a MLS Soccer game the same day. I'm looking forward to seeing what the new president lines up in terms of promotion for next year.

And it just the same for us

And it just the same for us IRL fans who don't really have an interest in NASCAR, I have no interest in anything except our big race in September. also I live in Cleveland and like other fans who live out of state I visit several tracks a year and that extra money charged for Nascar tickets in Chicago could go to food and lodging at another IRL track

Richmond had instituted that

Richmond had instituted that package as well and it was very frustrating and expensive to have to buy tickets to races that I wasn't interested in just to get a ticket to the cup race. After doing it twice, we just decided it wasn't worth the money and quit renewing, so I can understand why other fans are making that choice in these economic times. Who can afford to pay for something they aren't interested in?

The Chase and COT suck. The

The Chase and COT suck. The Sport was doing very well before Brian France came along. His crappy changes to something that didn't need fixing to try and be even more greedy is screwing him over now. The economy is just making NA$CRAP's downfall happen faster. In your face NA$CRAP. The fans said they didn't want all these changes but you did them anyway, saying that they will like them eventually. Now the core fans are gone and they aren't coming back, and the casual fans are starting to move on to the next trendy thing for them. I think it's great that the stands are empty and the TV ratings are way down. Time to reap what you've sown, The money tree has been picked clean.

I agree with the Track Pack

I agree with the Track Pack being a problem - looking at Ebay and Craigslist, there were a lot of people who advertised, but had no takers, for tickets to the non-Sprint Cup races.
But there is also no buzz at all here in the Chicago market about NASCAR. With the Bears getting QB Jay Cutler and the Blackhawks doing unexpectedly well in hockey - not to mention the omnipresent Cubs/Sox chatter - NASCAR is never mentioned on any local sport talk radio shows. Local TV evening news only will say who won a specific race, and even the NASCAR writer in the Chicago Tribune was downsized a while ago. There was a local sports talk radio segment that actually featured the prior president of the Chicagoland Speedway, but over the years it had been cut back from 30 minutes to ten minutes, and I think it is no longer on the air. So, there is little locally to sustain the interest of a die-hard fan, or to capture the casual Chicago sports fan and turn them onto NASCAR.
- Greg

I've had season tickets

I've had season tickets (which is called Founders Pass seats), since the track opened in 2001, and you have to buy Track Packs each year to keep your'e seat active, and alot of people have been complaining for the past several years about buying tickets to the Indy car and even the ARCA race. I, myself, am a Nascar and Indy car fan, so I don't mind getting tickets for the Indy car races. However, I didn't appreciate the fact that you had to buy tickets to the ARCA race. If your'e a big race fan, you don't mind buying tickets to these other races. However, ISC does have fans by the throat by forcing these tickets to the other races. It would be nice if they just gave the fans the choice or even the chance to buy tickets individually for each race. it is kinda arrogant from the trackowners to force the Track Pack on fans.

I was going to go to the race

I was going to go to the race I live in Detroit.
I called the box office about tickets and they told me about the track pack.
I asked what if I go to the box office on Saturday right before the race starts to buy a ticket?
I was told even if they had any they would not sell me a ticket for just that event.
So I like many stayed home.

The Track Pack is definitely

The Track Pack is definitely a problem. But the bigger issue is that you can not take anything into the stands with you. They make you purchase their overpriced food and drinks. The facility is one of the nicest we have been to - but not being able to take in a small cooler is one of the reasons we do not attend the race anymore.
The Joliet area is one of the few areas that do not raise the hotel/motel rates 3 times the normal rate - something other cities need to stop (Daytona, Talladega).

Absolutely it's the Track

Absolutely it's the Track Pack. Why should anyone be forced to pay for an Indy Car race that they do not want to see? Furthermore, I know of alot of fans who have no desire to pay for a NASCAR "Toyota" Truck Series race.

When Brian France decided to allow a Japanese manufacturer into the Cup Series, some fans were turned-off and decided to stay home. Even the pace car at Chicagoland was Japanese for the past 2 years.

I.S.C. does not force fans to pay for races that they do not want to see at other tracks, but Chicago fans are forced to pay-up.

I wanted to go to the race,

I wanted to go to the race, but it was hard to even find tickets for less than $150 apiece(without the track pack) online. Good luck filling the tracks up at that price. I remember hearing the Daytona 500 sold some at $45 late in the game, recognizing the downturn in the economy. But not here in Chicago(aka the Midwest), where manufacturing jobs have taken the biggest hit. You have to at least find a way to price in a regular joe to get him thru the door and THEN kill him with concessions like all the other sports.

Good for those fans. No

Good for those fans. No reason to pay for something you don't want, and what they might, or do, want isn't worth the price, either. Had the Frenchman not appeared on numerous occasions last night, Mark Martin might have lapped all but a few cars. NASCAR throwing the caution for something TNT still has not showed us is the only thing that made the race watchable. FOX will usually at least show you the debris, even if it is laying almost in the grass where no one was going to hit it. The caution-created aftermath of the faux cautions was worth watching, though, but I don't like it when feels created.

Jeff Burton seems to want to ride more than race. Please pass along his seat to somebody who will race instead of ride around for "a good points day".

Somebody please show Jimmie Johnson the replay of him hammering Busch. That was the worst excuse of hitting someone I've ever heard. "I think Jeff got us loose"? Say what? He was already by Gordon and drifted right up the track like nobody was there. If the spotter didn't tell you he was there, say so. Kurt's retaliation was certainly justified after the initial contact, but I'm glad he didn't take it any further.

pb, the Indycar races at

pb, the Indycar races at Chocagoland have been mist-see races. I highly doubt the people who go there - and the place is usually a near-sellout for the Indycar races - go only because they have to use tickets they had to buy to see the Winston Cup race. "The fans are voting with their wallets." Could it be that Chicagoland is simply a better IRL demographic than a NASCAR one? As it is, it has never been a great racing demographic.

give track pres craig rust,

give track pres craig rust, your words of wisdom:


he's listening....(hopefully to mikemulhern.net)

Just let them keep having

Just let them keep having races like this and you will see more empty seats!

Another thing that is hurting Nascar is when are they going to 'EVEN IT UP" between the brands of cars?

Its the same old rerun year after year!Chevy gets to rule!I would not complain but let another brand dominate like that and see what happens! Rule Changes! There are more brands than ever in Nascar buts its more onesided than ever!Chevy has won as much as all the other brands combined this year!

Its like the Globetrotters and Washington Generals! Nascar needs to promote competition between the brands or the other brands just as well leave the sport, why spend all the money and get the same result! GM might have been hurting but when its comes to NASCAR, they are its brand of choice!Its the politics of Nascar that wins!

Some of us 'CAR Guys" would like some entertainment once in awhile!

GM has great cars and teams but so do the others!

Consider my situation. I am

Consider my situation. I am a widowed grandmother who enjoys taking her grandsons (ages 11 and 13) to NASCAR races. I live 300 miles from the track, so that's 2 nights in a hotel ($200.00+/night), 3-2 day tickets (bought off eBay @ $300+/ticket), outlandish prices on track food and beverages ($4.00 for a 12oz. bottle of water)and all at once we are talking real money!!! I'm an underpaid (less than $30,000/year), 40 hour a week worker, so there goes a day of vacation.
The races were so boring that I have seen better racing during "Happy Hours". I fact, I did fall asleep during the Nationwide race on Friday night. The track could also use a Jumbo-tron or two and a better PA system.

Craig Rust, the new track

Craig Rust, the new track boss, wants your input:


Trackpack is BS!! If they

Trackpack is BS!! If they need to rely on the NASCAR ticket sell out to guarentee ticket sales for IRL and ARCA then screw it!
I've missed the last two years in Joliet. I'M NOT BUYING A TRACK PACK, paying $150 for a snooze race and get raped on hot dogs, water etc.
I'm done, I'm out...I'll stay home!

The ONLY good thing they've done is host it at night so you don't burn to death for three days straight!

Single ticket sales, lower ticket price, bring my cooler in the stands, and maybe put a couple barrels to dodge on the track and then MAYBE I'll go back!

i think new track boss craig

i think new track boss craig rust hears you.....
if not...here's his address: President@ChicagolandSpeedway.com
tell him mikemulhern.net sent you (grin)

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