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If Brickyard 400 ticket sales are trending down, how to turn around this NASCAR-Indianapolis thing? And more crew chiefs bite the dust...

  Kissing the yard of bricks, the finish line at Indianapolis: a tradition started by Dale Jarrett (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern



   So the word on the street is that ticket sales for Sunday's Brickyard 400 are down.
   Remember when this week's event at legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway was one of the biggest races on the Cup tour?

   But now....
   And anyone thinking that a successful Sprint Cup tour debut at nearby Kentucky Speedway, just two hours down the road, might be boost ticket sales for this 400, well, that might well have gone up in smoke, in that mother of all traffic jams. Not quite a successful marketing technique to pump up the fan appeal of the Brickyard 400
   So ticket sales are down?
   Still fallout from 2008 and those tire issues?
   Don't really think so.
   Not if you've been keeping an eye on Goodyear engineers, who have been busting butt the past three years.
   Drivers and crew chiefs may gripe about new tire codes nearly every week, and how that upsets all their race notes and computer simulations. But Goodyear's tires this year have not only been thoroughly tested but they've performed admirably.
   Now drivers willing to risk putting extra camber in their front tires in order to get through the four flat corners may put too much of a strain on them. But that's nothing new in this sport, of course.
   In fact Goodyear's tires have generally been so good this season that fuel mileage has become the name of the game, because teams need fuel before they need new rubber.
   And the usual NASCAR weekend problem with exorbitant hotel rates, well, the Indianapolis market has a heck of a lot of hotel rooms. Maybe not as many as Las Vegas, but enough that hotel rates shouldn't be that much of an issue.
   Same with restaurants. No standing in line at Red Lobster. Indy has plenty of places to eat.
   Well, pre-race traffic on 16th may still be a headache, if you don't wake up early enough. But as far as post-race traffic, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has long been the benchmark for excellent traffic flow....even though smack in the middle of town.
   The airport?
   Brand new.


  Indy: long, long straights, and flat, flat corners. Not the best racing layout for NASCAR stockers, because it makes for one-groove racing (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   So if ticket sales are off, there must be something else at issue.
   Try boring racing out on the track.
   And consider the almost inhumane Midwestern summer weather.
   If the bloom is off this rose -- and for several years the Brickyard 400, which debuted on the stock car tour back in 1994, was one of the sport's biggest events -- maybe it's time to try to fix something.
   Has anyone in this sport considered why Bristol moved its summer race to Saturday night, why Talladega moved its summer race to autumn, why Daytona moved its July race to Saturday night, why Kentucky runs its July race Saturday night? Maybe some of these people ought to be walking around the garage area oven.
   This flat, square-shaped track demands high-downforce, which Indy-cars of course have in abundance..and which NASCAR stockers don't.
   So the Brickyard over the years has become too much a track position track. And with its much too narrow pit road -- dangerously narrow, even -- Indy presents headaches for crew chiefs.
   Drivers themselves are pretty much at the mercy of track position.
   Better head across town to short track Raceway Park...which next year won't even be on the Brickyard weekend schedule. (Why track promoters never figured out the pluses of having some major shuttle service between those two tracks for fans is a big question.)
   But that won't be an option next season, because NASCAR is moving the Raceway Park Nationwide race to the big track here. If Sunday's Cup race is boring, then why should a second boring stock car race on Saturday entice any more fans to show up?

   Indy's narrow pit road gets darned jammed. Maybe NASCAR needs to rethink its rule 'closing pit road' at the yellow, until all the teams line up tail-to-nose  for pit stops. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 


   Throw in, next summer, a Grand Am sports car race on the Formula 1 road course here? Not sure how much that is going to do to boost attendance for the 400 weekend (other than probably make a mess of infield traffic flow).
   Kyle Busch, on next summer's Nationwide event here, which he says he plans to enter: "Moving it to the Brickyard, you're obviously moving it into more mainstream, with the Cup cars the same weekend. More attention is going to be around it probably.
   "So you'll see some (more) Cup guys doing it....
    "I think it's good and I think it's bad. There's two sides to every story, and sometimes more -- A lot of people that only go to the short-track wouldn't really care to go the big track... you might lose some of those fans. But you might gain more fans because they like the big track."
   Might Busch be interested in trying a 2012 Indy sweep, adding a car for the Grand Am?    
   "I won't drive the road course; I would get confused coming through turn one backwards," Busch says with a laugh.
   "Those (Grand Am) guys being there is going to be cool....(though) I'm wondering how they're going to plan the weekend: How else are we going to get around the (infield) when those cars are running? That's going to be interesting.
    "And all the motorhomes  parked down in turn four, and the Miller Lite party deck and everything down there too, they're going to have to move all that."
   Hey, maybe put the Nationwide cars on the  F1 course too. Might provide a better race, with more passing, than running them on the big track.
   "That wouldn't be bad," Busch ponders. "I don't see anything wrong with it at all. There are some tight sections through the esses...when you come down that access road and then turn in and U-turn, U-turn, and then back out onto the big track. You'll see some congestion there/
   "But otherwise it would probably be a good event."


   Winning the Brickyard 400 is still one of NASCAR's biggest moments...but the race day action has been too much 'track position,' too much 'gas mileage,' too much 'single-file.' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Kyle Busch calls Indy "probably one of the trickiest places we go to....(like) Pocono and Darlington.
   "It's so hard to find a particular line that really, really works for you, or really works for your car, because the groove is so narrow.
    "It's plenty wide for one, or one-and-a-half cars. But the line you run, if you vary six inches, it feels so different. You really have to be particular in hitting your marks and getting your car set up.
   "...the way (the track) changes throughout the weekend -- going from practice, with not much rubber on the track, and then to the race with a lot of rubber on the race track -- the trajectory of the corners changes.
    "How wide do you enter the corner?
    "How long do you stay out?
    "How sharp do you turn down?
    "Indy is definitely a particular track..."
    But exciting action?
    Well, it's no Talladega.

   So how to fix the problem, now that we've defined the problem?
   First, obviously, the NASCAR stockers need more downforce.
  One way to effectively increase downforce, of course, is to slow the speeds, which would seem to be a cheap fix. NASCAR drivers aren't going to be hitting 230 mph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so why not slow the speeds, and maybe drivers could pass more easily.
   Second, the weather -- well, really what is the point of running the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis in late July anyway? Why not move it to the championship chase, in September or October?
   Setting the Brickyard for this weekend, well, maybe it's simply to give ESPN a nice kickoff to its part of the NASCAR season.
   But what about the fans themselves?
   Wonder how well a night Cup race might work at Indianapolis? If these guys can race Daytona under the lights, why not Indy too?
   If ticket sales are down, again, for what should be one of this sport's premier events, it might well be time to start thinking outside the box.


  Gotta love those Indy fans...but can the sport get Raceway Park fans like this over to the big track? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Sure looks like panic.
   Sheer panic, by some NASCAR team owners: over the past few days several top crew chiefs have lost their heads on the chopping block, as owners sweat out ways to try to keep sponsors happy.
   Four Sprint Cup crew chiefs have just been fired, and the wisdom of the moves could be questioned...though it is cheaper for a team owner to fire a crew chief than fire a drivers.
    The latest car owner move came Monday when Richard Childress put engineer Luke Lambert in charge of Jeff Burton's team, replacing veteran Todd Berrier. Burton has been suffering through a lackluster season, with his best finishes a pair of 11ths, at Texas and Dover. Burton's last tour win was in the fall of 2008 at Charlotte. 
   So, just for kicks, let's check out these teams over the rest of the season and see if any of these changes provides a positive boost.
   One of the more interesting changes is Chip Ganassi's curious move to pull crew chief Brian Pattie off the pit box and given Jim Pohlman -- named "interim" crew chief -- a shot at trying to get Juan Pablo Montoya in the championship playoffs over these next seven races.
   Pattie, well-respected and savvy, has been running Montoya's team since mid-2008; the two came within a speeding penalty of winning the Brickyard 400 two years ago. Montoya and Pattie made the playoffs in 2009 but they've missed it the past two seasons, and Montoya right now is 17th in the standings. Is that the crew chief's fault, or the driver's?
   Car owner Jack Roush just pulled Greg Erwin off Greg Biffle's pit box, with that team also in danger of missing the playoff cut. Matt Puccia is now running Biffle's team. Roush then pulled Mike Shiplett off AJ Allmendinger's pit box and has put Erwin there.

  So now it's Allen Bestwick (L) at the controls of ESPN's NASCAR coverage....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The most hyped up story this week is TV, with ESPN taking over the last half of the season.
   Is that really the most exciting thing happening in this sport this summer?
   ESPN is tweaking its lineup of announcers, though it remains to be seen if that improves things. Veteran Allen Bestwick looks like the linchpin in all this.
   But how well such a shakeup might work, well, that's iffy.
   TNT just wrapped up its six-race package, with a New Hampshire 301 telecast that was slightly down from last season (a 2.9 rating to last year's 3.0). TNT's highlight was a 3.4-rated Daytona 400 (for comparison, NBC's Daytona 400 telecast in 2005 pulled a 5.5 rating); and TNT overall was slightly up for the June-July series, averaging 5.1 million viewers and a 3.1 ratings average.
  The numbers for ESPN to consider this week: The 2008 Brickyard 400 was watched by some 6.7 million viewers (a 5.1 rating); the 2009 Brickyard slipped to 6.5 million (4.8 rating); and the 2010 took a noticeable drop to 5.7 million viewers (4.2 rating).
   And consider that the Brickyard 400 is usually ESPN's top-rated NASCAR event.
   ESPN was, beginning some 30 years ago, a major factor in the rise of NASCAR racing from Southern-based sport to national phenomenon. (Can anyone in this sport remember the man who helped put it all together? The late Jerry Long.....)
    However ESPN has become a mega-sports giant, and just where NASCAR itself fits into the pecking order has become questionable. Some would argue that for ESPN NASCAR has become just another commodity, one that doesn't really get adequate prominence in its sports pantheon any more.
   Unfortunately for ESPN and the sport, Sunday's three-hour 400 is not likely to provide much drama for the sport's second-half kickoff.


  Head 'em up, and move 'em out. Miles to go before we sleep (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


NASCAR teams will be running nonstop from here till Thanksgiving:
   Watkins Glen
   New Hampshire
   That's 21,482 miles if you're trucking....
   No wonder some of these guys have big rigs complete now with showers in the back. No time to stop. Gotta keep rolling.


  Making a pass at the Brickyard isn't easy, so on restarts drivers need to get all they can get (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   The championship playoffs are looming, over these next seven weeks.
   And there are two classes of drivers to consider here:
    -- First, the men who actually have a legitimate chance to win the Sprint Cup championship ( http://bit.ly/pmGrR5 );
    -- Second, the men who simply want to make the playoffs and are not serious threats to win the title.
    This championship 'chase' is still one of the weakest parts of this sport's big picture....because fans don't come to these races to keep track of who may make the chase and who may not.
   The 'road to the chase' doesn't sell tickets.
   The chase itself doesn't sell tickets.
   The racing is what drives this sport...and over the past two months the action has been too much feather-footing by gas-mileage conscious drivers.
   NASCAR executives might well take this opportunity to reconsider the chase format and talk to tour promoters and ask them what they would like to see.
   For this season NASCAR has added two 'wild card' spots, to tour winners who are in the top-20 in standings by the end of the Richmond 400 Sept. 10th and who are not top-10 at the cut. Call it the Jamie McMurray rule, since he won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 last season and yet failed to make the chase. At least NASCAR marketers won't have to answer the embarrassing questions about how a big-game winner like that doesn't make the playoffs...
   However anyone betting on such a wild-card player actually having any great shot at the title is looking at darned long odds.
   It's hard enough to challenge Jimmie Johnson even when you're already on your game, much less if you limp into the playoffs on some gimmicky wild card ploy.
   Considering the wild card, yes, maybe 15 teams may right now be looking at those two spots. Do any of those 15 have a realistic shot at the championship itself? Probably not. It's all marketing hype.

  Greg Biffle, here last summer at the Brickyard, is one of several drivers with new crew chiefs and pushing hard to make the championship playoff cut. But can anyone turn things around in the next seven weeks and become a legitimate Sprint Cup title contender? Or is is all just marketing hype? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Brickyard attendance

The only reason I'm not going, after going to all 17 to date, is when you watch attendance drop and ticket prices dropping all around the speedway, and they raise the price of the ones you sat in for 17 years again, we said that is enough. this is not the way to reward a long-time customer who would possibly be going for many years to come. I'm tired of the thinking in this country that is make the haves pay a little more... but there is a breaking point. The cost of the ticket is the smallest expense of the 700-mile trip -- but it was the straw that broke the camel's back.
The 2008 tire fiasco has nothing to do with the decision; Nascar blew that call, not the speedway. Nascar does not think too fast.. since the tires at that race lasted (only) 10 to 11 laps, they could have mandated green-flag pit stops every 10 laps without throwing a yellow, and we would of seen some type of a race, not a parade.

from the e-mail-bag: JoeF says

Mike, what are your thoughts regarding the current state of Sprint Cup broadcasting? Rusty Wallace's presence in the booth puts a blanket on any honest commentary if Steve Wallace is around any "bumping" (and he so often is). Not only does Rusty not accurately report the action; but none of his fellow announcers dare to point out how many times Steve runs into cars from behind. Can announcers with relatives in the sport ever be neutral? I do not recall Ned Jarrett having the same negative impact on honesty in announcing. I sure would like to see an article regarding this situation, with the professional touch you employ.

Where is Howard Cosell when we need him? Maybe someone unafraid to speak about what everyone is seeing would boost viewership. I read your article concerning NASCAR needing more fan base, and higher viewership...could an announcing team that is less cheerleader; and more discerning be a possible remedy for mundane commentary? With all the technological innovations for TV, why couldn't fans choose a "second feed" for their audio (much like Telemundo does for baseball), that would bypass the hype and familial blind eyes? Sometimes when I listen, I am reminded of the tale of the King that had no clothes, but was convinced due to the "telling of the beauty of the clothes". How stupid do the networks and NASCAR think the viewership really is? Can't we see for ourselves? If announcers don't announce....then they are just "hucksters" pushing a product.

Joe F

ps I read in one of your articles that Mr. Helton wished that new fans could understand the sport more easily. Maybe having a rule book they could read might help. How does he expect fans to understand a sport with secret rules?

Brickyard Attendance

I have been to all the Brickyard races since 1994 and will go this weekend too, but it will be my last. I am pretty sure I can get more for my ticket dollar at a different track with better racing. Hotel rates even 40 miles away are way too high. My decision to go somewhere else has nothing to do with the tire fiasco back on 2008. It is simply economics. I live in the midwest and am lucky to have a job. That being said, I still have to be choosy about where I spend those entertainment dollars that I save all year. The Brickyard will not be in those plans next year. And you're right the weather is horrible there in July/August.

more from the e-mail-bag, from DAB:

I liked your article on the Indy-Brickyard –IRP issues of the fans not coming back to the track. WHY?...because you are spot on.
Quickly, I will tell you we go to a lot of races a year, and end up in Homestead at the season’s end.
I live 2 hours from INDY, 2 from Kentucky -- season tickets holder from day 1 there, and 3 hours from MIS, and go to both Charlottes, both Bristols, been to Joliet, CA, etc.
Going out to Iowa next weekend for the NW weekend. I hold tickets at all these tracks.

With that said, I am sad to see this upcoming weekend, that the last racing event at IRP/ORP, etc. is probably the last of my trips to INDY.
Out of 12 of us, I am the sole person that now attends Sunday’s race at the big track. And, this will be it for me, too.
I go, as I have wanted to see all 3 Indiana boys win there, Please Ryan pull it off this weekend.!!
I love taking my lunchbox, all the history of this place, etc.

Otherwise, it is so boring and so hot, all our friends no longer go....and at the campground at ORP where we camp, they pack up from our campground across from IRP, and head home while I drive into the city to the race on Sunday. That includes my husband -- he takes the camper on home.

I love anything racing...ok....Bringing the other races to the big track on Saturday is so useless. Concerts?..I will go to Riverbend or somewhere for that....Bring the NW race into Indy for MORE Cup drivers to enter and it will help...???? For sponsors.?...better give them all the free tickets, as there are only about 7 campers left when I have drove back out to the campground. Nobody goes in any more, they go home.
Already talked to some of the campers out there Sunday when we ran our camper over and set it up...they won’t be back next year either...
From such a constant sell out at IRP/ORP, talk about insulting the fan base....and you can’t tell me that the drivers are happy. They HAVE to say what they say for the sponsors...

Thought I would share with you.
I am going this Sunday as I still enjoy the pomp and the Ms. George’s 'drivers, start the engines' --- I am in the Shade a couple of rows from the top in stand C.
I have a great TV above the entrance to the pits, my aisle seat, and 7 regular people that sit below me...yeah, 7 - no one in my row or the rows around us as far as the eye can see....I see the cars coming into 4, down the front stretch in front of me, and turn into 1. That is my view for YET another raised price on my ticket.
Yes, they raised the price on the regular renewal fan.
And, the tire deal a few years back?...that DID not make fans stay home. They were already bored.
Thanks for your time...I read you...take care...dab...


Darlington is the "The Track Too Tough To Tame". To me Indy is "The Track Too Narrow To Race On".

While a fuel mileage race

While a fuel mileage race might not be the type of race that fans want to see, it is still a race and to win an effective strategy is needed. A win based on fuel mileage counts as a win just as a last lap pass does. Newman may make the Chase based on a fuel mileage win. I enjoy the strategy aspect of racing so, to me, the Brickyard is a fun race to watch in person. Just take the warm-up lane out and the racing would be better. I don't like single file either. As for night racing, it has been talked about but ruled out mainly because the track lies in the middle of a residential area and they don't want to upset their neighbors. I'm sure the costs of lights had an impact too.

Tried to post this under the

Tried to post this under the "Feather-Foot 400" story, Mike, but the comments section would not come up beneath that story. Labor Day at Indy should be out of the question. That's Nationals weekend at the drag strip, an American tradition and held at it's current location in Indy since 1961. I would be REALLY disappointed if NASCAR tried to step on that. I'm sure even Indycar officials would like to have that weekend to run on the road course there, but the logistics would be a problem with the Nationals in town. I know there is some separation as far as the location of the two tracks, but hotels and such would be a problem with two events like those in town at the same time. Not to mention this race is the Daytona 500 of drag racing. I'd hate to see either series steal the spotlight from the NHRA that weekend by trying to run a race at the big track.

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