The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 has "reached a crossroads" as the race can "continue a downward slide in popularity and interest, or it can try to find its way back to what it once was," according to Terry Blount of ESPN.com. The "newness and novelty have worn off." Attendance at last year's race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway "was estimated at 140,000." At a facility that "seats 257,000 people and an event that had more than double the 2010 attendance a few years ago, it's a disturbing trend." That trend is "expected to continue this weekend." An internal NASCAR e-mail stated that "ticket sales at Indy are 'significantly behind previous years.'" In the past, the "glory of NASCAR competing at the Brickyard was enough to overcome the fact that the on-the-field track action was below average most of the time." While winning at Indy "is still a big deal for the drivers and teams," that is "not enough to get the race back to a prominent place." Blount: "It also has to be a big deal to the fans" (ESPN.com, 7/26). WTHR-NBC's Rich VanWyk reported for the first time in the 18-year history of the Cup race at IMS, "portions of five grandstands will be closed off and empty" on Sunday. The grandstands are "along the main straightway, the north and south short chutes and the back stretch going into turn three." Ticket holders "have been moved to other seats" (WTHR.com, 7/28).
CRITICAL CONDITION: CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Pistone wrote under the header, "Critical Year For Brickyard 400." As recently as '05, "280,000 fans showed up for the Brickyard 400 but the numbers have been going downhill ever since." Pistone wondered, "What happened to turn what some still consider the second most prestigious race in NASCAR with the second largest purse behind only the Daytona 500 into a must not see event?" While the Brickyard 400 "will always be a spectacle, the racing usually leaves a lot to be desired." Pistone: "But even with all those issues, NASCAR belongs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/27). RACINTODAY.com's Larry Woody wrote, "Who'd have thunk that the once-ballyhooed Brickyard 400 would require a supporting cast to draw a crowd?" Woody: "I covered the inaugural 1994 race and some estimated the crowd at 350,000. ... Fast forward to this weekend's race. Reports are that ticket sales are sagging." Woody added, "What we're seeing at Indy is a return to racing's past, when promoters had to hustle to sell tickets" (RACINTODAY.com, 7/27).
COMMENT CARD: SI.com's Bruce Martin wrote while the Brickyard 400 "may be down, it is far from out," and there are "a variety of ways to make this race a bigger than life event again." Martin offered several suggestions "that can help return the Brickyard 400 to prominence." He wrote, "Let's start paying the winner of the Brickyard 400 $1 million or $2 million to win." The '94 inaugural race "boasted NASCAR's largest purse," which "enticed drivers from all forms of racing to run in the Brickyard 400 that year," including former Indy 500 winners A.J. Foyt and Danny Sullivan. TNT NASCAR analyst Wally Dallenbach, Jr. said, "If you make it $1 million or $2 million to win, then all of a sudden it becomes important again to the drivers, teams and sponsors. That gets everybody's attention." Martin also suggested making the race "part of a NASCAR 'Triple Crown.'" Dallenbach said, "Do the old Triple Crown where you have Daytona and the Brickyard and an off-the-wall track like a Bristol." Martin added giving "a ride to that year's Indianapolis 500 winner ... might be enough to bring some of the" Indy 500 fans back to IMS. He also proposed bringing back "the apron, which is the inside portion of the track in each of the Speedway's distinct four corners," allowing more room for the cars. Martin's additional suggestions include getting more involved in the community, scheduling two additional support races, and making the Brickyard 400 a "special event again" (SI.com, 7/26).