It’s one of the most hallowed speedways in all of motor racing with a history stretching back over 107 years. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is almost a sacred cathedral in the eyes of motor racing fans and competitors. It’s a place where racing legends are born and motorsports history is made.
Up until the early 1990s only open wheelers raced on the consecrated grounds. That all changed in 1992 when NASCAR first tested at the Brickyard. The first Cup race was held there in August of 1994 despite some mild opposition from open wheel fans. That first Brickyard 400, won by Jeff Gordon, was sold out.
Since then the Brickyard 400 has been a highlight on the Cup schedule.
When NASCAR first invaded Indy, its lower tier touring series, known as first the Busch, then Nationwide and today the Xfinity series, raced on the same weekend in nearby Clermont Indiana at Indianapolis Raceway Park, now known as Lucas Oil Raceway, an oval just over a half a mile in length. Starting in 1995 the Truck series joined the Xfinity series racing on the Friday night prior to the Saturday night Xfinity race.
All of that changed in 2011 when it was announced that for 2012 the NASCAR weekend at Indy would be known as the “Super Weekend”. Not only would the Cup series race on Sunday, but the Xfinity series would race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, leaving the short track at the raceway park.
The move didn’t sit well with fans, and the management of the raceway park who were shocked at the surprising news. The move was an effort however, to get more fans in the seats raising attendance at a track that hadn’t sold out in several years.
It didn’t help.
Yes there was a great deal of attention for that first Xfinity race at the Brickyard, but owing to the type of racing there, where passing is at a premium, the races since then have been less than exciting.
Saturday was another example.
Kyle Busch won the race leading all but one lap. There was the “Dash for Cash” heat races, two 20 lappers held prior to the main event that set the field and determined which Xfinity Series regulars would compete for a $100,000 bonus. Even those however were tepid affairs. Kyle Busch easily won the first heat race, and the second was just as quiet.
The main event’s only excitement came on the final lap when Justin Allgaier passed Elliott Sadler behind the leaders to secure the $100,000 bonus.
No one should bemoan the fact that Kyle Busch, who holds the record for wins in the series with 83, including seven this season, won. His win Saturday was his third consecutive and proves that right now at least, he is just that good in the Xfinity series.
What NASCAR needs to see is what millions of others saw. Thousands of empty seats around the cavernous grandstands. That sight caused a firestorm on social media. Fans, and drivers, expressed displeasure at the sight, and only amplified the lackluster racing on the track.
I miss the short track action at #IRP
— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) July 23, 2016
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) July 23, 2016
— Ryan Truex (@Ryan_Truex) July 23, 2016
Still true. //t.co/HypTnEYINF
— Lee Montgomery (@lee_montgomery) July 23, 2016
Attendance is down at the Brickyard, and instead of helping, Saturday’s race only made that painfully obvious.
The truth is that attendance is down at all major live sporting events, and that’s the reality for NASCAR as well.
Also take into account that when NASCAR began racing at the Brickyard the only NASCAR Cup races a fan in Indianapolis could find within 500 miles were the two annual races at Michigan International Speedway near Detroit. Since the first Brickyard however, three tracks have opened for Midwest fans, Kansas Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.
What any potential NASCAR fan saw Saturday were thousands of empty seats and a forgettable race on the track.
NASCAR put the traditional Labor Day weekend race back at Darlington Raceway starting last season. The “Throwback” weekend was a huge success.
Now it’s time for NASCAR to do another throwback.
Send the Xfinity Series back to Lucas Oil Raceway Park where packed grandstands of 30,000 where once commonplace and fans saw good hard short track action with young up and coming drivers fighting it out with seasoned veterans. If not, then at least take that series away from the hallowed pavement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That sacred ground, and racing there, used to represent the pinnacle of motorsports, an opportunity for a driver who has worked their way up through the ranks to compete on the biggest stage in auto racing. If the NASCAR Xfinity Series truly is the development series some in NASCAR claim then allow those drivers to develop to the point where they earn their way into the top tier Cup series and earn the right to cross the yard of bricks. Perhaps as the open wheel fans protested that the first Brickyard 400 had somehow sullied the Indianapolis 500, the Saturday Xfinity race has spoiled the Sunday Cup race a bit; putting a pit of dullness on a race that once shined.
What was seen Saturday was an embarrassment to the sport and if NASCAR decides to race the Xfinity series there next season, it will be something that many feel even fewer will want to see.