indy brickyard 400 2013 crowd

Perception of sparse Brickyard 400 crowd not necessarily reality


INDIANAPOLIS – When Sunday’s 21st running of the Brickyard 400 is in the rearview mirror, we’re once again likely to hear significant griping about “did you see all the empty seats at Indy?”

Like they’ve done after the last five editions of the Brickyard, critics and so-called experts will once again lament about the poor crowd, how it was a poor show, how passing is virtually non-existent and how NASCAR doesn’t belong at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – even though Sunday will be the 21st time it’s been there.

Admittedly, since the embarrassing Goodyear tire debacle in the 2008 race, the Brickyard 400 has never been the same, seeing substantial drops in attendance in each subsequent year.

There were probably close to 125,000 fans at that 2008 race when a bad batch of Goodyear tires caused NASCAR to call numerous mandatory competition cautions after every 10 laps or so, allowing teams to switch tires over and over and over.

No matter what NASCAR officials did that day, they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. They could have cancelled the race, but that would have been a move of last resort, and likely would have been an even bigger mistake than what ultimately transpired. Could you imagine NASCAR and IMS refunding ticket costs to each and every race fan if the race was cancelled?

They could have postponed the race to the next day (Monday) and had a couple truckloads of new tires brought in from the company’s Akron, Ohio headquarters. But you can’t make Sprint Cup tires overnight, and to have enough of the type of compound and quality needed to run on the very gritty pavement at IMS would have taken time to produce – time that NASCAR didn’t have.

NASCAR could also have cut the race short, but that would have been just as bad as canceling it.

So the sanctioning body went ahead and got through the day as best as it could, knowing the outcome could have been a lot worse.

Thousands of fans screamed and booed at the conclusion of the technology-hampered race in 2008. Many, if not most, vowed to never return to Indy for another NASCAR race – and it would appear that the majority have indeed lived up to their word.

The following year, 2009, there were maybe 90,000 fans (IMS and NASCAR never announce exact attendance figures, so reporters are left to best-guess estimates).

And since then, the numbers – at least looking at the stands – have continued to decrease until they’ve leveled off around the 70,000 level the last couple of years.

In addition, the economic downturn over the last six-plus years has also had a major impact on why more fans don’t come to IMS to watch NASCAR. Airplane flights, hotels, rental cars and food costs have just become too prohibitive for many individuals, and even more difficult for families to want to pick up and head to central Indiana — even those who may live in-state.

But the critics and pundits seem to forget one very important thing:

One of the biggest reasons why the Brickyard’s attendance the last several years has been disappointing isn’t necessarily the crowd itself. When you have a facility that holds an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 seats, 70,000 makes the place look only a quarter-full … which is indeed the case.

Put 70,000 fans at Martinsville, and you’ll have standing room only.

Put 70,000 fans at nearby Chicagoland Speedway or Kentucky Speedway and you’ll have a near-sellout.

Put 70,000 fans at Sonoma and you’d likely set track records for road course race attendance.

Put 70,000 in Bristol and it will look half-full – which is still a lot better than IMS looking only a quarter-full.

Attendance at IMS has become a matter of perception over reality. It may look near-empty – when the fact of the matter remains that it’s a bigger crowd than on game day when the NFL’s Colts play a home game.

It’s a bigger crowd typically than the Final Four brings in, a bigger crowd than any World Series game.

So when “fans” start complaining about how empty IMS will be on Sunday, they should take pause and reconsider their assessment.

It’s not necessarily NASCAR’s fault that IMS doesn’t fill up.

Rather, it’s more that the place is just so darn big.

Face it, we’ll never see the 250,000 or so fans that streamed through the gates of IMS for the historic first Brickyard in 1994. It was a unique event at a legendary venue.

It was the place to be if you wanted to be part of NASCAR and motorsports history, the first “foreign” series to race at the fabled IMS in its history.

Sure, while 70,000 or so on Sunday won’t necessarily look all that good on TV, the fact remains that 70,000 filled seats at any professional sports venue is still a big success any way you slice it.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.

Williams maximizes wet setup work despite limited running in Sochi

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With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.

Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.

Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.

“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.

“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”

Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.