I promise this is not going to be the same post-Brickyard 400 column I wrote last year — but it’s going to be close.
To the two people who read it last year, I profusely apologize.
“Hey, NASCAR, this whole Brickyard thing just isn’t working out.” — NASCAR fans.
Speaking on behalf of fans everywhere, if I could be so bold, I am not going to sugarcoat this: it’s not us, it’s you. Sure, we had some good times. How can we forget Ricky Rudd’s victory in the 1997 running driving for himself? Or Dale Jarrett kissing the bricks? Or Bill Elliott turning back time to win in 2003?
We will always have those memories, but it’s over.
This year’s racing wasn’t that bad. It had moments when it was pretty good. The Xfinity race was a very good race. But, I will say this again: this generation of stock car — and the one before it — does not race well on Indianapolis’s flat sweeping turns. NASCAR played with the aero package for the Xfinity cars, which improved the racing, but as they inevitably change the cars, we will be starting over.
This relationship has been deteriorating since the 2008 tire debacle that led to a disastrous race that saw NASCAR throwing the caution every 10-12 laps due to excessive tire wear with the “Car of Tomorrow.”
Attendance at the event has been dropping precipitously since then to an estimated low of 35,000 people for this year’s event. For a little perspective, the inaugural event drew an estimated 250,000 people and this year’s Indianapolis 500 drew 350,000 people.
The shine is off the apple for fans and NASCAR at Indy. 2017 is much different than 1994.
The run up to that initial running was monumental: two years of testing and 83 cars showing up for the race with 70 attempting to make the 43-car field. The race featured the largest crowd in NASCAR history, and a then-record purse of $3.2 million.
In 2017, the aforementioned 35,000 people showed up. Only 40 cars attempted to make the 40-car field. The race was called the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 for God’s sake. That’s way too much bro country to add to my racing.
The bigger problem with all of this is the 2017 running isn’t going to do anything to help NASCAR’s Indianapolis position. While I have been listening and watching all the NASCAR radio and TV folks extol the sanctioning body’s handling of the end of the race, I still can’t get over the blatant making-it-up-as-they-go-ness of the whole thing.
If you watch NASCAR, you know there is this “overtime line.” This arbitrary line on the backstretch is the point at which, when the leader reaches it during “NASCAR overtime,” you have an official restart and any caution past that moment ends the race.
The problem at Indy was this: there was a fairly large crash during overtime that occurred as leader Kasey Kahne was well short of the overtime line. No caution, no caution and as soon as Kahne hit the overtime line, the caution flew. It was a solid four seconds.
NASCAR’s response was they treat the end of the race differently than other times during the race. This is crap. NASCAR was not going to have another restart. They were chasing daylight after extensive rain delays. It was too dark to restart again.
NASCAR should have thrown the caution then called the race for darkness (Indianapolis doesn’t have lights). The outcome wouldn’t have changed, Kahne would have still won, but your rules wouldn’t look so flipping arbitrary and NASCAR could have salvaged a bit of credibility.
One more nail in the coffin for fans and NASCAR and Indy.
Let’s be real, we gave it a good try. It was great at the beginning, but in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be. I think it’s time for everyone to move on and find a better fit.
Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.