By: Drew Hierwarter
For the second straight year Juan Pablo Montoya was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the Brickyard 400. In the 2009 race Montoya had the dominant car and looked like a sure winner only to throw it all away by earning a pit road speeding penalty on the final stop.
This year was more of the same with JPM starting from the pole and leading with seeming ease. At one point he had extended his lead to almost nine seconds, an eternity by NASCAR standards. No other car could run with Montoya and it was, once again, his race to lose. And once again it would be a late race pit stop that would be the team’s undoing.
With Montoya pulling away from the field, a caution flag for debris set up the final round of pit stops. Crew chief Brian Pattie called for four tires. Unfortunately, the next six teams in the running order all elected to take on two tires and that put Montoya behind all of them on the restart.
Now running in the dirty air of traffic, JPM couldn’t make up any ground and ultimately spun and crashed out of the race. Afterwards, Brian Pattie was seen sitting in the hauler with his head in his hands. He took full blame for the bad call but, in his defense, former championship crew chief and TV analyst Andy Petree said he would have made the same call.
Although he won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Montoya remains winless at Indy in a stock car. In his four starts in the Brickyard 400 he has led over 200 laps and only has an average finish of 21st to show for it. Is this the early stages of an Andretti style curse at Indy?
If you watched the TV coverage of the Brickyard 400, it was impossible to ignore the empty seats. The aerial views showed vast sections of uncovered aluminum shining in the sunlight. It would seem that there is trouble in paradise.
Looking at all the unsold seating, the easy thing would be to sit back and be all negative and talk about how the speedway is in trouble, NASCAR is in trouble, and the whole sport is going to crumble down to the backwoods it started out in, in a very short time. The internet will be full of those with that view point.
In reality I think, NASCAR’s glass is half full.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a vast place. They claim they have seating for 257,000 and, if you count the infield standing room only, a total capacity of 400,000. The official crowd figure for Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was 140,000.
Anytime you seat 140,000 people in a stadium that holds almost three times that amount it’s going to look near empty. But the fact is that Sunday’s attendance tied the third largest crowd for a NASCAR race this season. Only Daytona and Las Vegas drew more fans.
Yes, this race has sold more tickets in the past. Yes, all of the races this year are down in attendance. So are all of the NFL’s games, and Major League Baseball’s games, and just about every other major sport.
The glory days of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s are gone and they may never come back. No longer can race track promoters simply open the gates and expect a sellout crowd to file in. And some tracks, like any good business should do, are making adjustments like removing seats, spreading out existing seats by making them wider and more comfortable. And doing whatever they must to remain profitable.
The fact remains that it’s all relative and NASCAR races still draw consistently larger crowds than any other sport in America. Rumors of NASCAR’s demise are extremely premature.