The Brickyard 400 delivered a State of the Sport address on Sunday, and it was a mixed bag.
Regarding attendance: Once again huge swaths of the grandstands stood empty under the blazing July sun. When it is 100F outside I completely understand a casual fan’s disinterest in getting roasted. However, the decline of America attending NASCAR events continues. It is the racing? Well, it could be. Indianapolis was not the poster child for the quality of competition in 2016. We’ve enjoyed far more stunners than yawners this year at other locations. However, the massive 2 1/2 mile flat track does not engender much side by side excitement except on restarts. It used to be simply the chance to see your favorite drivers up close and personal was enough to sell a $100 ticket. Not anymore. The racing fan appears to want a show for their hard earned cash, as well.
There’s a new King in town: In case you missed it, Kyle Busch may indeed be the most talented driver we’ve ever seen in the sport. He has mastered the art of stinking up the show just about every time he gets in the No. 18–no matter the series. In a world where we demand perfection in our major league sports stars, he is surpassing the goal. When all is said and done twenty years in the future, and he is being inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it will be his thunderous achievements on the track that will be chronicled by the historians, not his misspent youth as a braggart and driving bully.
The Good Old Days are Always the Best: In a place where racing became legend, two of NASCAR’s own legends cranked up the nostalgia on Sunday. The parade lap at the end of the race where Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon took a spin side by side was the kind of moment from which future commemorative dinner speeches are made. Gone were decades of hard fought competition, fan disinterest or disapproval, and even wild unleashed tirades on the part of the drivers. Just about everybody wiped a tear as only the mythical perfect past moments danced before our faulty memories.
The Children are Our Future: Maybe Dad wants to kiss the greasy, filthy, smelly bricks, but Brexton Busch had better things to do. He might be the child of the current NASCAR phenom, but eating Skittles off the ground is far more engrossing than giving a nod to the past. While the new generation of competitors is graduating from high school, we have to wonder if the future of this sport will look anything like the moonshine running races from which it was born. In the 21st century, there is already precious little resemblance, save for the name and some of the storied tracks on which we run. Then again, if all we want is to harken back to the good old days, perhaps running races where there is a single car left on the lead lap is exactly what we all should be striving for.
Tune in next week for an address from the third party candidate. Pocono isn’t an oval. It’s not a road course. What will it demand from the future of NASCAR?
Sometimes it takes time to really appreciate a new installation. The pylon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was updated in 2014. Fully outfitted in LED lights, it is the best caution light and green flag in racing!
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