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Why NASCAR Fans HATE or LOVE the Indianapolis Oval

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Joshua Lipowski

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Denny Hamlin made some headlines this weekend by saying that NASCAR should return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval next year. He is not the only one to advocate for that, and it has become an interesting point of discussion amongst fans. Is it the right move for NASCAR, however? Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.

Pro: The Return of a Crown Jewel

At one point, the Brickyard 400 was the second biggest race in NASCAR. It was the highest attended race of the season, and it even occasionally got better TV ratings than the Indianapolis 500. This was a race that every driver wanted to win, and it truly was a Crown Jewel event.

Obviously, declining attendance and TV ratings over the latter years of the event took away from what was once considered the second biggest race in NASCAR, but that did not mean it was completely worthless. It still meant a lot to the drivers, and it’s still Indianapolis at the end of the day. NASCAR would be the only other series to race on the oval aside from IndyCars at the Indianapolis 500.

Con: Will the Fans Respond?

One of the biggest reasons that NASCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway got rid of the oval in the first place was because of declining attendance. According the IndyStar’s Wilson Moore, 35,000 people attended the 2017 Brickyard 400. This is a far cry from the 200,000+ or 300,000+ people who attended the race at its peak.

Now, 35,000 is not a number too far off from some races as tracks like Nashville and North Wilkesboro hold less than 40,000 people at max capacity. However, it looks bad at a track that has 235,000 grandstand seats. Even if NASCAR accepts that the crowd will never compete with the crowds of the 1990s and 2000s, will the turnout be good enough to justify the move?

Pro: The Next-Gen Car

Another big reason for why NASCAR made the move from the oval to the road course was because of the racing product. Indianapolis was a single groove race track where dirty air made it almost impossible to pass. The race track’s big size also meant that cars tended to spread out, which led to little close racing.

The Next-Gen car is a different beast, however. The track most comparable to Indianapolis on the schedule currently is Pocono, and that race this year was one of the best Pocono races in years. If Pocono can race well with the Next-Gen car, then why not Indianapolis?

Con: The Racing Product

As chaotic as the road course races at Indianapolis have been, they have still been very entertaining. Even though the Next-Gen car could better the product at Indianapolis, there is also reason to believe that the product could be worse. Drivers have complained about the aero-sensitivity of the Next-Gen car, and Indianapolis does not lend itself well to fixing those issues.

It’s a single-groove race track, and, even if there is resin or PJ1 or whatever added, the track will likely remain a one-groove track. Once the run goes on and drivers settle into their positions, the race could become a procession. The Next-gen car’s aero issues could only worsen the situation.

Pro: Easier Race to Market

Marketing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval is much easier than the road course to a more casual audience. Everyone seemingly knows about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, and NASCAR will get eyeballs on that race just for that reason. If people tune in to Indianapolis and see a road course race, some may turn away.

There is no guarantee that the race can or will get good TV ratings, but logic and history would say it should. Plus NASCAR being only the second racing series all year to run an oval race at Indianapolis is quite an interesting novelty.

Con: How Long Until the Novelty Wears Off?

You may be able to succeed a one-off, nostalgic race at the oval. However, if the race does not pan out the way NASCAR or the race track hopes, then fans could turn away from it quickly. Remember the days when fans were clambering for the race to be moved to the road course?

It could take one bad race for fan sentiment to turn away from racing at the oval. The novelty can wear off, and it already has once.

Time will tell whether or not Indianapolis will host a race on the oval or the road course next year. Would an oval race work, or will it go back to the negative sentiment it had years ago.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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