The Izod IndyCar Series returned to Pocono Raceway last month after a 24-year absence. One of the spectators in attendance was four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon.
It was a rare appearance for Gordon at an open-wheel race and the visit left him contrasting the differences between IndyCar and NASCAR.
"I am very, very appreciative of this sport and this series that we are in because when you drive in that tunnel for an IndyCar race, and you drive in here for a NASCAR race -- you get a perspective of how big our sport is," Gordon said Friday at Pocono.
One thing which jumped out to Gordon was the number of people who are present for a Sprint Cup race at Pocono compared to the turnout for the track's first IndyCar race since 1989.
His perspective comes at a time when sagging ticket sales and flat television ratings have been among the predominant storylines in NASCAR this season. Part of Gordon's realization is that despite the sports' ills, things could be worse.
"The biggest thing that stood out when I got here last night was all the motor homes and all the tents and camping and the number of fans that are here for the NASCAR races," Gordon said. "Sometimes we see the decline or something going flat and we are not seeing these grandstands filled up, but let me tell you, go to an IndyCar race and then a month or two weeks later and come back here."
"We better be very thankful for all the people we have here. It's pretty amazing."
An estimated 30,000 people attended the Pocono IndyCar race, which was at least half the number of those who were present for the Cup race four weeks prior. Gordon's comments drew the ire of Tony Kanaan, who is competing in an IndyCar race this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"I was at the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 (both at Indianapolis Motor Speedway)," Kanaan told the Indianapolis Star. "It was the same shock to me."
The defending Indianapolis 500 champion was pointing out the discrepancy in attendance between the two marquee events -- the 500 drew an estimated 250,000 vs. 75,000 for the Brickyard 400.
There were also aspects of IndyCar that left Gordon wowed, however, that didn't draw the ire of Kanaan.
Gordon was particularly impressed by the speeds generated by the open-wheel cars in contrast to how a Cup car lumbers around the 2.5-mile track. Marco Andretti's pole speed of 221.273 mph was 40 mph quicker than the lap that secured Jimmie Johnson the No. 1 starting spot for Sunday's GoBowling.com 400.
"I was really blown away with the speeds they ran in qualifying," Gordon said. "I mean gosh, 222 (mph) and to go flat out around here. I was thinking about it today coming down pit road and how much I was braking going into turn three and I just can't imagine those guys running wide-open."
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