If Sunday's on-track action was any indication, the stands at Talladega Superspeedway should have been packed. At least that’s what Jeff Gordon believes.
NASCAR estimated the attendance at 88,000 on Sunday, down from the 105,000 that attended the fall race last year (an all-time low since officials began announcing the numbers).
Track officials and NASCAR say attendance is down across the tour because of the tough economy. The rotating nature of the fall Talladega race doesn’t help matter either. This year’s race was held on Oct. 7, compared to Oct. 23 a year ago. The race was held on Oct. 31 in 2010.
Even with the date changes, Gordon said he couldn't wrap his mind around the drop-off.
“From an entertainment standpoint, they should be lined up out to the highway out there,” Gordon said. “I don’t get that at all. That makes no sense to me. So there’s got to be something more to it.
"If I’m a race fan, I want to see two- and three-wide racing all day long, passing back and forth. I want to see guys shoving one another. I want to see the Big One at the end of the race because guys are being so aggressive, and knowing that is not something that as a fan you could ever imagine putting yourself into and sort of defying danger.”
Last year’s Talladega races featured tandem drafting that was widely panned by a majority of NASCAR’s fan base. The finish of last year’s fall race saw the two-car tandem of Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer break away from the larger pack and settling the race amongst themselves.
NASCAR responded by changing the rules package for restrictor-plate racing, leading to a return of the big pack racing largely seen during the last decade. Gordon, like most drivers, doesn’t enjoy competing at Daytona and Talladega these days, but he can’t deny the discipline’s entertainment factor either.
“If I’m a fan, I would love this,” Gordon said. “I think it’s intense. It’s wild. It’s crazy. It’s something you’re going to have to see.”