Indianapolis Motor Speedway will play host to the second-biggest NASCAR race of the year on Sunday – at least in terms of prestige.
But in terms of actual racing, NASCAR at the Brickyard has often seemed like nothing more than a parade with 43 floats designed as race cars.
After 18 years filled with nondescript races featuring little-to-no action on the track, the shine and novelty of having stock cars race on the century-old speedway has worn off. The number of empty seats now far outweigh the number of spectators, and the time has come to acknowledge something once unthinkable: NASCAR should no longer race at Indianapolis.
Some will say there's no way NASCAR can turn its back on a track as historic and prestigious as the Brickyard. The publicity and media attention the race generates is more important than the uneventful racing.
But those arguments are made despite dramatically reduced attendance – which started before the economy took a hit. As recently as 2007, the attendance was 270,000 by NASCAR estimates. Last year? A dip to 138,000. So though there's something to be said for running on a track with the rich history of Indianapolis, there's no denying the lackluster response from the public.
What good is the extra media attention if all you're doing is showcasing a product that rarely offers fans a reason to get excited?
NASCAR probably realizes this. After all, there is a reason why officials in Daytona are scrambling to try and recapture the magic in a race which no longer resonates with the masses. That's why this year's festivities included not only the Nationwide Series for the first time, but the Grand-Am Series as well, which will race around the road course on Friday.
These moves were made with the intent of giving fans a bigger bang for their buck. But it's the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a shark bite.
Giving fans more value doesn't hide the fact side-by-side racing is a rarity at Indianapolis or that we've never seen a pass for the lead on the final lap. In fact, just twice in 18 races has there been a pass for the lead in the closing five laps – and one of those passes was because the leader had a tire going down (Jeff Gordon overtaking Ernie Irvan during the inaugural event in 1994).
So how is it beneficial for NASCAR to showcase itself on the biggest stage in the world if the product leaves the consumer dissatisfied?
Of course, this opinion is not shared by the 43 drivers who will start Sunday's race. While the drivers recognize the decline in attendance, the desire to win at Indy hasn't diminished.
"From a spectacle, and just hype and excitement and energy to be a part of, I think it's a huge event," said Jeff Gordon, the only four-time winner of the 400. "... For the drivers, it still holds just as much prestige as it ever did."
"Daytona and Indy are both huge," Carl Edwards said. "I don't think there is any bigger race than those two."
Ultimately, there might be too much money, prestige and history involved for NASCAR to ever consider moving a race from the most hallowed track in all of motorsports.
If that's the case, then cue the clowns, beauty queens and marching bands, and let's get started on the parade they're calling the "Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com."