Allstate 400 attendance could be down as much as 100K

Brickyard 400In the midst of a season during which the sagging economy has hit NASCAR from all sides, the series visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for the 16th time with the added burden of making fans forget what happened a year ago.

“Today has challenges to it,” NASCAR President Mike Helton conceded about a sport confronted by a litany of issues that includes:

Falling attendance and TV ratings.

Reduced financial commitment from its four participating automobile manufacturers, two of which — General Motors and Chrysler — have only recently emerged from bankruptcy.

The suspension of driver Jeremy Mayfield, which has wound up in the courts. NASCAR claims Mayfield twice failed tests for methamphetamine; the driver maintains his innocence and accuses NASCAR of doctoring the results.

On top of all that, a return to Indianapolis brings back memories of the 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, in which a record 52 of 160 laps were run under caution because of safety concerns about rapid tire wear.

NASCAR was forced to slow the race every 10 to 12 laps to allow teams to change tires.

The latter problem, at least, appears to have been resolved. Goodyear tested seven times at the Speedway and, after the final test last month, all involved were adamant that tires would not be an issue in Sunday’s race.

“It’s been a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of commitment on a lot of people’s parts to make sure we’ve covered all of our bases,” Goodyear official Greg Stucker said. “We’re very, very confident we’ve done that.”

But even with those assurances and the fact that the top two spots in the Sprint Cup standings belong to a pair of Indiana drivers — two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart, who was born and still has a home in Columbus, and four-time winner Jeff Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro — ticket sales have been lagging.

While not divulging numbers, outgoing track President Joie Chitwood said IMS is not immune to the economic realities that have produced an alarming number of empty seats (official attendance is not made public) at nearly all of this season’s first 19 races.

“We’re going to be down, like just about every other venue out there,” Chitwood said.

But with a smile, he noted that because of the Speedway’s enormity (257,000 permanent seats), it could have 100,000 go unused and still boast NASCAR’s biggest crowd of the season.

“Trust me, we’ll have a lot of people here,” Chitwood said.


Allstate 400 attendance could be down as much as 100K

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