INDIANAPOLIS — The Brickyard 400 is no more. Well, it kind of is as NASCAR will still invade the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the finish line of the Yard of Bricks will still serve as the ending point of the race, it’s just that the cars will be going in the opposite direction and much slower now.
NASCAR will run on the road course in 2021 with the NASCAR Cup Series racing at Indy on Sunday, Aug. 15. It will be a shared weekend though with the NTT IndyCar Series who will race on Saturday, Aug. 14.
So, how did we get here? How did we go from a Goodyear Tire Test in 1992 that packed this place full of over 100k to a sold out inaugural running in 1994 that saw hometown hero Jeff Gordon win the first event to a road course race in 2021?
Gordon, was the Ray Harroun of NASCAR at Indy. Dale Earnhardt won a year later in 1995. Dale Jarrett in 1996. The event was off with big named winner and put NASCAR on center stage here in the Circle City.
In all honestly, with the CART-IRL split coming in 1996 and the Brickyard’s novelty, it was the Brickyard, not the Indy 500 as the main marquee event at Indianapolis. Yes, the ‘500 was the ‘500 but the ‘400 was the way to go.
Now, 26 years later, the announcement comes that NASCAR will no longer race on the oval. Why?
Indy 500’s Gain, NASCAR’s Tire Debacle
Part of the reason for the Brickyard’s decline was IndyCar started rising again. In 2008, the split was over and a unified open wheel series was one again. It was also the same year that we saw the Goodyear tire debacle in Indy which was a race of short burst then a mandatory caution to change the tires. That comes three years following a similar debacle for the F1 race.
This was the start of the downturn for NASCAR at Indy.
The second part was, once people saw just how boring the Brickyard could be, you add to the fact that this race was taking place in late July or early August with the temperatures soaring well into the upper 80s and 90s most race days. Without relief in sight, most figured they’d just watch it at home.
That contributed to a loss of fans alone and made this just a diehard race only.
NASCAR’s Popularity Diminished For A While
From the turn of the last decade, NASCAR’s popularity starting dropping more and more as the years went on. NASCAR was the “it” sport in the 90s and into the 2000’s, but once big named drivers started retiring, NASCAR didn’t make up the popularity gap.
Gordon, Stewart, Earnhardt, Patrick and a whole host of other stars are gone. That fan base left with them here. While NASCAR is starting to rise again, the impact of so many fans lost was too much to get back to what it was.
The Brickyard will never have those 200+k fans again as recent crowds have ranged as low as 40k to upwards of 75k.
Why The Move To An August Date?
So, now that we’re here, why is the race in August and not July. Well, not many people wanted it in July to begin with. NASCAR put Indy in the September slot as the regular season finale for two years, but the racing didn’t improve. I mean, how would it? The cutoff race of the regular season wouldn’t necessarily be the magic pill to fix the race.
The race is what it is. It’s a spectacle. This track was never made with NASCAR’s in mind, so you can’t necessarily fault the racing or lack of passing. So no matter what date this race fell, it had no merit of the racing.
Then, with Daytona moving from its annual spot last year, the Fourth of July weekend opened up and NASCAR felt it was best that Indy went there. The thing is, Indy didn’t necessarily want to be there though. It’s too hot and too close to the Indy 500. They feared this wouldn’t work.
So, NASCAR gave Indy three slots for 2021, one in June, one in July and one in August. The Speedway obviously wanted August and that’s what they luckily got.
Will We Ever Go Back To The Oval?
Doug Boles didn’t shut the door on an oval return, but he also said that the road course is the way to go right now to give this race a shot in the arm that it deserves. Will a move back to the oval later down the road help give it another spark? Maybe.