Monday, July 28, 2014

RPM Tests As Ambrose Dodges Reports Of Departure

Ambrose has options
In the world of NASCAR, there is truly no rest for the weary. 

Currently enmeshed in a “17 races in 17 weeks” run that will carry the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series through the 2015 season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway on Nov. 16, a handful of teams traveled directly from Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Watkins Glen International today, to test for next month’s NASCAR At The Glen. 

One of those teams is Richard Petty Motorsports, working to secure both of its NASCAR Sprint Cup teams a berth in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. RPM left the Brickyard yesterday after a 21st-place finish for driver Aric Almirola and a 22nd for teammate Marcos Ambrose, flying directly to the Watkins Glen road course for a two-day test session. 

The goal of the test will be to collect information and give Ambrose and Almirola the best possible setup when they return for the race in two weeks. If Ambrose can win the event – and he is a leading candidate to do so – RPM will put two cars in the title Chase for the first time ever.   

In addition to a brutal race and testing schedule, RPM’s No. 9 Ford team must maintain focused in the face of persistent reports that Ambrose could depart the team at season’s end.
The Aussie's future has been the subject of widespread speculation for weeks now, and multiple sources tell that Ambrose will in fact return to his native Australia at season's end to drive for a new Aussie V8 Supercar team fielded by veteran series owner Dick Johnson and new partner Roger Penske in 2015.
Ambrose is a two-time champion of the Aussie VB Supercar Series and Penske Racing president Tim Cindric confirmed recently that discussions have taken place about fielding a team with Johnson. Penske is currently building a number of new automobile and Western Star truck dealerships “down under,” but a spokesperson for Dick Johnson Racing said earlier this month that "there is nothing to report at the present time.”
RPM owner Richard Petty said last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Ambrose “has been good for Richard Petty Motorsports,” adding, “we admire what he's been doing for us.” Petty said the decision on whether to stay in the U.S. or return to Australia is up to Ambrose.
In Petty’s words, “You'll have to ask him."
Ambrose has declined comment, telling reporters at IMS, "If I had something to say, I'd already say it."

COMMENTARY: Jack Spills The Beans

Jack Roush loses another driver
Roush Fenway Racing announced its 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lineup yesterday, and with all due respect, the biggest news concerns who does not appear on the roster.

RFR confirmed that it will field three Sprint Cup teams next season for drivers Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Fastenal Ford) and Trevor Bayne (No. 6 Advocare Ford). Noticeably absent from that lineup is Carl Edwards, who has served as the face of both RFR and Ford Racing since joining NASCAR’s senior circuit in 2004.

Edwards is universally believed to be headed for a fourth Toyota entry at Joe Gibbs Racing next season, and for the second time in the last three years, RFR majority owner Jack Roush has spilled the beans with an unusual July announcement concerning his driver roster for the following season. Two years ago, Roush outed Matt Kenseth’s departure plans in similar fashion, announcing that the former Sprint Cup Series champion would not return to the fold in 2013.

Roush and Edwards: Game over
There is no love lost between Jack Roush and Toyota Racing. Never has been, never will be. After spotting an employee’s Toyota truck in the RFR parking lot years ago, Roush famously paid that employee in Japanese yen. He repeatedly refers to Toyota as “the dark side” and enjoys trumping the rival automaker at every turn. Losing Edwards to Toyota rubs salt in the still-open wound inflicted by Kenseth two years earlier, and Roush reacted – perhaps predictably -- by launching a pre-emptive strike that takes much of the air out of a future Edwards/Gibbs announcement, whenever it may occur.

Ford Racing Director Jamie Allison said Sunday that the automaker “did everything to facilitate keeping Carl a part of the Ford Racing and Roush Fenway family,” lamenting that “in the end, that option did not come to fruition.” Indeed, for the second time in the last three years, Roush Fenway Racing and Ford Motor Company have been spurned by a top-tier, championship caliber driver, left to watch helplessly as one of their brightest lights crosses over to the dark side.

"I will always be thankful for Carl's contribution and the role he played in many Roush Fenway wins and championships," said Roush, mouthing all the platitudes required of an allegedly amicable split. "We wish him well for the future (and) are excited about continuing our quest for a championship with Carl and the No. 99 team in 2014.”

Make no mistake about it, however. Roush does not “wish Edwards well.” In fact, if Carl never wins another Sprint Cup Series race after 2014, it’ll be too soon for Jack. 

That’s why Roush took the unusual step of announcing his 2015 driver lineup last week, rather than waiting until September or October, as is customary in the industry.

No other NASCAR team has publicized its 2015 deals at this early date, preferring instead to focus on the job at hand; qualifying for a 2014 Chase that is now just six weeks away. Only the “Cat in the Hat” has chosen to let the cat out of the bag, with a statement clearly designed to shove it up the collective tailpipe of Edwards and JGR.

For his part, Joe Gibbs continues to keep mum on the topic, saying, "We don't have anything right now to announce. Anything that we're going to do will be coming up in the future. I'm not sure exactly what the time line is.”

There's no beanstalk this time around, no flesh-eating giant to bellow "fee, fie, fo, fum" while striking terror in the hearts of the townspeople. But for JGR, the damage has clearly been done. 

Their much-anticipated Edwards announcement is no longer a question of “if.” 

Thanks to Jack Roush, it’s only a matter of “when.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Busch Touts Talladega As Final Race Before The Chase

Asked today what changes he would make to the 2015 schedule, former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch said he would swap the final event of the regular season and the opening race of the Chase, creating a high-stakes regular season finale at Talladega Superspeedway.

“Could I be president for the day and decide what we're going to do?” laughed Busch. “Maybe we should put Richmond in the Chase and use Talladega as the cutoff to get in. We're all driving around (at Talladega) very tentative and trying not to get in a wreck. But why not make it the final race to get in and throw a huge Wild Card in to try to make it into the Chase?

“By then, you have 15 guys that are pretty much locked in,” he added. “That means those top 15 guys are going to throw it all on the line to try to win. They're not going to be riding in the back to protect their points.

“I would change Richmond and Talladega, and it works because (International Speedway Corporation) owns both those tracks.”

The Stewart Haas Racing driver also suggested putting the season finale up for bid, much like the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympic Games; changing the venue each season.

“I think the final race should be bid on by a committee,” he said. “There's a committee that goes around and it gets filled in on who does the best job with their community to present themselves as the frontrunner to have the Super Bowl. Why not do that with our final stock car race?”

He also advocated a periodic reshuffling of the Chase schedule, saying, “I think Chicago is a great place to start it off. Those Chase races are valuable. And we could mix it up and change some of the races that are in the Chase.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

France Says NASCAR Will Not Negotiate With RTA

NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France made it perfectly clear Monday.

While he will continue to seek input from individual team owners, he has no interest in speaking with the newly formed Race Team Alliance.

The RTA is comprised of nine of NASCAR’s most powerful and successful teams; Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske. Speaking on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway Monday, France said NASCAR’s “business as usual” policy will not include conversations with the new alliance.

"The worst thing that we could ever do is listen to one voice, even if it was a consensus voice," he said. "Every decision we've ever made that's important -- the more input (and) the more people we’ve heard from -- the better the results. That will never change in the business model of NASCAR, because good ideas come from all over the place."

RTA chairman Rob Kauffman has insisted that the alliance will concentrate on “low hanging fruit,” trimming expenditures for travel, hotel accommodations, rental cars and insurance. France endorsed those efforts, saying, “They’re smart guys, they may figure out some things that we’re not aware (of). They’re entitled to approach their business in certain ways (and) we’re going to respect that.”

France said NASCAR “didn't think (the RTA) was necessary," adding, “we think the benefits they will arrive at with this association will be much smaller than they do."

The RTA has said it has no plans to negotiate for a larger share of the new, 2015 television contracts. Under the current deal, 65% of all TV revenue is distributed to speedways, with teams getting 25% and 10% going to NASCAR. France said those percentages will remain unchanged, saying they are “set for historical reasons and because it’s the right allocation. Everybody would like to have more. The tracks would, anybody else would. That’s natural. I think they’ve made mention that they don’t have any desire to do that (and) we’re business as usual."

He also insisted that NASCAR will continue to deal with individual team owners, rather than a chosen spokesman.

"We need all the input we can get,” he said. “That's the whole beauty of the NASCAR business model. Everybody's in it together. We’re going to go down the road of dealing with all the team owners.

“Not most of them, not the big ones. All of them.”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

If You're A Race Fan, This Book Is A MUST!

Motorsports publisher Coastal 181 has announced the release of its latest title, “The People’s Champ: A Racing Life,” by Dave Darland. The autobiography of one of open-wheel racing’s most successful and popular racers was written with well-known journalist Bones Bourcier. The book charts the course of Darland’s racing life, from Quarter-Midgets and local Sprint Cars through his remarkable and ongoing professional career, including championships in all three of USAC’s national divisions – Silver Crown, Sprint Cars, and Midgets.

Not simply a chronological retelling of a great driver’s climb, Darland discusses the rivalries that helped shape his career, the code of conduct he races by, the magic of his sport’s biggest events, and the joys and stresses of being a husband and father in a sport that requires frequent travel and intense focus. The book is annotated with reflections from “eyewitnesses” who have known Dave through their own personal and professional relationships, whether as car owner, mechanic, rival driver, or family member. Darland’s story is illustrated by dozens of color and black and white photographs and includes a foreword by another champion and longtime friend, Tony Stewart.

And Dave Darland is not done yet.  Darland celebrated the launch of the book on July 12th at Kokomo Speedway by winning that night’s Indiana Sprint Week feature and setting a new track record.  

“The People’s Champ” is available online at or by calling Coastal 181 at 877-907-8181 toll free.   

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

KBM Truck Team Sanctioned By NASCAR... Again

The No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports team that competes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been penalized for a rules infraction discovered in post-race inspection July 11 at Iowa Speedway.

The infraction is a P2 level penalty and violates Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 20B-12.8.1 (truck failed to meet post-race height requirements) of the 2014 NASCAR rule book.

As a result of this infraction, crew chief Eric Phillips has been fined $6,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31. In addition, driver Erik Jones has lost 10 championship driver points and owner Kyle Busch has lost 10 championship owner points.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shepherd’s Performance Proves Age Guidelines Needed

Logano's day ruined.
Despite being forced to roll out a backup car after a Friday practice crash, Joey Logano had a good day going at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday. 

The Team Penske driver was running a solid second behind teammate and eventual winner Brad Keselowski with just 88 laps remaining, before an on-track incident with the lapped car of 72-year old Morgan Shepherd ended his hopes for Victory Lane. 

Shepherd was a whopping 16 laps down at the time, after qualifying slowest in the 43-car field, 2.2 seconds off Kyle Busch’s pole speed. His time was a quarter of a second slower than that of the 42nd-place qualifier, Timmy Hill, and he ran 20-30 mph off the pace from the outset before losing the handle, drifting up the track and wrecking Logano.

“I just gotten taken out by the slowest car out there,” said an incredulous Logano afterward. “You'd think there would be some courtesy to the leaders, (but) I guess not. I feel there should be a driver's test, but I guess there isn't.''

For his part, Shepherd complained about the handling of his Circle Sport Racing Chevrolet after the wreck, saying via in-car radio, “Guys, I can't hang on to this thing. (It’s) spinning out going into the corner. It doesn't take much for somebody to get up against me and pull this thing around."

Shepherd's run will inspire debate.
Sunday’s incident will almost certainly re-ignite the debate over the need for further age restrictions in NASCAR. At present, the sanctioning body mandates only a minimum age for national series competition, while requiring drivers to prove their mettle on smaller tracks before being cleared to race on superspeedways. There is no maximum age limit, however, and drivers like Shepherd who have competed for decades routinely receive the green light to continue racing for as long as they like, provided they pass a simple, pre-season physical examination. Aging drivers are not required by the sanctioning body to prove they can skill perform at a high level behind the wheel, and in light of Sunday’s incident, the time for such requirements may finally have come.

This is not the first time in recent seasons that Shepherd has served as a rolling road block. Last fall, he struggled mightily at the Loudon speed plant in equipment that was admittedly not up to snuff. Unfortunately, the results were the same this time around, despite driving for a Circle Sport Racing team that performed well the previous week at Daytona International Speedway with driver Bobby Labonte. Shepherd was embarrassingly slow again Sunday and consistently impeded the progress of the leaders before ending Logano’s bid for Victory Lane in an incident that quite simply should never have happened.

I have great respect for Morgan Shepherd, as both a racer and a man. He is a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner, with an additional 15 career victories in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In his day, he was a force to be reckoned with, wherever and whenever he raced. But those days are long gone.

Despite his resume, Shepherd exhibited neither reasonable speed nor control over his race car last weekend, as Logano can surely attest. Even worse, he displayed extremely poor judgment by remaining on the race track with nothing to gain in a car that was 16 laps down and – by his own admission -- woefully ill-handling.

Professional athletes are infamous for staying too long at the dance. Muhammad Ali, 38-years old and with slowed reflexes and slurred speech caused by the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, was pummeled into retirement by Larry Holmes in a 1980 fight described by actor Sylvester Stallone as “like watching an autopsy on a man who was still alive.” Closer to home, NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip both struggled simply to qualify for races late in their careers.

Shepherd’s most recent NASCAR win came 21 years ago, in March of 1993 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of the drivers who finished in the Top-10 that day, only Shepherd and then-rookie Jeff Gordon remain active today. The others -- Ernie Irvan, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Geoff Bodine, Kyle Petty, Brett Bodine, Bill Elliott and Jimmy Spencer -- have long ago retired.

Based on Sunday’s race at NHMS, it’s time for Shepherd to consider doing the same. It’s also time for NASCAR to ensure that every driver – regardless of age – possesses the skills needed to compete safely at the sport’s highest level.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Helton Says NASCAR Has No Issues With RTA

NASCAR president Mike Helton said today that the sanctioning body will not change its way of doing business as a result of the newly formed Race Team Alliance.
Earlier this week, nine of NASCAR’s top Sprint Cup Series teams announced what they called “an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing.”

Comprised of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske, the RTA announced plans to extend invitations to all full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams in the near future.

Meeting with reporters Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Helton downplayed reports of animosity between the new group and NASCAR, saying the sanctioning body will continue to do business as usual.
“We’re going to stay our course,” said Helton. “We have great respect for our stakeholders, so any perception (that) there could be animosity based on this topic is incorrect.”
He said the sanctioning body will continue to solicit input from all team owners when making policy decisions.  “Every car owner in here has a voice;” he said, “crew members, drivers (and) crew chiefs. We take that input and make what we think are the best decisions that are good for the whole sport.
“We will continue to operate that way. Our intention is to build NASCAR collectively.”
RTA Chairman Rob Kauffman – co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing – denied reports this week that the group intends to lobby NASCAR for a larger percentage of next year’s new, $8.3 billion television contract, saying they will work primarily toward producing cost savings in areas like rental cars, hotel accommodations, air travel and insurance premiums; efforts that Helton said NASCAR supports.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to make decisions in this sport (and) in the garage area, for the race tracks and the other partners that we have,” he said. “Part of that responsibility is to have a sport that has a great product at great race tracks for our fans, and the owners have been very clear that that is their intention, too. We stand together very clearly on that.”
He stressed, however, that the RTA will not change NASCAR’s approach to governing the sport, saying, “We believe that the way we (manage) our form of motorsports has worked. We continue to add assets and value in order to create and grow the sport.”

He also said that NASCAR will continue to seek input from all team owners -- large and small – in an effort to “limit the barrier of entry the best we can… in the garage area of our series (and) to encourage people who want to be owners, drivers or crew members to be part of this sport.”

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Busch's No. 41 Team Docked For Daytona Violation

Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 41 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team has been penalized for a rules infraction discovered in post-race inspection at Daytona International Speedway Sunday. 
The infraction is a P2 level penalty and violates Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 20-12 (l) (for events at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, at all times, the Delta (or difference) of the Z-height measurement between the center of the panhard bar mounting bolt located at the left truck trailing arm and the center of the panhard bar mounting bolt, located at the right rear sub-frame mounting bracket, must not exceed three inches) of the 2014 NASCAR rule book. 

As a result of this infraction, crew chief Daniel Knost has been fined $10,000. In addition, driver Kurt Busch has lost 10 championship driver points and owner Gene Haas has lost 10 championship owner points.

Monday, July 07, 2014

COMMENTARY: As Expected, NASCAR's Push-Drafting Rule Does Not Work

It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.

In January of this year, NASCAR implemented a new rule banning tandem drafting in restrictor plate races in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series. The sanctioning body vowed that drivers attempting to execute tandem drafting maneuvers would be summarily black flagged, with NASCAR Nationwide Series Director Wayne Auton saying during SpeedWeeks 2014 at Daytona, “It’s a simple rule. If your bumpers are locked, you’re pushing. You can bump draft all you want, but don’t lock bumpers and push someone, or we’ll black-flag you both.” 

At the time, some of us worried that NASCAR’s new edict would be difficult to enforce, and impossible to enforce fairly. NASCAR justified those concerns almost immediately, penalizing Nationwide Series driver James Buescher for pushing in the early laps of the season-opener, while inexplicably declining to sanction the driver he pushed. The sanctioning body then ignored numerous, blatant outbreaks of push-drafting in the race’s final laps, leaving observers to wonder exactly what the rule meant and how it would be enforced in the future.

It was more of the same Friday night at the World Center of Racing, as Josh Wise and Landon Cassill were issued early pass-through penalties by NASCAR for violating the push-drafting rule. On the final lap, however, a number of drivers appeared to violate the rule, without being penalized by NASCAR. Most notably, Ryan Sieg pushed winner Kasey Kahne virtually all the way around Daytona’s 2.5-mile tri-oval on the white-flag lap, shoving him past leader Regan Smith to a razor-close, .021 second victory. After the race, both Sieg and Kahne openly admitted flaunting the push-drafting law, raising howls of protest over NASCAR’s non-call.

Kahne (5) and Sieg: Hooked Up!
NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton told reporters afterward that Sieg and Kahne went unpunished because the side-to-side movement of their cars proved them to be bump-drafting, but not linking bumpers. He admitted, however, that the sanctioning body may need to modify (or at least clarify) what is currently a murky interpretation of the rules.

"We'll look at this situation," Pemberton said. "It's the last plate race for the Nationwide Series this season and these are the rules we put in place at the beginning of the year. We've worked with the teams under their suggestions and said that we would look at it by the end of the year and see what adjustments we need to make.”

Without a major remake of NASCAR’s push-drafting rule, it’s simple to predict what will happen when the series returns to Daytona next February. On the final lap, someone will literally attempt to push the envelope, once again forcing NASCAR to decide the outcome of the event by black-flagging a prime contender, or by swallowing the whistle and allowing that driver to ignore the rules. 

Either way, water cooler talk on Monday morning will once again center on the umpire, rather than the game. And that’s a bad thing, no matter how you slice it.  

NASCAR owes it to its competitors and fans to do one of two things. Either come up with a simple, easy to understand, 100% enforceable push-drafting rule before Speedweeks 2015 at Daytona, or take the current, unenforceable rule off the books and let the racers do what they do best.

COMMENTARY: Newly Announced "Race Team Alliance" Raises Hopes... And Concerns

Nine of NASCAR’s most successful teams announced today that they have joined forces to form the Race Team Alliance (RTA); a collaborative business association intended “to create an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing.”

Currently, the RTA is composed of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske. Membership opportunities will reportedly be extended to all full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams in the near future.

Today’s RTA media release said the organization will “engage with stakeholders on creative ways to market and experience the power of the sport’s teams and drivers... (and) explore innovative ways to harness the combined purchasing power and scale of the teams’ operations to drive efficiencies in costs.” RTA chairman Rob Kauffman – co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing - - said the organization “simply formalizes what was an informal group. By working together and speaking with a single voice, it should be a simpler and smoother process to work with current and potential groups involved with the sport. Whether it be looking for industry-wide travel partners or collaborating on technical issues – the idea is to work together to increase revenue, spend more efficiently, and deliver more value to our partners.”

Sources say one of the RTA’s first orders of business will be to negotiate with NASCAR for a larger share of the new, $8-billion television contract that begins in 2015 and continues through the 2025 season. Currently, teams receive 25% of all TV revenue, with 65% going to race tracks and 10% to NASCAR.

Not surprisingly, team owners want a larger piece of that new television pie, and believe they must present a unified front to obtain it.

NASCAR chairman Brian France spoke about the possible re-allocation of TV revenue in his "State of the Sport" address Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, saying NASCAR is "rethinking (the percentages) little bit. That'll be something that we will consider and look at to make sure that the appropriate values are where they need to be."

NASCAR vice president and chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said the sanctioning body was aware of the RTA prior to today’s announcement, but currently has “very few specifics on its structure or purpose. NASCAR's mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete,” said Jewkes. “Our job is to support and strengthen all of the teams, large and small, across all of our series and we'll continue to do that. NASCAR is a unique community with hundreds of stakeholders. They all have a voice and always will."

If they’re smart, the RTA will continue to use terms like “collaborative business association,” avoiding any talk of a possible owners or drivers’ union, which NASCAR has resisted ferociously in the past.

In 1961, driver Curtis Turner was banned for life by NASCAR founder Bill France, Jr., after working with the Teamsters Union in an attempt to unionize the sport. Turner was reinstated four years later, but the union’s foothold in NASCAR was lost. In 1969, a number of top stars including Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough formed the Professional Driver’s Association in an attempt to secure larger race purses and improve safety. The PDA boycotted the first-ever race at Talladega Superspeedway, citing concerns with tire wear, but France competed without his established stars, paying drivers from other sanctioning bodies to take part.

There have been no further attempts to organize or unionize NASCAR.

The newly announced Race Team Alliance has the potential to be a positive force in NASCAR, harnessing the combined purchasing power of its teams and utilizing economies of scale to reduce operating expenses across the board. Hopefully, the organization will open its doors to all NASCAR team owners and immediately begin working with the sanctioning body toward common goals, while resisting the urge to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

COMMENTARY: Pocono's IndyCar Woes Felt Throughout Professional Sports

Pocono's Brandon Igdalski
The Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Pocono Raceway last season for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, with Scott Dixon winning the Pocono INDYCAR 400 in front of a disappointing crowd of 30-35,000 fans.

This week, Pocono CEO Brandon Igdalski told Associated Press sportswriter Dan Gelston that ticket sales for Sunday’s return engagement are down substantially from 2013, adding that he will speak to IndyCar CEO Mark Miles this weekend about pulling out of the final year of their three-year contract. Igdalsky said ticket sales for this year’s race were “kind of scary" when compared to last year, and would not guarantee a return of the IndyCar series to Pocono in 2015. Igdalsky said that if IndyCar does not return, “it's because the fans did not come out and support the event."

In some corners, IndyCar’s Pocono struggles are seen as an indictment of the series and its popularity. In truth, however, the Open Wheel Series is suffering the same attendance maladies as virtually every other professional sport, including NASCAR.

Packed houses at Bristol, a thing of the past?
NASCAR stopped providing attendance figures for its Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks Series’ prior to the 2013 season. But even without those official tallies, it is clear that in-person attendance has dropped substantially in the last decade. A number of tracks, including Talladega, Michigan, Martinsville, have either removed or stopped selling large sections of seats in recent seasons.

The days of 160,000 fans at Bristol, 150,000 at Texas or 140,000 at Talladega are long gone and unlikely to return, at least in the foreseeable future. Blame a faltering economy, unsettling employment news, gas prices that hover near $3.70 per gallon and health insurance premiums that have doubled (or even tripled) for many consumers in the last 120-18 months. Blame an instant-gratification society that has 1,000 entertainment options at its fingertips at all times and is unwilling to spend four hours or more in the grandstands at a professional sporting event. Blame breakthroughs in television, radio and internet technology that have made it easier (and cheaper) to watch the game from the comfort of home, rather than travel to the stadium or race track.

It’s a situation that has professional sports franchises crying the blues. And it’s not just NASCAR and IndyCar.

In-person attendance figures for Formula One racing are not readily available, but that circuit’s television viewership is down dramatically this season. F1’s global audience fell from 515 million in 2011 to 500 million in 2012 and 450 million last season, with staggering losses in many of the sport’s most critical markets. Viewership is down 50% in In Latin America over last season, 13% in Germany and 20% in Italy, and while France’s recent move to Pay-Per-View F1 broadcasts makes a direct comparison difficult, the loss of viewership is seen as nothing less than catastrophic by the sport’s organizers.

Major League Baseball is down...
Tickets sales for Major League Baseball are also down substantially this season. The San Francisco Giants are currently the top-drawing club in Major League Baseball, filling 85.7 percent of their available seats, home and away. The New York Yankees – baseball’s top draw for decades – are close behind at 85.3%, followed by the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox. The lowly Cleveland Indians have filled only 53.3% of their available seats through 83 games this season, worst in the majors.

In the National Basketball Association, attendance was been flat or slightly down in recent years. Many teams are now battling sagging attendance by running promotions that deeply discount tickets and offer other incentives for attendance. In mid-December, the Phoenix Suns offered a money-back guarantee for their game against the Dallas Mavericks, promising full refunds if fans were unhappy with the team’s performance. On secondary ticket markets like StubHub, many franchises now have tickets available for as little as a buck. That was not the case even a few short years ago.

Last season, only the Miami Heat were able to fill 100% of their seats. The Detroit Pistons brought up the rear at just 78.3% of capacity; selling approximately 13,000 seats per game in the 21,000-seat Palace. Piston games regularly featured yawning voids in the stands that television viewers could not help but notice. is the NBA. 
Once the weak sister of major league American sports, the National Hockey League actually averaged more sellouts last season than the NBA, despite modest declines in overall attendance from the previous season. A strict, apples-to-apples comparison is difficult, due to a lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign that reduced the overall number of games played. But comparing the first half of each campaign shows only four teams increasing ticket sales in 2013-14. Six clubs were unchanged and 20 franchises suffered a drop in attendance. Overall, NHL ticket sales were down 3.2% last season.
In terms of attendance, the National Football League remains the 600-pound gorilla of professional sports. Last season, six different franchises – the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears – boasted tickets sales of greater than 100%. The Packers top the list at 104.2% of capacity, meaning that every seat is sold (both home and away) along with a number of standing-room-only tickets. Even with television blackouts imposed in local markets where the home team fails to sell out, most teams now sell between 85 and 90% of their available tickets.
It’s complex problem, and concrete solutions will be difficult to come by. Ticket prices have already begun to fall; a direct result of the inexorable link between supply and demand. Arenas and speedways now provide more “value added” per dollar spent, discounting parking, food and drinks and providing behind-the-scenes VIP Tours and other amenities that were traditionally not available to the average fan.

In the short term, however, men like Brandon Igdalski will continue to face difficult decisions concerning the future of their venues.