IndyStar Motor Sports Insider Jim Ayello and Matthew Glenesk try to make sense of a wild Brickyard 400.
Matt Kryger / IndyStar
INDIANAPOLIS – Bill Ryan had attended 23 straight Brickyard 400s. He almost skipped Sunday.
Why bother? If the racing — if you could even call it that — is anything like it was last year, he’d probably just fall asleep. Again.
“What a snoozer,” the Detroit resident said of Kyle Busch’s runaway victory last year. “I don’t drink while I’m at races, so I didn’t pass out. I just got tired and bored and I dozed off.”
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Sunday’s 24th iteration was shaping up to be a virtual carbon copy. Busch led 87 of 110 laps and looked poised to win his third straight Brickyard before colliding with Martin Truex Jr. on a restart, as the two leaders knocked each other out of the race. Kasey Kahne wound up with the win, as he one was of few to survive the crash-marred second half of the Brickyard.
The late crashes certainly amped up the excitement level of what had been a monotonous race, but unfortunately, there were few fans in attendance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to appreciate it.
Like Ryan, fans had been turned off by years of single-file racing, with one driver running away from the pack. After years of hundreds of thousands of fans filling out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grandstands, only an estimated 35,000 were in attendance Sunday to witness a thrilling finish.
The racing had gotten so bad in recent years that Ryan and his friends thought about breaking their now-24-year tradition and going to watch a NASCAR race somewhere else. Last week’s race at Kentucky Speedway sounded pretty good, but it wound up being too short of notice to change plans. He’d already made all the arrangements. He had already booked his hotel and bought tickets.
Oh, how he wishes he hadn’t bought all those tickets.
Ryan purchased his usual eight-pack for Sunday’s race — $92 apiece — but the regular crew couldn’t join him, so he had four to spare. Ryan has had extras before and always has been able to at least recoup face value. But not Sunday.
He sold three for $50 each but couldn’t find a taker for the fourth. Ticket scalpers tried to lowball him, offering $20, but Ryan refused. He persisted looking for someone who’d give him at least half of what he paid but never found such a soul. Ryan wound up eating the final ticket, netting him a weekend loss of $218.
Racing Insiders James Ayello and Brody Miller talk Brickyard 400 and Xfinity race. (Matt Kryger/IndyStar)
Ryan loves Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not only has he now witnessed all 24 Brickyard 400s, he’s also come to the Indianapolis 500 for decades.
“This is the place that makes the hair on my arms stand up,” Ryan said. “I get excited about the tradition, but they have to do something about bringing the excitement back to the track.”
Like many NASCAR fans, Ryan was encouraged by Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. The package NASCAR experimented with during the Lilly Diabetes 250, while making few fans of drivers, produced enthusiasm among the fans who watched. Sixteen lead changes with eight different leaders? Ryan would kill to see that in Indy’s Cup race.
NASCAR hasn’t committed to any changes yet, but Ryan said if they don’t do something to address the monotony, he might not be at IMS come next September.
“It’s hard to say no completely, but I’ll have a hard time coming back,” Ryan said.
Fellow fan Jim Ritz said he’ll definitely return next year, but mostly because he doesn’t want to end his Brickyard 400 attendance streak one short of 25 straight.
“It’s gotten more and more difficult to watch,” said Ritz, who said he is excited about the added drama of the race moving to September and serving as the regular-season finale. “It’s just single file. The fastest guy just checks out. There’s no racing. The racing is for 15th. It’s hard to get excited. The Xfinity race, though, seemed to be a step in the right direction. Hopefully they make those changes for the Cup guys next year. TBD I guess.”
What’s not TBD Ritz said is whether or not the Brickyard will ever return to its past glory with hundreds of thousands of fans filling out the rows of the speedway grandstands.
“They killed off too many fans,” Ritz said. “The polish has worn off. How do you get that back? I don’t think they can.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Jim Ayello on Twitter and Instagram: @jimayello.