While NASCAR downplayed tire problems they’ve been having at Indianapolis, sources close to the series said there was lots of consternation until testing at the track June 1-2. No track has held more tire tests than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the last year.
“This has been our No. 1 priority for the last 11 months, and I think we got it right,” Greg Stucker, Goodyear director of race tire sales, said late this morning.
NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne today said the tires tested this week at Indianapolis were a major improvement over the ones used during last year's problem-plagued race.
“You can trust me, they’ve got it solved,” Gordon said at a press conference which wrapped up shortly after noon today at the Speedway.
Stucker said the test two weeks ago was a huge turning point in coming up with the correct rubber compound that would stand up to the IMS track. He added that despite the heavy rains in central Indiana, there was still rubber on the track from the test two weeks ago.
Stucker said the tire that was designed for the Brickyard 400 is one that was developed specifically for the diamond-ground Speedway, and would not be used at other tracks. Stucker would not say how much it cost to develop the tire, but industry sources estimated the cost in the mid six-figure range.
“Yesterday to me was a mark of how much progress they have made,” Gordon said. “This test, we never even came close to the wear holes. The excessive wear that some of us were expecting was not there. It was fantastic.”
Despite the Goodyear fix, there are still serious concerns about Brickyard 400 attendance, and that could have as much bearing on the Indy Racing League as NASCAR. IMS and IRL boss Tony George has long used profits from the Brickyard to prop up the open-wheel series.
NASCAR Chairman Brian France countered this week that reports of lagging ticket sales for the Brickyard 400 were overstated. Recent reports estimate ticket sales are in the 100,000 range. The Brickyard, which has arguably become the second biggest race on the NASCAR circuit, typically draws 230,000 spectators and brings in an estimated $35 million to $40 million annually to the Speedway.
“NASCAR is not being hit anywhere near that hard in other markets,” said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis who has conducted several independent studies on NASCAR. “If the attendance really has dropped off that much, you’d have to wonder about the marketing of this event. The Speedway only has so many resources, so it may be a case where they’ve focused more resources on the [Indianapolis] 500.”
If the Brickyard 400 has a big attendance drop off, it may be difficult to get it back to its glory days.
“Sports attendance is a ritualistic behavior,” DeGaris said. “Once you break that cycle, it can be really difficult to re-start it.”