NASCAR boldly predicting better racing, more passing at Brickyard 400

NASCAR officials are in Indianapolis this week doing a media sweep and making some bold claims about this year’s Brickyard 400.

NASCAR predicts its Gen-6 race car, which debuted this year, will dramatically increase fan interest and attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Brickyard 400.

That would be welcome news for Speedway executives, who watched attendance slump from 138,000 in 2011 to 125,000 in 2012. It's been quite a free fall since 2005 when, according to NASCAR, 280,000 watched the race.

There have long been grumblings about IMS, with its relative lack of banking, not being an exciting venue for stock cars. But the racing, many fans have said, became noticeably less appealing with the 2007 introduction of NASCAR's fifth-generation car, the Car of Tomorrow.

NASCAR parked the Car of Tomorrow after last year in favor of the Gen-6, which has been two years in the making and whose outlines hew closer to actual showroom cars.

NASCAR fans in Indy might still be skeptical given the lack of passing they’ve seen at the Brickyard 400 in recent years.

Those days are over, said Trent Bailey, NASCAR’s competition communication manager.

“I think we’ve proven, and our drivers have confirmed, that this new car is racier,” Bailey said.

For an indication of what the action on the IMS track will look like on July 28, NASCAR officials recommend that fans tune in to this weekend's race in Pocono.

“The [Gen-6] car has more grip and that means more passing, even on flatter tracks like Indianapolis and Pocono,” Bailey told IBJ Tuesday.

There are several key aesthetic and technical reasons why this new car will have fans juiced about the Brickyard 400, Bailey said.

First is its look. NASCAR fans wanted some of the stock aspects returned to stock car racing, Bailey said.

“If you put it side by side with the car sold on the showroom floor, the silhouette is near identical,” he said. “People want to see the drivers race cars that look like the ones they buy.

“We listened to our fans and our manufacturers,” Bailey added. “They want the cars to be differentiated and to be able to recognize the different brands in the series.”

But NASCAR isn’t just a beauty contest. There are key reasons why this new car will perform better on the track—even at IMS.

The Gen-6 car is 150 pounds lighter than the Car of Tomorrow due to adding a carbon fiber hood and deck lid—NASCAR-speak for trunk.

“That gives it a better power-to-weight ratio,” Bailey said.

In addition, the car is 60 pounds heavier on the left side, which helps it turn better on ovals like IMS where a driver turns only left. That’s 10 pounds heavier on the left than the Car of Tomorrow. While the change might seem small, Bailey insists that, together with other design changes, the Gen-6 will have a big impact on the quality of racing at the Brickyard 400.

NASCAR also added a steeper angle, or camber, to the rear axle, which helps the Gen-6 handle better. And Bailey pointed out that Goodyear has done extensive tire testing with the new car at various tracks, including Indianapolis.

Indianapolis race fans haven't forgotten the 2008 Brickyard 400, when cars had to pit every 10 to 12 laps because tires were shredding.

The aero package of the new car also has some important differences. The biggest is a larger rear spoiler. That increases down-force, which helps the car stick to the track better and theoretically should help the cars run faster at Indianapolis.

Roof-mounted cameras were even removed because they gave cars in the lead 80 pounds of extra down-force, giving them an advantage on curves.

So what does all this mean?

“Ideally, closer, faster racing and more passing,” Bailey said. “Already this year, we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback on the new car from the drivers. In the simplest terms, they say it feels ‘real racey.’”

Earlier this year, NASCAR did an East Coast media swing, getting the word out about the new car. NASCAR is trying to do everything it can to reverse attendance and television ratings declines that have gripped the series in recent years.

NASCAR knows Indianapolis is an important market. In addition to hosting one of its biggest races all year, Indy is usually No. 2 in TV ratings for NASCAR races. Charlotte, N.C., is No. 1. Series reps are spending two days here talking to media outlets.

Just how the changes will affect attendance this year is difficult to say. NASCAR officials certainly are burning rubber trying to increase interest.

“Ever since the season opener in Daytona this year, we’ve had an uptick in interest everywhere we’ve been,” said Matt Ciesluk, NASCAR's integrated marketing communications director. “We expect the same in Indianapolis.”

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