Will Kentucky race result in more empty Brickyard 400 seats?
After drawing the smallest crowd Sunday in the 17 years NASCAR has been coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a new challenge could await the 2011 Brickyard 400.
NASCAR chairman Brian France confirmed Sunday that Kentucky Speedway is in the mix to join a reconfigured Sprint Cup schedule. The 1.5-mile oval lies just outside Sparta, Ky., about 160 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
"It's no secret that Kentucky is talking about hosting a Cup race. That's not far away," France said. "It's a worthy market to at least discuss, but it has implications to Michigan (and) certainly to Indianapolis from a geographic standpoint."
Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus acknowledged Monday he's not thrilled by the prospect but said there's little he can do about it.
"We've got an already-crowded marketplace here with Chicago and a couple of events in Michigan," he said. "Adding Kentucky does seem to take that already-crowded situation and make it more crowded.
"We asked (NASCAR) about it this weekend and the answer we got is that the decision hasn't been made."
Next year's schedule is due to be released in September. Belskus was told by NASCAR to expect to stay on the same weekend, which would put the 18th Brickyard on July 24, 2011.
Belskus described the crowd estimate of 140,000 as being "on the low end but in the ballpark." It's down from around 180,000 last year, the first time attendance had dipped below 200,000 since NASCAR first came to Indianapolis in 1994.
A late ticket push, helped by a first-time $40 general admission ticket and free entry to kids 12 and under, helped keep the Brickyard -- even with more than 110,000 empty seats -- as NASCAR's best-attended event.
"All things considered, we're pleased," Belskus said. "The weather cooperated and we saw a reasonably good race. We wish we could have sold more tickets, but we have twice as many to sell as most places."
The fans who attended and those watching on television -- where ESPN reported a 27 percent ratings increase in the local market from a year ago -- saw Ganassi Racing complete a historic triple. Jamie McMurray added the Brickyard to his Daytona 500 win in February and Dario Franchitti's Indy 500 win in May. Indy Star