|Will Jeff Gordon get 'The Call' in Indy and deliver NASCAR the headlines it needs?|
INDIANAPOLIS — Jeff Gordon’s return for a post-retirement run in the Brickyard 400 has been a commercial boon for Indianapolis Motor Speedway writes Brant James of USA Today.
Track president Doug Boles told USA TODAY Sports Thursday that ticket requests for the Sprint Cup race began to spike within 90 minutes of hendrick Motorsports’ announcement on Wednesday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would miss his second-consecutive race and Gordon, an Indiana native, four-time series champion and five-time Brickyard-winner who retired last season, would take over the car.
Boles said ticket sales generally ramp up in the days preceding the event but said a Gordon bump was tangible, with ticket sales up 35% on Wednesday this year compared to Wednesday before race in 2015.
“A substantial difference," he said, “especially when you compare it to last year. And last year being Jeff’s last year, it was a pretty good year for a lot of racetracks, including the Speedway and to have our sales more than last year the same days out tells you there is still a lot of demand for Jeff Gordon."
Boles said the fact that Gordon was involved in an early wreck and failed to finish last season likely helped created a desire to see his last-last run at Indianapolis.
“I know a lot of our fans here were disappointed that not so much that Jeff didn’t win, but he didn’t get an opportunity to finish and cross the start/finish line in his last race," Boles said of the 42nd-place result. “Certainly they’d love to see that happen."
With dire sales figures anecdotally surrounding the race, Boles conceded that this event will be down in attendance overall from last year, when Gordon’s retirement was the focus of the track’s marketing campaign. Attendance figures this season, he said, should be similar to 2014 levels.
The final season and Indianapolis Motor Speedway run for Indiana native, three-time series champion and two-time Brickyard victor Tony Stewart has not generated the same business as Gordon did, Boles said, but there is an explanation.
“We benefited a lot last year from a roll-in to Jeff’s final race and the difference, I think between Jeff and Tony is not that Tony is less popular," Boles said. “Tony specifically asked us not to make a big deal out of it and there hasn’t been that big deal every race as you lead in as there had been for Jeff. So I think some of that momentum that the Jeff tour had, we don’t have around the Tony tour because there isn’t one going the same way."
Attendance for the NASCAR race at IMS has flattened badly since its inception, when crowds once were estimated to be more than 200,000. NASCAR estimated the 2012 Brickyard crowd at 125,000 but no longer offer such figures. Empty grandstands and figures well less than 100,000 have become the norm in recent seasons, with last season’s Gordon effect the exception. Brant James/USA Today