Brickyard Blues

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INDIANAPOLIS - Ask any driver in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area if the Brickyard 400 is still a prestigious race and the answer will be a resounding yes.

However some fans might have a differing opinion.

The bloom has come off NASCAR's annual visit to the historic speedway and a perfect storm of bad news isn't helping build the race back to the levels it enjoyed when stock cars first invaded Indianapolis in 1994.

The 2008 tire fiasco and the continued hard economic times will more than likely combine to make Sunday's running of the race another challenge at the ticket gate. Make no mistake, a crowd in excess of 125,000 - which many predict - is still strong but nowhere near the levels seen when NASCAR first came to the Circle City.

That's not surprising.

The hype has fallen since that first green flag in 1994 but there was no way anyone could have expected things to remain that high. Stock cars at Indianapolis let alone the midwest were a novelty back then and the fans flocked to the Brickyard in record numbers, at times exceeding what turned out for the Indianapolis 500 in May.

But as the years have gone by the anticipation began to wane, thanks in no small part to the addition of tracks in Chicago and Kansas City.

With racing closer to home, many fans from middle America simply chose to trade a trip to Indy for an opportunity to watch NASCAR in their backyards. That certainly cut down on the number of ticket sales.

And while the 400 has provided its share of dramatic moments over the years, racing heavy stock cars on a track specifically designed for open wheel racing hasn't always produced scintillating racing action.

In fact many fans have told me that the NASCAR weekend in Indianapolis can be divided into two halves - the experience of attending the event at the Brickyard and then the opportunity to see real racing, which will come Friday and Saturday nights with the Camping World Trucks and Nationwide Series at O'Reilly Raceway Park.

And the resurgence of the Indianapolis 500 through the CART-IRL reunification and the seemingly new direction being taken by the IZOD Indy Car Series has made the month of May much more important in Indy than it has been in several years.

I still believe Indianapolis is the second most important race on the Sprint Cup schedule behind the Daytona 500. The history and prestige of the track cannot be denied and NASCAR should race at what is probably the most famous racing facility in the world.

Whether the race will ever be built back up to what it enjoyed a decade and a half ago remains to be seen. It's unlikely that magical first year will ever be matched.

But NASCAR belongs at Indianapolis and hopefully the fans will come back.

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