THOSE ATTENDING Sunday's Pocono IndyCar 500 witnessed the fastest Indy-car race ever: The average speed was 202.402 mph. Now the question is, will that speed milestone be alluring enough to bring fans back next summer? More urgently, will the IndyCar series return to Pocono next year?
We won't know until Pocono Raceway officials huddle and decide. Brandon Igdalsky, the raceway's president and CEO, normally is cooperative with the media. But on Monday, Igdalsky issued a statement, then said he won't be doing interviews this week.
I told Igdalsky via e-mail I thought this was a bad decision. After he created turmoil with his comments before the race that fans need to support the IndyCar race or it won't return to Pocono, fans want to hear more from him after the race. Here is his statement:
"We had a nice crowd at yesterday's Pocono IndyCar 500 Fueled by Sunoco. Concerning the future of IndyCar racing at Pocono, we will be talking to our fans and stakeholders as well as looking at all the final data and numbers from the weekend.
"We want to make IndyCar a part of Pocono's exciting future and growth strategy. The competition was great yesterday and we are excited about the direction that IndyCar's leadership is moving."
One major issue with the Pocono IndyCar race involves the race date. The Fourth of July is the busiest weekend of the summer in the Poconos, but many visitors have family obligations and are reluctant to devote most of their Sunday to a Pocono race when they face driving home in holiday traffic that day.
Other fans were reluctant to travel to and from Long Pond on Sunday. Bob Bailey, from Blue Bell, Pa., e-mailed me, saying: "How can the owners of Pocono expect a decent crowd when they schedule the race over the busiest, family oriented, holiday weekend of the season? It's one of the few weekends I just can't get away.
"I love Indy car racing on ovals. We've traveled all over the country to watch. If they return next year, with a decent date, I'll be there and so will many others."
Meanwhile, a few fans I spoke with made the journey to Pocono Saturday from Reading and Bethlehem for qualifying, went home, then drove back Sunday morning for the race.
If Pocono can move its IndyCar back a week next year, perhaps more fans will attend.
With only one caution, on Lap 159 of the 200-lap race, Juan Pablo Montoya's victory won't go down as one of the one most exciting in Pocono history. As NASCAR fans know, if a race needs a jolt, the ever-popular "debris" is frequently discovered on the track (wink, wink) to bring out a caution flag, tighten the field and create a compelling restart.
Dover dates OK
Rumblings out of a news conference with Brian France, NASCAR's chairman and CEO, last weekend in Daytona hinted one of Dover International Speedway's Sprint Cup dates could be in trouble. Denis McGlynn, CEO and president of the Delaware speedway, said yesterday the track will have its two dates next year.
"I called [NASCAR president] Mike Helton [Tuesday]," McGlynn said, "and he told me we don't have anything to worry about."
Attendance has been down at Dover's last two spring races, prompting McGlynn to stress that Dover's races are "still successful, just not as successful" as previously when the 135,000 seats were usually filled.
"Some tracks have taken down significant numbers of grandstand seasts," McGlynn said. "Their crowds are the same as a year ago, but it looks better. We widened our seats, reducing capacity to 112,000. [But] our track looks the same."
Owners form Alliance
We tend to stay away from the business side of racing in this space: it's often too complicated. But Monday's announcement about the Race Team Alliance is worth noting.
The Alliance, composed of nine of NASCAR's top multi-car teams, ostensibly aims to "engage with stakeholders on creative ways to market and experience the power of the sport's teams and drivers." The Alliance also wants to find ways to reduce costs. It's likely team owners want a larger share of revenue from the new, 10-year $8.2 billion television deal with Fox and NBC.
Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, was elected the alliance's first chairman.
First reaction in the sport has been "union," but Kaufmann denies the alliance is similar to an employees' union.
Said Dover's Denis McGlynn: "I hope [the alliance owners] remember we're all in this together. Everybody is facing the same pressures economically. We have to be careful not to start turning on each other. The pie is smaller, but it's smaller for everybody."
This week's race
Camping World RV Sales 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, N.H.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: TNT/WNPV (1440-AM)
Course: 1.058-mile oval
Distance: 301 laps/318.458 miles
Forecast: partly cloudy, low 80s
Last year's winner: Brian Vickers
Last year's pole: Brad Keselowski, 135.922 mph
Track qualifying record: Ryan Newman, 136.497 mph (September 2013)
Track facts: Brian Vickers led only 16 laps in winning last year's race. Kyle Busch was second; Jeff Burton was third. Kurt Busch led the most laps (102), but finished 31st after he spun on lap 225 and collected Ryan Newman's car. Tony Stewart led 84 laps before finishing 26th ... Mostly retired Burton has the most victories at New Hampshire (four). He's driving the No. 66 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing Sunday in his second start of the year. Stewart, Newman, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are three-time winners at the track ... Matt Kenseth won last year's fall race at New Hampshire ... Casey Mears' fourth-place finish Sunday at Daytona was his season best. Michael McDowell's seventh-place was his career best ... organ Shepherd, a young-at-heart 72, is entered for Sunday's race driving the No. 33 Chevrolet.
Wins: Jimmie Johnson, 3; Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, 2 each; Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, 1 each.
1. Jeff Gordon 651
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 624
3. Jimmie Johnson 596
4. Brad Keselowski 586
5. Matt Kenseth 580
6. Joey Logano 546
7. Carl Edwards 543
8. Ryan Newman 534
9. Kyle Busch 524
10. Paul Menard 516
11. Kevin Harvick 514
12. Clint Bowyer 509
13. Austin Dillon 494
14. Denny Hamlin 493
15. Greg Biffle 490
16. Brian Vickers 484
Up next: Crown Royal presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard, July 27, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, 1 p.m.; TV: ESPN; last year's winner: Ryan Newman.