The banquet is over, the teams have packed up and everybody is gearing up for Milwaukee this weekend. Helio climbed the fence on Sunday, ending an idyllic month of May for himself and for Team Penske. It tends to be a bit of a surprise when the strongest car all month actually goes on to get the milk bath, but Penske didn’t put a foot wrong in preparation for the May classic and their detailed preparation payed off.
This year saw a noticeable increase in attendance (from my vantage point), a more raucous infield, heavier traffic in and out of the track and a crowd that was thoroughly engaged in the race…..
But as for the racing on Sunday, I would have to say that the first 160 laps of the affair were tedious at best. The only pass for the lead that occurred outside of pitstops and restarts was when Briscoe passed Franchitti for the lead early on. Other than that, the front of the field remained pretty much constant through the 15-20 lap stints that the field was able to stay green.
Granted, there were some movers and shakers. PT was constantly jostling through the 5th-15th range. Townsend Bell moved from the rear of the field up to 4th and Tagliani captured rookie of the year honors by improving his lot from 33rd to 11th. Matos was having an excellent day until he took out Miera. And Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick put in good performances.
But after the first lap following a restart, there just wasn’t much going on until somebody put it into the wall again and brought out the caution. Again this year, there were no full field green flag pitstops, just like last year, which was a fortunate circumstance for backmarkers like Milka Duno who only finished one lap down.
So I dub this year’s race “The Greatest Spectacle in Pitstops and Restarts”. While the race may have been a bit down this year, it is an outlier when you look at the last decade which has produced some fantastic results.
But even more unfortunate than the down race this year was the down ratings. Compared to last year, the ratings were down 13%, making this the lowest viewed IndyCar race since 1986 when the 500 started to be aired live nationally. The Indy 500’s 3.9% rating from Nielsen beat out the Coca Cola 600 at 3.3% but that is small consolation given the fact that the 600 was hampered by rain delays. While the Indy 500 ratings are concerning, they seem to mirror the down ratings that NASCAR is also experiencing. Not one of NASCAR’s 13 events this year beat out the previous years ratings and according to Jayski, the NASCAR season ratings are down 13% compared to last year.
But regardless of what NASCAR is going through, we should be in the middle of an open wheel renaissance led by the merger last year. The IndyCar series appears to have lost all of the good momentum that was gained when the CCWS teams came into the fold. This will further hamper attempts to attract new sponsors, and engine manufacturers.