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NASCAR’s Gordon, IndyCar’s Kanaan disagree over crowd sizes between series

Aug 2, 2013, 10:25 PM EDT

Aaron's 499 - Practice Getty Images

With the Sprint Cup circus returning to Pocono Raceway this weekend, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon (pictured) was asked Friday about his experience watching the IndyCars’ return to the ‘Tricky Triangle’ last month.

The former “Rainbow Warrior” made clear his appreciation for the quickness of the open-wheel machines, saying that it was “so cool to see those cars doing those types of speeds around this track.” But Gordon also noted something else at Pocono – the difference between the crowd sizes that IndyCar and NASCAR attract to the 2.5-mile oval in Pennsylvania.

“I am very, very appreciative of this sport and this series that we are in because when you drive in that tunnel for an IndyCar race, and you drive in here for a NASCAR race – you get a perspective of how big our sport is,” he said.

He also added: “Sometimes we see the decline or something going flat and we are not seeing these grandstands filled up, but let me tell you, go to an IndyCar race and then a month or two weeks later and come back here. We better be very thankful for all the people we have here. It’s pretty amazing.”

When those comments got back to Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he issued a cutting response.

“I was at the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 [both at Indianapolis Motor Speedway],” Kanaan said according to Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star. “It was the same shock to me.”

Cavin writes that a surprised Kanaan asked twice about the context of Gordon’s comments. For the record, Ryan Newman won last weekend’s Brickyard in front of an estimated crowd of 80,000. Kanaan won the Indy 500 in May in front of an estimated crowd of 250,000.

Now, it’s easy to give Gordon the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t seem like a guy that we’d expect to bash somebody or something just for the sake of doing so.

He acknowledges that NASCAR’s popularity has dipped a little bit. Also, he probably knows that the fans’ ability to travel to events has been hampered by a rough economy.

Nonetheless, it’s still the most popular form of racing in this country despite those problems. Certainly, that’s something for him and his stock car compatriots to be thankful for.

But after seeing one of his sport’s crown jewels, the Brickyard 400, play out last weekend in front of perhaps one-third capacity at IMS, it may still be surprising to some that Gordon would comment on the topic of crowd size – especially after the noticeable amount of press that was focused on NASCAR’s attendance woes at the world’s greatest racecourse.

What do you think, readers? Were Gordon’s words unflattering toward IndyCar, or was he simply being grateful for NASCAR’s relative prosperity?

  1. bmcgrath2 - Aug 3, 2013 at 1:19 AM

    Clearly trying to state how grateful he is for race fans.

    But in the end, why should I care what Jeff Gordon has to say anyways?

    • kingofpain1988 - Aug 3, 2013 at 2:52 AM

      in the end why should anyone care about your opinion?

      • bmcgrath2 - Aug 3, 2013 at 6:54 AM

        Lol, right? I really never do expect anyone to care anyways

    • racefan48 - Aug 3, 2013 at 1:14 PM

      But again why would we care about you have to say………?????????
      samething !!!!! He has the right to his opinion just like anybody on here with comments.

    • rd14stewart - Aug 6, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      in the end…his paycheck is what it is regardless of fans…as long as i’m there i could care less whos around me….GO SMOKE!!

  2. snoopyo - Aug 3, 2013 at 1:37 AM

    I get the feeling that this is all being blown out of proportion. TK and Jeff are good guys and they both were shocked at the attendance difference. At INDY TK raced in front of 250,000 while Gordon raced in front 80,000. At Pocono Jeff will race in front of more people then TK did at Pocono. Looking at Cavin’s article Cavin wanted to turn it into a war of words. I think Jeff is grateful for his fans and TK only made one comment it was the same shock to me and its all being taken the wrong way.

    • indycarseries500 - Aug 3, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      Cavin always does stuff like that, he’ll come out and say I like all forms of racing but in his next sentence he’ll say something that obviously wants to turn the discussion into an IndyCar vs. NASCAR/F1 debate. That is my major problem with some of IndyCar’s fanbase and media, they’d rather try to tear down other series than build their own.

      • snoopyo - Aug 3, 2013 at 9:50 AM

        I have never been a fan of Cavin’s writing and I am a big TK fan so it irritates me that Cavin would do something like this. Its like he wants to make both these guys look like they have no respect for each other and make them both look bad.

    • lesovuls - Aug 3, 2013 at 8:54 PM

      Ok here I go snoopy, what Jeff didnt realize is that of the 80,000, about half fell asleep halfway through and needed that empty bleacher to lie down for a nap.

  3. drylake - Aug 3, 2013 at 1:53 AM

    That TK asked for clarification and thought it out before his comments, all I can say is, “Well played, sir.” Gordon opened himself up and this is one of the rare situations where IndyCar can make that point. Gordon chose the wrong time to make that point, right after a dismal NASCAR showing at IMS. But I liked Jeff Gordon and his son on the grid at Pocono. It was a gracious showing. Let’s not make too much of this.

  4. rodneyjewell18 - Aug 3, 2013 at 3:12 AM

    Let me preface this by saying that I like both Gordon & TK as well as liking both forms of racing, NASCAR & IRL. But, TK really? You chose to compare attendance at the one race/track that IRL would out number NASCAR. NASCAR kicks IRLs butt at any other track. Anybody that has paid attention to racing in North America the past 25 years knows that IRL used to be the most popular but NASCAR surpassed Indy car type racing in the early 90s and NASCAR has dominated in popularity the past 2 decades. So, feel free to agree with Kanaan if you are just talking about the Indy track only, but if you are comparing both series as a whole then you have to agree with Gordon because NASCAR obviously creates more buzz and generates more revenue than IRL as well as having larger crowds at every other track outside of INDY which is the epicenter of IRL. BTW, true stock car fans do not like the Brickyard race much anyways ’cause that track is not made for stock cars and is not conducive to good stock car racing.

    TK instead of questioning Gordon s/b asking himself how come IRL, with superior race cars, is not as popular as NASCAR?…and what can IRL do to generate NASCAR type revenue?? Personally I think ultimately it is this type of arrogance from the IRL community as a whole which has allowed it to succumb to the NASCAR machine and 20+ years later they are still scratching their heads wondering how NASCAR became more popular. jmho

  5. notoriousjebus - Aug 3, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    Comparing the Indy 500 to the Daytona 500 would be a more apt comparison. They are the two marque events for each series.

    If I was TK I’d be more worried about the inability of people to easily find Indy races on television.

  6. ermur22 - Aug 3, 2013 at 6:10 AM

    What the [expletive] is IRL???

    • snoopyo - Aug 3, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      ermur22 I hate when people call it the irl as well instead of its proper name INDYCAR or Izod INDYCAR series. When people call it the irl they either are new to racing in the last few years and thats what they have only known it as or they are people who don’t follow the series because Randy Bernard changed the name of the series because for many fans the irl leaves a bad memory or some say it to be ignorant. I was so glad Randy Bernard changed the name of the series back to INDYCAR.

    • rodneyjewell18 - Aug 3, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      Exactly. Maybe Indy Car racing and its drivers s/b more concerned with creating a marketable image. Stop changing the name of the (expletive) series ’cause that is not helping either.

  7. davisjosh20 - Aug 3, 2013 at 9:40 AM

    Are you kidding me? You are comparing the two races at Indy? Everyone knows in May IMS is jam packed. To compare NASCAR’s version to it, is ridiculous. Compare the Indy 500 to Daytona. That’s the only relative race. But, at a track like Pocono, or Texas, or Richmond, yeah, NASCAR will have more people than IRL.

    That said, all 24 was saying was, when he starts to feel like they might be losing some fans, he better realize exactly what he’s got.

    IMS will always be the Mecca for Open wheel in the US. Daytona is in stock cars. You can’t seriously think comparing IRL crowds at their Mecca, and NASCAR’s crowds at arguably the 3rd most important track on the schedule (Daytona, Bristol…), and get a glimpse of where the two series are in terms of fan support. Unless of course you think your fans are uneducated, and easily skewed by numbers. Not to make it out like I’m being an ass, here, just saying. Come on.

    • drylake - Aug 4, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      Another difference between ICS and Sprint Cup. Our drivers have names, we don’t call them numbers. Like Southern CA says “the 101”, Northern CA says, “El Camino Real”.

  8. davisjosh20 - Aug 3, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    Every open wheel race fan I know, cares not that it’s call INDYCAR. It’s still IRL. Just like me, and all the ppl I know, if Sprint isn’t your sponsor, we do not call it the Sprint Cup series. Never have. It’s simply Cup. Keep it simple. Typing IRL is much easier than the other thing it may be called. And everyone knows what it means.

  9. dcollins22585 - Aug 3, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    Gordon might be right about NASCAR having more fans, but the decline in INDYcar fans has not been as drastic. Also INDYcar is a better on track product right now. It is that type of thinking that will result in the decline continuing instead of the correct actions to halt it and maybe grow.

  10. snoopyo - Aug 3, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    It was always called INDYCAR until 1996 when TG created the irl.The irl name has been gone for a few years and its a name that many INDYCAR fans don’t ever want to hear again. I was glad Randy Bernard got rid of the irl and changed it back to its proper name. It use to irritate me when the irl was created and they tried to ignore the all time race wins total when Scott Dixon passed by Hornish on the wins list he got interviewed and they said you have the most wins ever and Dixie goes no A.J. Foyt has the most wins ever.

  11. iamscottgentry - Aug 3, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    If you follow both of them on twitter they settled their views and tony said “Point taken” jeff was showing no disrespect. go to twitter and look.

  12. snoopyo - Aug 3, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    iamscottgentry I saw that and it looks like there all cool about it, heck they are both probably laughing about this whole thing.

  13. bach2112 - Aug 3, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    Lmao compared to the NFL they are nothing. Compared to soccer the NFL is nothing. I always called it open wheed so not to confuse most people. Apples to oranges.

    • rodneyjewell18 - Aug 3, 2013 at 2:31 PM

      Compared to soccer the NFL is nothing?
      …….and where do you live? It must not be the USA, ’cause in America the NFL is king. Heck, in the USA, soccer is not only behind the NFL but also MLB, NBA, NHL, college football & college basketball. And that is just team sports. Matter of fact soccer is also behind “racing” in the USA.

  14. rodneyjewell18 - Aug 3, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    NASCAR = 36 races this year.
    INDY = 19 races. Actually only 16 races when you consider that there are 2 races the same weekend at Belle Isle, Toronto & Reliant.

    2 of the tracks on the INDY schedule, Milwaukee & Iowa, are not even big enough for the NASCAR Cup series. NASCAR only runs there NationWide cars at those tracks.

    • moezilla - Aug 3, 2013 at 9:02 PM

      Depends on what you mean by “big” enough…are you talking available seating? I guess IZOD could race at Daytona and Talladega to try and catch up in attendance numbers….might not be a very good idea as it relates to driver safety, however….

      • rodneyjewell18 - Aug 4, 2013 at 12:10 AM

        Yes, I am talking available seating. Which hammers home the point that NASCAR at the Cup level does not even bother to race at tracks with a minimal amount of seating whereas Indy racing apparently is not concerned with capacity limits. Milwaukee w/b a boring race for cup cars anyway ’cause it has little banking so there would be very little passing.

        Obviously Indy cars cannot race at ‘Dega or ‘Tona due to safety reasons.

        And though Indy is the worlds most legendary track I don’t think it makes for good stock car racing at the Cup level and/or Nationwide level. It is too flat. Not enough banking especially in the corners. The Brickyard is one of my least favorite NASCAR races to watch. It is usually boring ’cause no one can pass, unlike with the Indy cars. Indy the track is made for Indy the car and thus the attendance s/b 3x more than it is for NASCAR.

  15. rodneyjewell18 - Aug 4, 2013 at 12:23 AM

    Forget attendance numbers. Everyone knows that the real money is with TV ratings. Unfortunately for Indy racing, the only race that garners more than a 1 rating is the 500. The ratings for all other Indy car racing are pitiful….and that is a shame.

    Conversely, all NASCAR Cup races score above a 1 with the average above 3. There are a handful of NASCAR races every year that score as many as a 4,5, and sometimes even 6 rating. There was a time in the early 2000s (and this may still be true but I cannot verify it right now) when NASCARS average TV ratings were 2nd only to the NFL when it came to sports. Hence, this is why NASCAR has had the 2nd best TV contract(s) the past 15 years only to the NFL. Indy car racings TV contract pales in comparison to NASCARs and hence the series and drivers earnings also pale in comparison to NASCAR.

    The Indy Car series needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves why they have fallen so far behind NASCAR when it comes to popularity. The racing is just as good if not better. The drivers are as talented and as interesting…..though the average American may have an issue following some of the foreign drivers in Indy Car racing. I have my theories.

    • moezilla - Aug 4, 2013 at 11:49 AM

      Thanks for the reply…I can’t claim to be an expert when it comes to NASCAR and IZOD live attendance numbers vs television numbers. I grew up in a very rural area with about 3 or 4 channels total…I’ve watched my fair share of Indy 500’s, of course, but no other races that I can remember…So considering the maybe 5-7 years of actually being able to watch motorsports on a regular basis, the thing that has made me wonder is why the IZOD continues to run at these tracks where it seems every year, there is usually only half the seats filled, sometimes less. The only way to increase your fan support is to introduce your product to new/different viewers. And to keep your long time fans interested in the sport with something different. Why not try out these new and/or different tracks? COTA? Absolutely….how about a trip back to Road America *I heard IZOD was considering this* or maybe Watkins Glen? Laguna Seca? A new street course…this country has a ton of metropolitan areas to choose from….think of the thousands of miles of rural highway that could be looped together ala Circuit de Sarthe? Pardon my French….just a thought….

    • lesovuls - Aug 4, 2013 at 2:47 PM

      @ rodney they have fallen mainly to Tony George back in 95′. Starting the IRL about killed American open wheel racing. Before that CART was bigger than Nascar and closing in on F1. Went to few CART races at Laguna Seca and would take hours to get home after the split maybe 40 min.

      • rodneyjewell18 - Aug 4, 2013 at 10:27 PM

        @moezilla, I agree that Indy cars should go back to Road America.

        @moezilla & lesovuls, I went to the CART race at Road America a few times.
        It was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        Saw Paul Newman & Tom Cruise there every time and Michael Jordan once.

        @lesovuls, CART was never bigger than NASCAR. For a few years it was kicking IRLs butt and closing in on F1 but it was never ever close to the popularity of NASCAR. Especially in the mid to late 90s when the Jeff Gordon vs Dale Earnhardt rivalry had every race sold out and TV ratings sky high.

      • lesovuls - Aug 4, 2013 at 11:32 PM

        @ rodney, no way was Nascar bigger than CART back in the late 80′ and early 90’s. besides IRL and TG didnt come around until 96′. And when IRL came along the attendance #’s shrunk for both CART and IRL.

      • rodneyjewell18 - Aug 5, 2013 at 12:43 AM

        @lesovuls, OK my fault. I assumed you were remarking about CART after the CART/IRL split in ’96. It just occurred to me that you are looking all the way back to the original USAC/CART split in ’79.

        Now I agree open wheel racing (no matter the name) was bigger than stock car racing (NASCAR) in the late 70s through the mid 80s…..but I’m not to sure about the late 80s. NASCAR was really starting to pick up steam regarding popularity in the late 80s because of more TV coverage and “if” CART was bigger than NASCAR back then it was by a small amount (personal opionion. i have no proof to back my comments). Please note, I am speaking of both series as a whole. Not just 1 race (Indy and/or Daytona). I’m willing to bet, if we can find the info from the late 80s, that NASCAR had as good attendance figures and tv ratings as CART in the late 80s and early 90s. Again, I do not have proof (at least right now) but I do know (some from personal experience) that a majority of NASCAR races were close to full capacity in the late 80s.Especially in the South East region of our country. NASCAR had/has a cult like passionate fan base and in the South East, next to college football, NASCAR rules.

  16. rodneyjewell18 - Aug 4, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    Regarding declining attendance, blame it on the economy. Bunch of folks laid off or working low pay jobs or nervous about their job security equal no play money.
    Its not just NASCAR either. The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, IRL, F1 and any and all other sports are playing to less than capacity crowds. Think about it. The NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL have the advantage of home crowds and they still cannot sell out, whereas, a bad economy is twice as hard on big league motor sports because fans have to travel and make accommodations for hotel, food, etc.
    The only sports that consistently sell out are college football & basketball but that is because ticket prices are relatively cheap and they have huge home/state bases in close proximity.
    NASCAR ratings & attendance may be down from its all time highs in the late 90s and early 2000s…..but so is every other sport…..including the NFL.
    Also, with people tightening their budgets, instead of going to sporting events we are buying nice TVs and enjoying the events from the comfort & cozy of our living rooms. Even the NFL has acknowledged as much.

  17. rodneyjewell18 - Aug 4, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    Regarding declining attendance (part 2). Directed at the NFL, soccer, and all team sport fans.
    Comparing a Race crowd to team sports crowds is like comparing apples to oranges. There are many differences but I will focus on the difference between the % of local/regional (L/R) fans vs the out of towner (OOT) fans. The main reason I want to focus on this comparison is because during a downturn in the economy (which we have been in since late ’08) a sporting event will lose a bigger % of OOT than they will of L/R. I’ve read that in this economy that sporting events are losing about 10% of L/R and over 50% of OOT.
    In team sports the % of attendance is typically 85% – 98% L/R vs OOT. In motorsports it is closer to 50/50. So, for example, lets take a 70,000 seat NFL stadium. If the attendance is 90% L/R then you have 63000 L/R fans and 7000 OOT for a sell out. If you lose 10% of L/R and 50% of OOT then you lose about 9800 fans for an adjusted crowd size of 60200. Whereas, take a 140000 NASCAR track (Dover) with a 50/50 crowd. If you lose 10% of L/R and 50% of OOT then you lose about 42000 fans for an adjusted crowd size of 98000. Big difference.
    And as I mentioned in the prior post, for any sporting event, if you are coming from out of town, it is not just the cost of the ticket. There are many expenses: travel, lodging, and meals are the minimum. Making accommodations is a huge hassle for the OOT.
    After all that I just want to make sure you realize my point is that because NASCAR (and all top level racing; IRL, F1) have such a big % of Out Of Town fans who attend events that they have bigger peaks and valleys during good and bad economies than do team sports events.

  18. midtec2005 - Aug 5, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    I think the context of Jeff’s comments make it pretty obvious that he was simply commenting on the declining attendance at nascar races. I don’t think there was any disrespect there. I think he probably has a huge amount of respect for Indycar, but everyone knows which one is more popular. There’s one big difference though, Indycar attendance has been steadily improving, nascar has been steadily declining.

  19. purplesectornet - Aug 5, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    Well when the only place you can go is up, that’s an improvement…Jeff comments are spot on – and yet again someone associated with IndyCar gets upset because some one calls it like it is….there is no more annoying fan or series than IndyCar…just a bunch of whiners really…your series is broken shut up and fix it…

    • midtec2005 - Aug 6, 2013 at 10:09 PM

      Leave it to Curt Cavin to bate someone into a controversy for no obvious reason.

      • justpassingthrew - Aug 8, 2013 at 3:03 AM

        Don’t ya’ just hait that?

  20. drylake - Aug 8, 2013 at 7:42 PM

    I listened to “Trackside With Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee” on 1070 The Fan Tuesday night. Two hours and NOT A WORD about this.

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