The 2016 Brickyard 400 By The Numbers

Posted by: John S Kiernan

Held on the hallowed, brick-laden ground of Indianapolis Motor Speedway each July, the Brickyard 400 has long been one of NASCAR’s most-watched races. It’s an event with cherished traditions, such as the post-race kissing of the bricks, and a healthy dose of intrigue – with Indiana native Tony Stewart seeking his third Brickyard win in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway finale.

And while there have been no fatalities during the Brickyard’s 20-year history – compared to 15 during the Indy 500 race – risk is an ever-present companion when you’re traveling at speeds in excess of 180 mph. This is exemplified by the fact that the average driver spends roughly $150,000 on life insurance each year. It seems the event’s $9.4 million purse is enough to warrant the danger for these dare-devils of the track.

For more on what makes the Brickyard 400 and the drivers that compete in it tick, check out the stats and fun facts we’ve compiled in the infographic below. We also consulted a panel of leading racing industry and sports business experts about their picks to win this year’s race as well as their take on a number of issues now facing the business of NASCAR.

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Ask the Experts: Brickyard Picks & The Business Of NASCAR

We reached out to the following experts for insights into the business of NASCAR, in general, as well as the dynamics of this year’s Brickyard 400, in particular. You can check out their bios and responses to the following questions below.

  1. Which NASCAR race has the best chances of cracking the 50 most-watched sporting events in a given year? Do you think it will happen?
  2. How do NASCAR’s long term prospects for financial viability compare to other major sports?
  3. What are the biggest issues facing the business of NASCAR in general and the Brickyard 400 in particular?
  4. Do you think the daily fantasy sports model will take off for NASCAR as it has for the big-four sports, and even other more niche sports like golf?
  5. Who is your pick to win the 2016 Brickyard 400 race?

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Andy Baker

Director of Motorsports Studies and Lecturer of Geography at Indiana University School of Liberal Arts

Which NASCAR race has the best chances of cracking the 50 most-watched sporting events in a given year? Do you think it will happen?

The Daytona 500 is the most watched motorsport event on television in the United States, but I don’t think it would fall anywhere near the Top 50 most-watched if you include any primetime NFL, NBA Playoff, or World Series. This year’s Daytona 500 earned a 6.6 TV rating, which is a comparable number to the increasingly less popular MLB All-Star Game in recent years. In terms of most-watched based on attendance, only the Daytona events have seating capacities (I think) over 100,000 people, so perhaps that’s the case. I use 100,000 as a number since there are multiple college football stadiums with over 100,000 seating capacity. I would be shocked if the Brickyard 400 had over 80,000 people there the past few years. A few racing sportswriters said the Carb Day practice (the last practice day for IndyCars at IMS before the ‘500’) crowd was bigger than the Brickyard.

How do NASCAR’s long term prospects for financial viability compare to other major sports?

Long-term is very much an unknown. A lot depends on what happens with the automobile industry. There is no doubt that motorsport as a whole is changing quickly. First, fewer and fewer Americans drive cars, with Millennials having less attachment to their cars compared to older generations. Most kids don’t know the difference between a carburetor and fuel-injection and view the car as something to get you from A to B. Further, there is no longer the amazement of seeing something you’ve never seen before, like the 1960s-1990s when cars went faster than ever.

Second, because of new forms of media, a consumer of motorsport has so many more options than even 10 years ago. I can watch Japanese motorcycles race on a paved oval live in Indiana via an app called Ustream. Further, numerous sports car races in Europe that are legendary, like the 24 Hours of LeMans or the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, are now accessible to me. Previously, I could only read about these events, or occasionally get a taped re-air at on obscure time. This has caused a fragmentation of motorsport into many more niches or forms. NASCAR and IndyCar historically were the only two forms of motorsport regularly on big-time networks, but now consumers have more choices and access. It’s a two-way street, however, as more and more international viewers will also have access to American forms of racing, like NASCAR.

In sum, the early 2000s NASCAR peak is becoming more distant as all of motorsports key stakeholders struggle to make the economics of their sport work-out (or at the least, break-even financially). NASCAR leadership has been trying some new ideas, including incorporating a lot of data analytics (e.g., “big data”) and some clever social marketing/media.

What are the biggest issues facing the business of NASCAR in general and the Brickyard 400 in particular?

For NASCAR: Redesigning their business model as the sport sees declining investment from sponsors and less consumption of their product. There’s no doubt NASCAR is still big business and a major economic player in the business of sports in the USA, but the recent trends indicate a slowdown. All forms of motorsport in the US share this same predicament. The money from the sport’s “glory years” helped build the technology of faster cars, which peaked the interest of more fans, which led to increasing corporate sponsorship, and subsequent media exposure. That money is no longer there, and I’m afraid that too many of the key stakeholders in motorsport are not willing to adjust their views and/or business strategies.

For the Brickyard 400: Attendance has been down for awhile now, so the biggest issues facing the business of the race have already happened. Last year’s race had a minor bump in attendance because it was Indiana’s own Jeff Gordon’s last race there. This year is Tony Stewart’s last race, so I expect a slightly higher attendance number than maybe expected. I attend every year but that’s really only because it’s a family tradition and we have great seats. There is hardly any passing or lead changes, with most of the action happening in the pits. I treat it as if I’m watching a road course race with strategy playing a much larger role than an oval.

Do you think the daily fantasy sports model will take off for NASCAR as it has for the big-four sports, and even other more niche sports like golf?

I do not think the fantasy sports model will take off for NASCAR because it simply hasn’t done so already. I played NASCAR fantasy back in 2003. It was fun, but I lost interest quickly. I haven’t heard too much about the NASCAR fantasy since. That said, I have always thought legalized gambling would be a good idea. Yes, I understand this is controversial and might not sit well with the conservative, “Bible Belt” core of the NASCAR fan base… but gambling seems to be helping horse racing stay afloat and relevant, even though the auto has been around for 100+ years.

Who is your pick to win the 2016 Brickyard 400 race?

My picks to win in descending order: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, or Joey Logano. Note: These aren’t necessarily who I am a fan of, just who I think will win based on performance at IMS and this season.

John D. Miller

Associate Professor of American Literature and Cultural Studies at Longwood University

Which NASCAR race has the best chances of cracking the 50 most-watched sporting events in a given year? Do you think it will happen?

Kind of depends on how close the competition is for and in the “Chase.” But my money would be on the night race in Richmond on Saturday, Sept 10th. Nighttime short track racing is always entertaining, even for the casual fan, plus the drivers on the bubble will be racing extra hard to make the cut to the playoff rounds. Add the legacy of the cheating scandal three years ago and the fact that college football conference schedules haven’t yet started in earnest, and I think a lot of eyes will be tuned into RIR that night.

What are the biggest issues facing the business of NASCAR in general and the Brickyard 400 in particular?

I think the major challenge facing NASCAR is the fickleness of its fans and sponsors given the competition–among and outside of professional sports–for fan attention and corporate marketing dollars. For example, NASCAR rode to the zenith of its popularity in the late 90s/early oughts via the loyalty of the vaunted 18-34 year old male demographic. But those folks’ interests shifted to other entertainment options, including video games, for instance. Throw in the Great Recession at about the same time and the effect that it had on sponsor dollars–for which there is also much competition–and I think NASCAR is only now successfully adapting to a new fan and sponsor environment. The revised payoff format and the charter system seem a promising way forward for locking in fan and sponsor attention.

Who is your pick to win the 2016 Brickyard 400 race?

If Dale Earnhardt, Jr., can’t race at Indy because of a concussion, Jeff Gordon (his substitute) would have a heck of a car and an incentive to win there. And he has a lot of success there!

Randell Peters

Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology Management at Indiana State University

Which NASCAR race has the best chances of cracking the 50 most-watched sporting events in a given year? Do you think it will happen?

My best guess would be the Daytona 500, but really, unless something changes with NASCAR, I just don’t see it happening.

What are the biggest issues facing the business of NASCAR in general and the Brickyard 400 in particular?

I believe that an eroding fan base is the biggest challenge NASCAR faces. There are multiple avenues to “fix” this, but there is not one silver bullet. For example, I teach a junior level college course called Survey of Motorsports, and have done so since 2008. It is one of the more popular courses on campus and typically has 150 students enrolled every fall and spring semester and 100 in the summer. Each semester I query the students regarding their favorite motorsport and ask specifically if they have been to or watched NASCAR, Formula 1, NHRA, Indy Car, or Rally racing events. In 2008-2011, nearly one-third of the class was at least a “fan” of NASCAR racing. In the last two years, that number has dropped significantly, as now, less than 8% of the students enrolled in the course would actually consider themselves a fan of NASCAR. Basically, this indicates to me that the current 20-21 year old college students are not as interested in NASCAR as the same age group was five years ago.

Do you think the daily fantasy sports model will take off for NASCAR as it has for the big-four sports, and even other more niche sports like golf?

I don’t know, but if it does, it could rekindle the interest of younger adults.

Who is your pick to win the 2016 Brickyard 400 race?

I will go with the long shot and pick Jeff Gordon. Rumor has it he might come out of retirement for this race.

Danny J. White

Director of Motorsports and K-12 Partnerships at Purdue University

Which NASCAR race has the best chances of cracking the 50 most-watched sporting events in a given year? Do you think it will happen?

Maybe the Daytona 500 but that would take a lot to make that happen. I would think more out of the box with a new promotion that involves many that would draw the gate you would need.

How do NASCAR’s long term prospects for financial viability compare to other major sports?

In my opinion, not as well. They put themselves in bed with the “getter done” crowd and further involved politics in the sport by having George W. involved in events and being vocal about the conservative movement. Anytime you do this, you alienate 50% of your fan base and from the looks in the stands, they did a good job at it. I am not sure you can fix this one. Getting politics involved with your business earnings has always been disaster. NASCAR should review their actions of the past so they do not repeat these same mistakes. Further, to take the financial situation further, they are now embracing fantasy sports which immediately would appear to draw fans away for the race track and then virtual reality and autonomous racing breathing down on them. It will be a harder road than for most to recover due to the issues above that will linger.

Their competition formula appears to be a bit weak for what is desired by the customer. Their customer is the fan and they expect close tight racing with lots of spills and very little injury to anyone. The customer is always right and my observance is they tend to think it is the team owner that is their customer. It is not, it is the fan.

What are the biggest issues facing the business of NASCAR in general and the Brickyard 400 in particular?

NASCAR in general has lost what it once had. The competition packages, ticket prices and the series being pricy and political are the main issues. Do you remember when they ran actual stock production cars that were slightly modified? That is stock car racing (the Aussies get it) and now we are into cars that the fan cannot relate to, do not sell cars on Monday and do not resemble production cars. Who has heard of a two door Taurus with a huge naturally aspirated V-8?

Everything has its cycles. Up and down trends. I am not sure we have seen bottom and it will be a while before someone can fix the formula to attract the interest of the millennials. With VR and gaming, you may lose most of your fans in the stands.

The Brickyard is another bird of its own. With the number of suites being added annually, many of the tried and true fans see this as IMS turning its back to its working class roots to be just another venue for the very well healed and the corporations. The working class may still come, but many think you have made your choice and they know how the industry is beginning to favor the wealthy. This was the last place the working class fan could go to a sporting event and feel everyone was equal. Now, with all the luxury additions, no one in the working class is as much interested as they have obviously made their choice to focus on the rich. Sounds familiar?

Do you think the daily fantasy sports model will take off for NASCAR as it has for the big-four sports, and even other more niche sports like golf?

It is my opinion that Fantasy Sports will be eventually banned as nationwide endorsed on-line gambling but something we currently have to deal with. I personally view it as questionable to the health of all sports. You are taking professional sports to a more interactive stage of development. They will not return as easy to be entertained by observation as they are with interactive entertainment. Interactive could seriously change motorsports and most need to forecast exactly what that change will be and be ready. Be proactive with a plan for rapid future technology changes for the fan base.

Who is your pick to win the 2016 Brickyard 400 race?

Jeff Gordon, if he subs for Little E. It would help bring in fans and the venue needs it bad. The old names are almost all gone.

Eddie T. C. Lam

Associate Professor & Coordinator of the Graduate Sport Management Program in the Department of Health & Human Performance at Cleveland State University

Which NASCAR race has the best chances of cracking the 50 most-watched sporting events in a given year? Do you think it will happen?

Though Daytona 500 is considered as the Super Bowl of NASCAR, the chance is still slim for any NASCAR race to reach the top-50 most-watched sporting events, even for those years without the Summer/Winter Olympics or FIFA World Cup. NASCAR is looking for the answers too, as seen from the ever changing point system and the “Chase for the Cup” format.

How do NASCAR’s long term prospects for financial viability compare to other major sports?

NASCAR works well in generating revenues since, just like the NFL, they have the most loyal fans in the sports world. However, they need to learn from others in expanding the market. Does Bud Light’s NFL cans featuring local team logos (increases sales 200% in the already matured beer market) provide any inspiration for them in marketing NASCAR merchandises?

What are the biggest issues facing the business of NASCAR in general and the Brickyard 400 in particular?

Right now, it seems the biggest issue facing NASCAR is the interest of the fans. Both viewership and attendance are sliding. It is a challenge to fill those huge racetracks like Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Is there any contest ever for NASCAR TV viewers? How about a VIP package that includes a helicopter ride to the suite with free food and drinks?

Do you think the daily fantasy sports model will take off for NASCAR as it has for the big-four sports, and even other more niche sports like golf?

If the daily fantasy sports model works in MLB (which has much less opportunities to score fantasy points than NBA), it will certainly work for NASCAR (also using the point system!) or other sports like golf or tennis.

Who is your pick to win the 2016 Brickyard 400 race?

Regardless the status of Jeff Gordon, I would pick Kyle Busch.