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NASCAR executive on Indy: ‘We’ve got to put on the racing people want to see’

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JULY 24: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials would like to “see more fans in the stands” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but stated that “we’ve got to put on the racing people want to see.’’

Kyle Busch dominated Sunday’s Brickyard 400, leading 149 of 170 laps. That came a day after he won the Xfinity race there, leading all 20 laps in his heat and 62 of the 63 laps in the main event.

While attendance figures are not announced, The Indianapolis Star reported that Sunday’s crowd “might not have topped 50,000’’ at a track that has more than 250,000 permanent seats.

O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked about the crowd and the racing at Indy on “The Morning Drive.’’

On the crowd, O’Donnell said: “Certainly we would like to see more fans in the stands. It’s been a struggle over the last couple of years for sure. We put a little bit on that ourselves when we had the tire issue (in 2008 where tire issues prevented any green flag stretch longer than 13 laps).

“It’s a challenging race track for us from a racing perspective. That’s no secret. So, we’ve got to balance the ability to race at that speedway but also put on a good race and balance that with the attendance. That’s an ongoing thing. We’re in discussions with Doug Boles (track president) and Mark Miles (CEO of Hulman & Company), and I know from their perspective as well, they certainly want to see folks in the stands, as do we. It’s an important market for us, but by the same token we’ve got to put on the racing that people want to see. It’s a balance, but we’ve got to make sure when we go there it’s the best of all worlds and this year was a challenge, and we want to see that turn and reverse.’’

Sunday’s race featured four lead changes among three drivers. That’s the fewest lead changes in a Sprint Cup race this season. The previous low was seven at Phoenix in a race won by Kevin Harvick.

On the racing at Indianapolis this past weekend, O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “I think you’ll have some events where a team just dominates. What doesn’t get talked about and it’s unfortunate sometimes is the true dominance that Kyle Busch put out there and put it on the best racers in the world. He’s certainly shown he’s a champion.

“Then you look at the spread between drivers. You certainly want every race to be as close as possible. That’s our end goal, but we also know that’s part of sport. You can’t script it. Sometimes people are just on their game like Martin Truex at the Coke 600 (Truex led 392 of 400 laps), but if you look at overall the season, I think we’ve seen more and more some closer racing, more passing, so we like the trend. Hopefully we’ll get back to that when we head to Pocono this weekend.’’

O’Donnell said that more can be done with the racing at Indianapolis: “Maybe the cars were a little bit closer together from a 1-40 standpoint, but obviously the ability to pass was a challenge, especially at the front. We’ll go back and look at what levers we can pull. We’re still evaluating 2017 (rules package), continuing on the lower (aero) trend and working with Goodyear on the tire. It’s just a real challenge in terms of the groove in the corners at Indy. It’s something we’ve got to continue to look at and see if we can, if at all, open up the ability to draft more and increase those passing zones.’’

Even with the challenges, O’Donnell reiterated Indy’s value to NASCAR: “I think when you look at it overall, Indianapolis certainly stands out from a driver’s perspective. You look at what took place with both Tony (Stewart) and Jeff Gordon and wanting to take that extra lap. That doesn’t happen at every race track. There’s a reason for that. It’s a track that is revered by a number of our drivers. … It’s always been one of those iconic venues that drivers want to have the opportunity to compete in. From a NASCAR perspective, it’s allowed us to do that and allowed a driver to go out and win and certainly put a win at Indianapolis on their resume. You have that and Daytona, I’d say you are in pretty good company.’’

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