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Has Indy Car Racing Finally Flatlined?

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 31:  Dario Franchitti (R) of Scotland, driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda, and Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR driver and 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray (L) inspect the Borg Warner Trophy and the Harley J. Earl Trophy on the yard of bricks during the 94th Indianapolis 500 Trophy Presentation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 31, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Team owner Chip Ganassi is the first team owner to win both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same year.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Robert HoffmanCorrespondent IJune 1, 2010

As much as it pains me, it might be time to pull the plug on the Indy Racing League (IRL) and the IndyCar series.

I grew up loving Indy cars and especially the Indianapolis 500. I remember how I would be oh so tempted to watch the evening news to see who won. Back then, the race was taped so the networks would warn you before spoiling the prime-time broadcast with the results.

I remember the thrill of going to a track in New Jersey and wanting to be like the great Bobby Unser.  After all, we shared the same first name and that combined with his hard charging style was enough for a small child.

Only looking back do I realize how lucky I was to watch the Unser family (Bobby, Al, little Al), Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and the list goes on and on. 

This brings me to the IndyCar of today.  I went to a restaurant for lunch during the early stages of Sunday's race.  There were three televisions on, one had a baseball game one, another set had the French Open tennis tournament, and the final one showed a minor golf tournament. 

Are you kidding me?

Dario Franchitti, better known as actress Ashley Judd's husband, won the race, his second Indianapolis 500.  Franchitti is, by all accounts, a great guy and a good driver.

A good driver, not a great one. 

This is the problem. Chip Ganassi and Penske Racing win 500's these days, not Franchitti or Helio Castroneves.  The drivers aren't winning the teams are.

Want proof?  Franchitti is the perfect example.  He  needed 10 years in American open-wheel racing before winning a rain shortened Indianapolis 500 in 2007 for Andretti Green Racing one of the premier racing teams at the time.  Then he won that year's IRL's Championship only after Scott Dixon ran out of gas on the last lap of the last race of the season. 

He parlayed his success into an immediate foray into NASCAR and finished a humiliating 41st in the Sprint Cup series after poor results and a lack of sponsorship forced the Co-owner Chip Ganassi to disband the entire #40 car team.

Franchitti stayed with Ganassi but returned with his tail between legs back to the open wheel circuit.   He and new teammate Dixon dominated the 2009 IndyCar series for a 1-2 finish in Ganassi's superior cars. 

Franchitti was never seriously challenged in yesterday's Indy 500. He led 155 laps because his car was just that superior.  Finally, at the end, he nearly gave away his substantial lead at the end because he nearly ran out of fuel.  Only a crash by driver Mike Conway allowed the Scotsman to coast to the finish under caution. 

Danny Sullivan won the 1985 Indianapolis 500 after spinning out at 400 degrees and still coming back to pass Andretti for the title.  Sullivan was a great race car driver

Now, the sport lacks risk-taking drivers that capture the imagination of Americans or anyone else for that matter.   Actually the IRL lacks any top American drivers which damages the domestic popularity of the sport.  In addition, the sport has been modified to the point that fuel strategy and the composition of the car is far more important than who is behind the wheel. 

This years Indy 500 registered a 3.68 overnight Nielsen Rating. 
This means that just over four million households tuned in.

The 2009 race drew a 4.0 rating making it the least watched Indy 500 since 1986 until Franchitti's latest victory on Sunday.   

Flatline indeed. 
Why? Because people don't care about the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing' or Indy cars anymore. 

 

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