ISM Raceway, which used to be known as Phoenix International Raceway, announced Friday morning that all of its grandstand tickets had been sold for the NASCAR Cup race at the track Sunday. The estimated seating capacity at the recently modernized track is 42,000.
Compared with the gigantic crowd estimates that used to be reported from NASCAR tracks, 42,000 might not sound impressive. But every seat has been sold, and those who want to come to the race at the last minute can buy a ticket to occupy a spot in the infield.
(And, perhaps, get a Kyle Busch bobblehead, which will be handed out to the first 1,500 to enter the infield area with an infield wristband.)
This race, which will determine the final two participants in the four-driver NASCAR Cup championship race within a race Nov. 17 at Homestead, Fla., has been sold out for two years in a row. NASCAR has announced that the 2020 title race will be held at ISM Raceway.
The announcement of a sellout is a triumph for any entertainment facility, but it would appear that, just from eyeballing the stands from overhead cameras, NASCAR has found a sweet spot for its races: 40,000 to 50,000, except for Daytona, Talladega and maybe Charlotte.
A full grandstand, even if it does not loom over the race track like grandstands of old, represents the best possible optic for any sport these days. It looks good on TV to see stands packed with people â or a lot better than a half-empty grandstand twice the size.
The stands at Texas Motor Speedway appeared to be only about half-full for a 500-mile (too long) Cup race last Sunday. Texas is a 1Âœ-mile oval, substantially larger than a one-mile oval like the track at Phoenix, so its grandstands are bigger, but 40,000 people at Texas look puny in comparison. The first Cup race at Texas in 1997 drew an estimated 185,000, but those days are gone.
The NASCAR Cup season is far too long, but NASCAR has said that it does not want to take races away from tracks, especially those who have had two per year. Many fans who go to one race at a track go to the other, and many of them have done that for years.
So race tracks have gotten inventive. Figuring that the track would still get a lot of repeat customers, Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania will play host to Cup races on back-to-back days next summer rather than in consecutive months, as Pocono had before.
Dover International Raceway in Delaware announced last month that it was trimming its capacity to 54,000 from 83,000. Before 2009, the race trackâs had a seating capacity of 135,000, but it makes no sense, financially and aesthetically, to keep bleachers that no one will sit in.
Darlington Raceway in South Carolina trimmed the number of seats to 47,000 from 58,000 before the Southern 500 this year, and sold them all. The Southern 500 is a NASCAR tradition that uses cars with throwback paint jobs, but the track could sell only so many tickets.
NASCAR does not release crowd estimates, as it did when Americans were clamoring to go to stock-car races in the first decade of the 2000s. The sizes of recent crowds would be dwarfed by the sizes of the old crowds. (In fact, it is harder to find the old estimates.)
Like every other sport, NASCAR has worked harder at making the experience more enjoyable for customers â so they keep coming back. The crowds are smaller, yes, but they will find much more to do at tracks than just watch the race itself.
ISM Raceway, for example, says those who buy INfield Only tickets to Sundayâs race get access to âthe INfield Experience, allowing unparalleled access to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garages, Gatorade Victory Lane, driver appearances, OâReilly Auto Parts Pre-Race Party and exclusive food and beverage options.â
Next weekâs race will be held at Homestead, which has a capacity of 46,000, down from 56,000 and 65,000. There was a time not long ago that people actually wondered if Homestead was big enough for a Cup finale. Now it seems to be just right. The stands should be packed, and that looks good.