Take a good look at tonight's Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway.
It is an oval race, which may be a fading breed in the Izod IndyCar Series.
In the past three years, ovals have gone from more than half of the series schedule to less than a third. The 2009 schedule had 10 ovals as part of the 17-race schedule.
This year, ovals make up five of the 16 races.
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It's part of a drive for safety and dollars in the largest open-wheel series in the United States.
The IndyCar Series has long been concerned about close-quarters, or pack, racing on ovals. Wheel-to-wheel contact at 200 mph can be catastrophic.
The fears were highlighted by the horrific multi-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's 1.5-mile oval in October that resulted in the death of Dan Wheldon, the 2011 Indy 500 winner and one of the series' most popular drivers.
The crash spooked the drivers enough that some talked about a boycott of Texas Motor Speedway unless it made changes to the poles in the catch fence around the track. Wheldon struck one of the posts at Las Vegas when his car went into the fence.
But the series was taking a conservative approach to scheduling ovals, and designing a safer car, long before Wheldon's death. Part of it is because of economics.
Oval courses have more seats, which means promoters need to sell more tickets. Fewer tickets mean a smaller purse. And empty seats look bad on TV, and in person.
"I think it's important that we maintain as many ovals as we can, but not at the expense of having 150,000 seats with 30,000 people in them," series CEO Randy Bernard said in an interview earlier this spring. "That is going to be one of the most important things we do to grow our sport."
The series wants to have about a 60-40 split on road/street courses and ovals, Bernard said. Road or street races have an easier time filling the grandstands near the start/finish line, which gives them an advantage.
"In our executive retreats this year, one thing we did was we sat back and said, 'What's most important to us?'" Bernard said. "We said, 'Having a great crowd.' When you come, when sponsors come, when our partners come, they see a big amount of people, a large attendance, we need that 'wow' factor."
TMS does not appear to have attendance worries for the IndyCar Series. The track boasts that it has the series' largest crowd every year outside the Indy 500. In 2011 and 2010, the IndyCar date drew 73,000 at TMS. In 2003 and 2005, it was more than 100,000.
And the drivers enjoy Texas Motor Speedway because they can run full throttle, or "flat out," in front of a big crowd.
"Texas is always going to produce great racing," Helio Castroneves said. "Because of the way the track is designed, you go flat out as soon as you leave the pits. With experience, obviously. You've got to understand what the car does. The design of this place is to go fast. That's why it produces great racing. This year, even with the change that you have in the setup, you're going to have a great race."
A technical change to the cars for this weekend will mean less downforce, which means less grip, which means the drivers will have more control of the car. When the cars whizz around the banking with excellent grip, they start to drive themselves and are more difficult to control. If the cars are close, that can result in contact.
"The tracks that we enjoy as drivers are tracks like Milwaukee, because you have got to drive the heck out of it," said Graham Rahal, who qualified third for tonight's race. "That's what this is feeling a little more like [as a result of the change]. We'll see what happens. The most important thing for the series is that we put on some great shows, put some butts in the seats and eyes on the TV."
The series was all ovals as recently as 2004. The 16-race schedule that year did not have a street or road course.
But it's unlikely the series will ever be without an oval.
"Two years ago, we defined how we wanted the sport of IndyCar to be differentiated from NASCAR and Formula One, by saying we're the fastest and most versatile race cars in the world," Bernard said. "We can say that because of our oval, road and street courses."
Many drivers in IndyCar have road and street backgrounds. Ovals might not be the strength of the majority, but ovals have a sentimental place for some. And American audiences, brought up on NASCAR, are used to ovals.
"I love ovals. I love Indy. I'm all about Indy, having the American dream win at Indy," car owner Sarah Fisher said. "I would love to see more ovals, whether or not that makes sense. When we won Kentucky last year, there weren't a whole lot of fans in the seats. Does it make sense for the series from a business perspective? I don't know. I'm not the one to say yes or no to that.
"Certainly as a team owner, I would contribute to working as hard as I can to seeing more ovals on there. But unfortunately I don't have all the fans in my back pocket to fill their seats with."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407