Can you imagine the Daytona 500 without one of the Busch brothers or Chase Elliott? Wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. NASCAR has a provision to protect all its full-timers. It’s called the Charter System and it guarantees full-time license holders automatic entrance into every race for nine years.
IndyCar is facing the reality of running the 102nd Indianapolis 500 without one of its most popular and productive drivers. James Hinchcliffe (pictured above), who currently sits fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings, is on the sidelines after being bumped Saturday.
So the question is: should IndyCar protect its stars and its full-time teams so they can’t miss the biggest race in the world?
“It’s probably something that IndyCar needs to look at,” said Bobby Rahal, who along with David Letterman and Mike Lanigan fields two full-time entries for son Graham and 2017 Indy winner Takuma Sato. “You know NASCAR would have never run Daytona without Fireball Roberts or Buddy Baker because Bill France wouldn’t have allowed it.
“I know we all wanted to see bumping again but now one of the series biggest names is on the sidelines. So maybe we need a re-think.”
Mark Miles, president and CEO of Hulman & Company, was asked if he had any second thoughts about the current qualifying procedure after Hinch was knocked out.
“I thought it was a great day,” he said. “The fans got a lot and ABC got a lot. But in a couple weeks, after all this has died down, I think we’ll sit down and talk about it.”
Rahal knows all about the agony of defeat at Indy. He was bumped in 1993 but opted not to buy his way back into the lineup despite having Miller Beer as his loyal sponsor.
“I think John Menard offered us a car but it was too much money and we just took our lumps and moved on,” said the 1986 Indy winner. “Five days later Miller came to Columbus (Ohio) and gave me a three-year extension.
“The next year we were in danger of missing the race again so we got a car and engine from Roger (Penske) and Miller didn’t care what kind of car or engine we had, they just wanted to be in the race.”
To his credit, Hinchcliffe was taking the high road on Sunday when asked if he would be in the race.
“There obviously has been a precedent in the past of people jumping into other cars, but at the end of the day, a single, one-race deal is occupied here by someone that worked their tail off all year long to get the sponsorship together, to get the team in line. This is their race, this is everything for the for the entire season. It’s hard to talk someone out of that.
“It’s not even my decision – I’ve got no say in it at this point, I do what I’m told. I certainly see both sides of the argument. We didn’t get the job done yesterday, so if it means we don’t get to race, so be it.”