Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Your questions for Robin should continue to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here.
Q: While I’m thrilled to see Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta get seats for next season, I’m especially thrilled to see another new owner enter the series in the Steinbrenner family. In the last few years, the entry of new teams and owners like Shank, Carlin, Juncos and Harding have been among the most important developments for the future of the series. What say you, and how quickly can each of them become a contender?
John, your ex-Gannetteer buddy in Louisiana
RM: I think it’s bigger than McLaren because of the national profile and the Steinbrenner’s passion and commitment. Pato was a contender in his debut, and with the Andretti assistance there’s no reason to think both kids won’t be competitive out of the box in 2019.
Q: Awesome to hear the news about Harding fielding Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward full time next year, they both deserve a proper shot. Marshall brought up that many are worried about Andretti having Honda data and Chevy data from their junior team that they could conceivably use to give themselves or Honda a major advantage. Have you heard anything about that? Also, now that Harding is full, what’s the status of our buddy Fred Alonso? Seems to be getting less and less likely that he’ll be racing full-time IndyCar, which is very sad.
Max Camposano, Bethlehem, PA
RM: The whole paddock is concerned/angry about one team having both engines, and that’s certainly understandable. But I think it’s yet to be decided, because Honda would probably like to keep Andretti all under one manufacturer’s roof if possible. Unless something happens pretty quick, I’m thinking Alonso will be an Indy 500 only driver.
Q: Huge news about the partnership with Harding and Steinbrenner. This is great for the sport, and Pato and Colton are great kids. The article said Andretti is providing “technical support.” What does that mean exactly? I thought Harding was going to be the Andretti B-team for a while there, and that doesn’t seem like the case anymore. Chevy and Honda must have felt weird about the potential of Andretti having access to both engine suppliers’ data. So what’s the scoop?
Mike R., Bloomington, IND.
RM: Andretti is supplying shocks, dampers, engineering help and personnel, so it’s going to be more or less the Andretti Junior team. We were told at the test and during Sonoma weekend that every component related to the Chevy engine in terms of telemetry was shut off. Proprietary tech or information was turned off to protect the IP. But we all know racing and there’s no secrets, so the best thing to happen would be if Honda simply added Steinbrenner/Harding to its roster so we wouldn’t spend 2019 in an engine civil war.
Q: I was a little distressed with your commentary about IndyCar hitting a home run with the Steinbrenners to read that nobody from IndyCar or IMS attended the press conference at Yankee Stadium. How does this happen?
RM: It happened because Mark Miles already had a business trip scheduled in Europe and Jay Frye already had a trip with the FIA set for Switzerland, but not sure why IMS didn’t send Doug Boles. Anyway, I should point out that my intent was not to pick on Miles or Frye, but rather emphasize to IndyCar’s marketing and PR staff that this is a big deal they need to make part of their annual game plan and do something creative. And I should also point out that Frye spent the past two years cultivating a relationship with Hank and George Steinbrenner, and they already feel like part of the IndyCar family because of it.
Q: You mentioned a while back in your Mailbag that you were sitting on a big story. I am assuming it was the announcement of Pato and Colton going with Steinbrenner – or is there another one you are sitting on?
RM: That was it but there’s another one brewing which the fans will love if it happens. But it’s still got a lot of moving parts.
Q: Great news for IndyCar this week with the announcement of Harding/Steinbrenner Racing. And the roster of Herta and O’Ward makes it even better. A new team with young drivers who both made an impressive debut in Sonoma is exactly the direction IndyCar should be heading. However, how does this announcement play out for Gabby Chaves? Enjoyed watching this kid throughout the year, and I really think he has strong potential. I thought Harding stated he would have a seat for 2019, but I guess nothing in life is ever guaranteed. So is he now the odd man out?
Chris, Elizabethtown, PA
RM: Unfortunately, Gabby is the odd man out and we all wish he could have been afforded the depth and help that Pato and Colton already got in their debut. I think Mike Harding will pay off Chaves’ contract (he had another year) and everyone in the IndyCar paddock knows this kid can race, but not having some big money behind him is going to hurt isn terms of finding a full-time ride.
Q: Absolutely pumped about the momentum we have been seeing the last couple years. With the Steinbrenner announcement, I am curious to know how NASCAR might be feeling? I understand they are still the 800-pound gorilla (maybe only about 700 pounds now), but they are losing teams and sponsors, as well as faced with dwindling TV numbers. Yes, I know IndyCar pales in comparison, but is it fair to say if sponsors consider momentum that IndyCar might get more looks now compared to a few years ago? Great days for IndyCar! Thanks for always beating the drum.
Mike, Fishers, IN
RM: It’s possible that Steinbrenner’s presence could help somebody in IndyCar, but NASCAR had the Boston Red Sox owner (John Henry) teamed with Jack Roush, so I doubt it feels trumped. And its TV numbers are still pretty damn good compared to most sports, and IndyCar would die for them. But I think eight races on NBC next year will help boost the ratings – especially Indianapolis.
Q: Just read the Harding Steinbrenner announcement on RACER.com and am very excited at the continual momentum gains IndyCar keeps making. Happy to see this new team getting great support to start the 2019 season. If Harding Steinbrenner is the Andretti satellite team and Marco re-signed with Michael, where does that leave Alonso? I read in the Mailbag last week that Fred’s plans might have stalled a little bit, but does this close the door on his possibly being with Andretti? Herta and Pato at the satellite team. Marco, Hunter-Reay, Rossi, and Veach at Michael’s team. Does he run a fifth car for Alonso?
Rob Pobiega, Lemont, IL
RM: Nobody seems to know where Fred is going to be racing in 2019 (aside from WEC), but again, if it’s McLaren bringing Alonso to the IndyCar party it cannot be a Honda (at least, not if it has any McLaren signage). Regardless, I think Michael would run a car for him at Indy because he could likely raise sponsorship, but I also think there’s a plan in place where Andretti could field eight cars full-time if everything fell just right.
Q: As excellent as the Harding/Steinbrenner/Andretti collaboration is for IndyCar, I have to think both Chevy and Honda had some concerns and demands regarding the security of their technology? Any insights?
RM: As I said in an earlier answer, we were informed that Chevrolet was careful about sharing any proprietary information with the Andretti/Harding team at Sonoma. Of course both manufacturers hate the idea of one team using both engines, and I hear IndyCar might even be looking at making a rule to prevent it. So stay tuned.
Q: We are all praying for Robert Wickens’ full recovery, but in reality I do not think 2019 will be an option for him. If Andretti can’t make it happen, what do you think about Alonso as Hinchcliffe’s teammate?
PS: I would love to see Conor get the ride also.
RM: I don’t want to comment because I don’t know the extent of Robby’s injuries, but he’s in therapy every day and fighting (as you could see in his video). I think Alonso is a logical choice, and Honda would have no problem providing an engine for him at SPM. I think Daly has a plan and a sponsor, but it’s not quite cinched up.
Q: Great news with Herta and O’Ward joining Harding Steinbrenner Racing next season. Two great up-and-comers. Does this announcement change anything concerning McLaren to IndyCar?
Ralph Power, Indianapolis
RM: No, it has no bearing on McLaren’s situation.
Q: Have you heard or can substantiate the rumors that NASCAR is dangling a big fat carrot in the shape of a COO or CEO executive position to Jay Frye? And in all honesty, career-wise, is that a position too big to pass up?
Victor M., San Jose, CA.
RM: Jay enjoyed his NASCAR days running the Red Bull team and I’ve been hearing this rumor that NASCAR wants him for about a month. It would probably be tough to pass up (financially), and his wife Danielle hails from Alabama and loves the south so that’s another component, but Jay says he loves what he’s doing at IndyCar. It appears Mark Miles wisely lets Frye run the racing side without much interference, and not sure that would be the case in NASCAR. Jay also hired Bill Pappas and Tino Belli and they’ve made a good technical team. But know this, it would be a major loss to IndyCar if Frye left because between his communication skills, openness with everyone in the paddock, ability to think ahead with common sense and five-year plan, he’s been the best thing to happen to IndyCar in a long time.
Q: You mentioned in the Mailbag that Scott Dixon might want to test a F1 car someday. He tested a Williams in 2004. In fact, I think he had two tests. I believe the tests were deemed successful, but he didn’t get the call when Montoya or Ralf Schumacher left. Maybe he was hurt by Zanardi not doing well in his return to F1, or the fact the IRL was really an oval series. Al Unser Jr. tested at Williams one time as well. I think he was faster than Ricardo Patrese, but Patrick Head didn’t like that he smoked and didn’t have a fitness program. Any idea what Dixie’s times looked like from those tests, or why they passed on him?
Brian Henris, Fort Mill, SC
RM: I think I said in response to a question (would Dixon want to try F1?) that he might like to test one of today’s F1 cars, but had no interest in looking for a ride. His three-day Williams test back in 2003 was blighted by rain and a driveshaft failure that cost him a whole day, but he still wound up quicker than Williams’ driver Ralf Schumacher and just behind McLaren’s David Coulthard. The unofficial sheet said he was ninth overall of 18 drivers that tested.
Q: What is the outlook for the starting grid for 2019? I would suspect that all of the 2018 full-season entrants come back for 2019, and that would start the car count at 21. Now that Harding is expanding to two cars with O’Ward and Herta, that makes 22. RLL sounds like it is close to third car, and if McLaren does come to the table with a two-car team, that would take the count to 25. Then there is still Shank with six-10 races, Juncos with a handful of races, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing maybe with a part-time car, DragonSpeed Racing maybe doing six races as well, which could add four part-time teams. Do you see any differences to the above? Any new teams potentially coming into IndyCar? If McLaren does come to IndyCar, will it still partner with Andretti?
Rod, San Jose, CA
RM: There are a couple other teams lurking but we won’t name them just yet, so I expect 24-25 full-timers and several races to have 26-28. Be nice to see Indy with 40 cars going for 33 spots. McLaren and Andretti would appear to be a package, but anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen is guessing, and it could well be another team when all is said and done. Zak Brown told me it might be November before anything happens, and now Fred is talking about running the Daytona 500, so who knows what he wants to do besides Indianapolis?
Q: So another championship is decided at Sonoma Snoozefest Raceway. I believe RHR lead from flag-to-flag. Dixon kept station in second place because he didn’t need to race to win. Yawn. It is obvious to me that the team owners are just like our politicians. They don’t care what the fans want. The owners want to finish in hoity-toity California so they can sip wine, snack on caviar and hob nob with the wealthy. We, the fans, have other ideas. Ovals are IndyCar’s heritage. The final championship deciding race should be on an oval (Gateway) and on a Saturday night! Not late Sunday afternoon, with a delayed start due to an overly long, wreck-filled NASCAR race, and coverage switching from NBCSN to CNBC and back to NBCSN. Pathetic!
RM: Jay Frye wanted to end the season on an oval and I supported him 1,000 percent, but the owners can’t see the big picture. Make Laguna the next-to-last race and they can still wine and dine their sponsors, but then IndyCar can end the season on an oval (Gateway) with a good crowd, good atmosphere and good chance to see some racing. But it would have to be on Sunday afternoon, not Saturday night, to be on NBC and Gateway was game to give it a try.
Q: Even a team owner who wants to wine and dine corporate clients can’t be so blind as to see that the finale was a yawner from start to finish? I’ve driven an open-wheel car at Sonoma and it is a great track,y but without a passing zone forget about it for an IndyCar race, much less the finale. Laguna alas, seems likely to be much the same. The point: why destroy all the goodwill you created throughout the season with great racing by ending it with a much-hyped but destined to be worst race of the year? I’m OK with the double points, it adds to the drama, but at least give us a track they can race on. Any new viewer to IndyCar watching last Sunday will not bother to tune in again…
Justin, Park City, Utah
RM: Laguna and Sonoma are interchangeable in terms of what to expect, and you can expect the same old boring race we saw two weeks ago. I think I attended four consecutive races at Laguna where there were either no passes for the lead, or the pole-sitter led every lap. Or both. And FYI, as we were arguing about where to end the season, one team owner told me: “Miller it’s not the quantity of fans that counts, it’s the quality.” How do you argue with something that asinine?
Q: Now that the series has ended with another last-race title decider, it is time to consider what would make the series even more appealing other than the great racing and unpredictability (the antithesis of F1). I won’t harp on double-points or ending the series at a road course with poor passing opportunities, but instead want to talk about expanding the series into another race in Canada, into Mexico and outside of North America. The car counts are up significantly, and costs seem to be somewhat in control, notwithstanding lack of a title sponsor for IndyCar. A single Canadian race does not make the series international.
Just a perusal of scant European coverage of IndyCar due to Alonso shows that the series is considered ‘American’ in the eyes of the world. Well, it used to be international with two successful Canadian races, and races in Mexico, Japan, Brazil, and Australia. I won’t delve into the European experiment in Champ Car, which didn’t seem successful, but in light of the huge turnout I witnessed in Portland after an 11 year hiatus, I wonder if success could be found returning to prior tracks in Mexico (where O’Ward would bring them in), as well as Australia and Brazil? Surely there are Super Formula tracks in Japan that would be suitable, and I really believe a race in Calgary would do well and hope Ric Peterson pursues it. It is time to build on momentum and take the series truly international again.
Trevor Bohay, Kamloops, BC
RM: I ask Pato midway through the season if he was a big enough deal to carry a race in Mexico City, and he said: “Not yet.” Well he may be now after only one IndyCar race, and that would be one of the places IndyCar needs to look at. A New Zealand/Australian doubleheader would seem like a slam dunk with Dixie and Power on top of their game. And another race in Canada (maybe Montreal by 2020) would be a winner as well. But 20 would be the perfect number.
Q: Will IndyCar ever return to Watkins Glen, and why was it dropped? A track loved by the drivers, and large attendance.
RM: If we could talk some sense into IMSA to let IndyCar share the weekend with the 6-hour race (have IndyCar run on Saturday), because NBC will already be there covering sports cars. It was dropped because IndyCar rented the track and lost money, and it’s only going to work with a suitable date. But there has never been a big crowd to watch CART, IRL or IndyCar, while NASCAR packs them in.
Q: I’m excited by the announcement that IndyCar will race at COTA. I have never been there, but from what I read and hear it is a great venue. I attended F1 races at Indy, and although the excitement did not compare to the 500, the pricing was reasonable. I had interest in attending F1 races at COTA, but that was stopped by the pricing. There must be many well heeled individuals traveling the world to attend F1 races. I believe it is important for IndyCar to succeed at COTA, but to do so their management must forget about F1 prices. What do you think?
Charlie Merz, Dallas
RM: I think COTA needs to make the IndyCar race very affordable, and you know it will be fan-friendly compared to F1 because anyone can buy a pit/paddock pass. People are worried there won’t be much of a turnout, but as good as the cars raced on road courses this season, I would hope people give it a chance.
Q: What’s going on with Carlin? From what I understand, Max’s dad is out as CEO at Gallagher. Does that mean his sponsorship is gone? We know Novo Nordisk took a step back this season a little bit for Charlie Kimball, and he hasn’t been re-signed yet, either. Are there question marks for this team returning with the same two drivers in 2019? It seemed a little odd that ECR announced Spencer Pigot’s return but not Jordan King’s, even though both sides have nothing but good things to say about each other. Is King on a full-time seat or bust path this off-season, or is he likely back in a part-time role at ECR? If not King, is there anyone else in contention for the road/street role? Is there any chance of a second full time ride at ECR in 2019? Dreyer & Reinbold… anything more than the 500 for Karam and Hildebrand there?
Juncos claims to want to run two cars next year. Do enough ride-buyers with deep enough pockets exist to make that feasible? Juncos, like Harding, really seems to be struggling on the sponsorship train. Guessing the well has finally run dry for Lazier Racing. Nobody wants to drop $1 million on a car that likely won’t qualify for the race. Does Chip have a back-up plan if the Rosenqvist deal falls apart, or is it a done deal and he doesn’t need one? Perhaps the craziest off-season story will be who is going to be in the No.19 car at Coyne, and is there so much interest that they are going to run the No.17 as well? By my count there interest is at least, but not limited to, Santino Ferrucci, Pietro Fittipaldi, Conor Daly, Zachary Claman de Melo, Ed Jones, Gabby Chaves, and we’ll even throw in RC Enerson. Who did I miss? Also assuming Pippa will be in the No.63 again for the 500.
Ryan Ward, San Jose, CA
RM: Read RACER.com’s latest story with Trevor Carlin. There was talk that Ed might put somebody in the No.20 car and he’d just run Indianapolis so King would be full-time, but evidently that’s not going to happen and Jordan wants to run the whole season. Talked to Dennis Reinbold for 20 minutes the other day and he’s still trying to put a full-time effort together, but only if he can do it right, so I’d guess it’s 50/50 on 2019. Just love to see Ricardo field one full-time effort. Bob Lazier said he’s working on some investors to get a new car for Indianapolis. All quiet at Ganassi, sounds like there might be some complications with Felix but he definitely wants to run over here. As for Coyne, you pretty much nailed it, so anyone with a couple million may be in the mix for a few races.
Q: First off, I want to say what a great year of IndyCar racing we had. The cars looked great and raced great! I saw some of the best racing I have ever seen and IndyCar has proven you do not need cautions to make a race exciting. It seemed like nearly every race had an increase in attendance, and I can personally say that from the races I went to (St. Pete, Iowa, and Gateway) there were plenty of new and young fans. Also, I am glad I got to chat with you for a couple of minutes at Gateway, and loved all your work on RACER this season. I finally got to meet JoNew and I have to say IndyCar has got two great young Americans in he and Alexander. I can’t wait for next year and see what NBC can do to better the series. Oh and, I like your pinstripes and pit stops line – I see some great things coming from that. Whatever happened to the rumors of a race in Omaha? Was that just talk, or could something ever happen?
RM: I’ve heard Oklahoma City, Tulsa, San Antonio and Norfolk, Va., but I never heard Omaha. Anything is possible if the city gets behind it, but it’s an expensive proposition without a big title sponsor, and that’s one reason Gateway succeeds. Between Bommarito Automotive Supply and the boys at Gateway, it’s a year-round promotion with people who know the business.
Q: Will IndyCar ever do road course or a street race under lights? I always enjoy Singapore GP for being under the lights in a city, as well as IndyCar oval races at night. Maybe the Indy Grand Prix could do it under the lights to give the event a boost. As a bonus, make it a throwback livery event like NASCAR does.
RM: It’s been discussed and it would be cool, but obviously the expense to light a track might be astronomical (IMS has no lights, BTW). Champ Car tried it at Cleveland once, but it was still daylight until there were about 20 laps left so it didn’t get the desired atmosphere.
Q: So the only thing wrong with this Indy Car season is that it is over! What a great season. We had multiple winners, the championship came down to the wire, many of the races were down to the wire and we got Portland back and it did not disappoint. As a lifelong fan, I could not be more pleased. I would also like to thank you for your take on the political correctness BS that Conor Daly was exposed to. What a load that was, losing sponsorship over something his father said 35 years ago? How stupid, and thank you for calling it out. That crap does not belong in racing! Do you know what the long-term goal is in terms of how many races IndyCar is willing to put on the schedule? Do we really have to end the season so soon? Too bad we can’t have Sonoma and Laguna; maybe one at the beginning of the season and one at the end? Also, has a new sponsor been found for Long Beach yet, and what is the situation on a new title sponsor for the series?
Bruce Davison, Santa Clarita, CA
RM: I think 20 would be the max, and that would include starting much earlier, be it Mexico City or maybe Down Under like CART used to do in Australia (and add New Zealand). Richmond and Montreal could be in play in a couple years, but the season will still end by mid-September. No word on a new title sponsor for IndyCar, but Long Beach will be just fine and might even have a title sponsor and presenting sponsor.
Q: I keep reading that Scott Dixon “tied” A.J. Foyt with five IndyCar championships. Doesn’t A.J. have six titles?
Dan Scott, Murrieta CA
RM: No, Super Tex has seven, and I saw that headline as well. Made no sense.
Q: What is the cost to field an IndyCar team for a season and a single race? This issue comes up a lot, and no-one seems to know anything. I have read that Ganassi needed $20-$25 million per year per car, in 2013 the bids for the National Guard contract from Panther Racing was $17 million a year, and Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan offered to do it for $12 million a year. This was for one base year with four options years. What is even more shocking is the bid went out to six teams, and only four bothered to respond. For a single race, can you tell us what Conor Daly spent this year, and what Carlos Munoz spent?
RM: I’m guessing $7-8 million per car a year is the most anybody gets these days, and ABC Supply, Verizon, PNC Bank, Fuzzy’s, Gallagher and Arrow lead the pack with DHL, NTT Data, Menard’s, NAPA and Lucas all spending decent money. Bobby Rahal has GEHL, Fleet, Total, United Rentals, One Cure and Fifth Third Bank to support Graham. I’ve heard everything from $50,000 to $75,000 a race for late-season one-offs at Coyne, Harding and SPM when teams need to fill seats in a hurry, but no confirmation.
Q: The cars this year were slower than last year’s based on pole times, and passing again was almost nonexistent on road/street courses – at least from memory. Is there any evidence to indicate that passing was significantly higher this year compared to last year? I think the low amount of passing on road/street courses is more of a factor of the tight/twisty tracks than the nature of the cars. Are they going to make the cars faster next year? I’d rather see faster cars and little passing than slower cars and little passing.
RM: Not sure if you watched Road America and Mid-Ohio, but they were two of the most entertaining and racy road courses I’ve seen in the past 20 years, and Toronto had a slew of wild passes as well as St Pete. Actually, the street and road courses were much racier than the ovals in 2018. Faster in 2019? Probably a little, but I’d much rather see slower corner speeds on ovals and the ability to get close and pass than going 3-4 mph quicker.
Q: I have a question with relation to the SAFER Barrier and it’s development. My understanding is Tony George was a major part of the development from 1998 until it was installed in 2002. That timeline, oddly, lines up closely with his step-son Ed getting into serious racing (started with USAC in 1998 and IndyCar in 2003). Was part of TG’s motivation to help protect Ed? Seems a logical thing for a parent to do if they have the financial means. Maybe that’s an angle that IndyCar could use for fence safety development? There are quite a few parents/patrons out there with deep pockets who are paying for young drivers to have a chance at a long successful career in IndyCar and series throughout the world. While they all have their own interests and goals, protecting their children/investments seems like it would be a worthy cause.
RM: I think Tony’s motivation was to make IMS the safest oval in racing, and he enlisted a team of engineers led by Dean Sicking at the Midwest Roadside Safety Facility at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It became the single greatest innovation in modern racing, and was adopted by every major oval track in the country. The fact Ed Carpenter came along as it debuted was fortuitous, but I think TG’s thrust was the overall good and not just targeted toward his stepson. I’m sure IMS monitors (with Tony Cotman’s help) the ideas of fencing around the world, but right now what the Speedway has is the best available.
Q: IndyCar had another excellent year. It’s the best racing on the planet. But I really want to comment on the truly outstanding coverage by NBCSN. You and all of your NBCSN colleagues are the best in the business, and practically every utterance informs the viewer. The coverage is broad and deep and professional. Even PT, whom I never rooted for as a driver, is a real asset in the broadcast booth. The camera operators and video production staff are clearly on their game. It’s great to know that all IndyCar races will be on NBCSN going forward.
Dale Murray, Mount Joy, PA
RM: Well thanks, but I’m a very small part of this team, and I think it’s quite obvious from our producers to directors to cameramen to graphics to inside the truck to pit reporters and the booth it’s a group that not only knows racing, but it cares about it. And just wait until you see what NBC does with next May.
Q: I have been an IndyCar fan since the mid 60s. I have never missed an IndyCar race at Road America (whatever happened to Hector Rebaque?), and have also been to many other tracks in Indy country (the Midwest). I’ve been a fan of yours for years because of your passion and insight. I can’t wait for next year when you and the entire NBC crew take over the full season. The 2016 weather delay at Texas was the most entertaining coverage I’ve ever seen, and I think offered us a preview of what’s ahead. Finally, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are this generation’s version of Sam Posey and Uncle Bobby. See you at Road America 2019.
Dan S., Joliet, IL
RM: Again, thanks for the kind words, and I agree that TBell and PT are exactly what race fans enjoy – a couple of former racers who truly say whatever they feel, argue about half the time, but always make sharp observations about what is coming next or what to look for before it happens. And they’re not afraid to admit when they’re wrong either, which is also refreshing, or laugh at themselves. Leigh Diffey gives them enough rope but always reels them in at the right time while staying on top of the race, and it’s a good chemistry in our booth.
Q: Not so much a question as a comment. As we put the 2018 season to bed I’d like to give a shout out to you, RACER, and NBCSN. I value your passion and insight into IndyCar and admire your journalistic commitment to the story even if the story sometimes reveals warts. Pretty sure there are enough sycophants in the paddock to keep us going for quite a while. Very pleased that all races will be on NBC and NBCSN next year which should provide better continuity for 2019. Now if you could just get PT to come out of his shell and tell us what he really thinks we’ll be off to the races. Not withstanding the Wickens’ crash, 2018 was great and 2019 holds the promise of bigger and better. I hope you’ve got one more grueling year in you, because IndyCar won’t be as good when you’re not part of it. Enjoy the off-season.
RM: Appreciate those comments David, but RACER.com stays on top of IndyCar and sports cars because I’ve never met anyone who works harder than Marshall Pruett. I thought I was gung-go in the 1970s and 1980s writing 52 columns a year, covering USAC midgets, sprints and IndyCar and towing my midget all over the country, but between stories, scoops, videos, photos and podcasts, MP is a machine. I don’t think he sleeps. And we’ve got a good thing going because we always check with each other about what we’re working on so as not to duplicate. Anyway, you’ve already seen how much more promotion NBCSN has given IndyCar in the past couple months of the regular season, and it’s only going to get better in 2019 with NBC.
Q: I note that Laguna Seca Raceway has an Andretti Hairpin, a Rahal Straight, and a Rainey Curve. We need to start work now to make certain that it has a Zanardi Corkscrew in time for the 2019 IndyCar race. Thanks for the Mailbag.
David Thompson, Bellville, TX
RM: That’s a great idea, and how cool would it be to get “The Pineapple” to come over and make a dedication lap?
Q: In response to David in North Carolina’s letter in the September 19th Mailbag. I’m a lifer when it comes to open-wheel racing, but I certainly appreciated and regularly watched NASCAR stock car and modified racing in its ascendency during the CART years. I always appreciated that the drivers were true competitors, but they didn’t take themselves too seriously as “stars.” And NASCAR did an outstanding job of marketing their drivers as personalities that we were actually interested in hearing from (Gordon, Stewart, Martin, Earnhardt Sr. immediately come to mind).
Despite being an open-wheel guy, I attended every NASCAR event at my home track in Loudon and I typically tuned in to every NASCAR race as well: it was must-see TV. So, they had clearly become both a national (and international) sport, and I have never begrudged them their popularity even if later on I was jealous that it was at the expense of IndyCars ever since the CART/IRL split. But NASCAR clearly lost their way over the last 15 years and now is clearly in trouble from a racing standpoint. I have tried to watch three NASCAR Cup races and one Xfinity race (with Conor Daly and Katherine Legge) this season on different occasions without making it to the end of any of them. Even the road races, which were always hugely entertaining, have lost my interest now that they are broken into stages.
Sitting through the Las Vegas race overlap of the beginning of the IndyCar finale due to multiple crashes was sad to watch. I hope that NASCAR sorts itself out and brings in some new management/ leadership, and that NBC can overlap the NASCAR and IndyCar audiences to expose both groups to good racing and grow the overall fan base. If they do, I do think that IndyCar will compare quite favorably in the coming years with cool cars and interesting drivers. I hope, for all of us, that this strategy works.
Royal Richardson, Chester, N.H.
RM: When NBC acquired the NASCAR rights, I said it would be good for IndyCar and it has been – especially when you check the ratings when NASCAR leads into or follows an IndyCar event. The eight NBC races will certainly help IndyCar’s profile, and I will bet all the money Bobby Unser can loan me that next year’s Indy 500 ratings will go up because of the bang-up job NBC will do promoting in April and May.
Q: I appreciate the situation NBCSN was put in thanks to the NASCAR crashfest at Las Vegas, but to miss the drop of the green flag of the IndyCar race while the NASCAR race is at a red is, quite frankly, bad directing. NBCSN should have cut away from the red flag and showed the green glag at Sonoma. They could have easily gone back to catch the restart on the NASCAR race and show the finish. All of the race fans and both sanctioning bodies would have been the winners. IndyCar would have some exposure to the NASCAR fan base, and the NASCAR would have some exposure to the IndyCar fan base.
I didn’t watch the race live, but I did have my DVR set so I had no idea the IndyCar green flag was on CNBC. Bottom line, a red flag should never take precedent over a green flag in any racing series. The tin tops were parked, for goodness sake. Bail out next time NBCSN! BTW I still think NBC and NBCSN will do great things for IndyCar! Thanks to you, Marshall and Mark Glendenning for another season of great reporting.
Scott St. Clair, Erie, PA
RM: Missing most laps at Sonoma wasn’t a big deal, it just so happened that Rossi’s race was ruined at the start so that compounded the frustration of IndyCar fans and I understand. But when 2-3 million people are watching NASCAR and 500,000 are tuned in to IndyCar, it’s obvious to me we’re going to get bumped to CNBC until the Cup show is over. That’s just good business and a sporting event is going to be shown in its entirety, so it was just unfortunate that red flag came out or everything would have worked out.
Q: Last week’s Mailbag is a joke. That race at Las Vegas was a great race. Please don’t lecture anyone on terrible racing when IndyCar’s “finale” is a single file ant march through a flat road course in a desert. And don’t think I didn’t notice your sarcastic “best drivers in the world” jab. I’ll take Truex, Keselowski, Busch, Busch, Larson, Logano, Harvick, and Elliot over the entire IndyCar field. Anytime, anywhere. Heck I’ll take even one of those drivers against Indy’s field.
And that is not to take away from IndyCar’s talented drivers. They are extremely talented. And I would love to watch them all compete against one another. Heck, I would love to watch just the IndyCar drivers compete against each other, but it’s too bad they can’t in their “race” cars as evidenced at almost every oval track they have been on (and when they do, they get penalized because they technically crossed the last two feet of a painted line). I’m not here to defend NASCAR’s gimmicks but Las Vegas was leaps and bounds above Sonoma. It was not close.
Oh, and as for the jab about wrecking into each other -– I’m sorry that stock cars do not have 15,000 pounds of downforce on their cars when they are racing in 185 degree temperatures or whatever it was. Don’t insult my intelligence by telling me that the intense battling for the lead – all day long – was somehow preferable to the spec car robots following behind each other like kids in line walking down the hallway. I love IndyCar and I’m rooting for the sport to continue its positive momentum, but let’s just settle down a bit.
And as much as I despise the green-white-checkered finishes, it came about because NASCAR’s leadership, for all of its stubbornness, actually was receptive to fan feedback. There is also an additional short track and road course (although I hate this Roval, but don’t get me started) in the postseason, the same postseason that only results in two months, not six, of an offseason. Where’s that series finale at Gateway that everyone was clamoring for? Not there yet? Oh okay! Thank you.
P.S. You, Nate Ryan, Marshall Pruett and Jeff Gluck are the best racing journalists in the business.
Jeremy in Raleigh
RM: I thought Chicago and Watkins Glen were great races, but not sure how you can mention Vegas in the same breath after watching the last 20 laps. We all have our opinions on what constitutes a great race or great drivers, but don’t insult my intelligence and tell me that just because somebody is good at one discipline for all but two races, that makes them better than a driver who has to run four disciplines. I’d love to see Kyle Busch run an IndyCar at Long Beach and Scott Dixon drive a stocker at Bristol, because they’re both special talents. Anyway, IndyCar is still pure racing compared to NASCAR’s stages, mandatory cautions, lucky dog and G-W-C, but NASCAR is still the big dog on television and in the grandstands, so while it’s not what it was 10 years ago, it’s still working compared to many other sports. And, yes, Sonoma was a crushing bore and a terrible way to end the season, and I haven’t given up pushing for Gateway. Thanks for your passion.
Q: I read in the Sept 19th Mailbag all of the readers who were upset that the NASCAR race went long and ran into the start of the IndyCar event. And I understand that disappointment, I truly do. But look at the ratings. And 2.1 million people were watching the NASCAR race from Vegas. That’s 2.1 million people who would be sitting in front of their TVs when the IndyCar race came on. And NBC was promoting the heck out of the Sonoma finale! NBC couldn’t have done more to hype the event.
So the race finally starts and TV sets have Power and Rossi running around (albeit a bit later than expected). And 1.5 million of those sets of eyeballs left the telecast, but 600,000 stayed around to watch the finale of what has been a great season. IndyCar lost 2/3rd of its audience. What does that say to investors? To sponsors? To fans? NASCAR is already losing huge sponsors (Lowes, Furniture City) and yes, there are fewer fannies in the seats… but for readers to lament that NASCAR is on and Indy gets second citizen status, it doesn’t make sense! Of course NBC is going to stick with the box cars running in circles. People are watching! IndyCar? On the week prior, when NASCAR was off and it had the TV to itself (for the most part), it lost out to an Xfinity race. It might be time for people to realize that, in the mind of the American consumer, IndyCar racing is niche and will always be niche.
RM: You pretty much nailed it. NBCSN gives IndyCar more promotion than it ever received on ABC, and that’s going to double next year with NBC coming on board. But NBC paid a fortune for NASCAR, and to your point, the numbers speak volumes about which series is more popular. I’m glad we had CNBC to go to when NASCAR ran long, and I’m sorry a lot of fans don’t get that channel or didn’t get the message or had their VCRs already set and missed the start. But it’s big business and common sense, and as much as we like IndyCar, NBCSN was going to hang with the big dog, just like any other network would have done. And, as I said in an earlier response, NASCAR has been good for IndyCar’s ratings.
Q: Just reading all the complaints about the NASCAR race running long and NBCSN missing the start of the Sonoma race. I was pretty disappointed to miss the start as well, but understand NBCSN’s position. Any other sport on TV that is broadcast back to back, whether it’s baseball or football or whatever, will show the finish of the first event before cutting to the second. While it does suck for us IndyCar fans that don’t care about NASCAR, how would we feel if they cut off the end of a normal race to go to the start of NASCAR? It would have been nice, however, if once the tin-tops restarted, they would have went to the side-by-side like they do or the commercials.
RM: Correct. Nobody is going to leave a live sporting event until it’s finished.
Q: I know NASCAR isn’t your cup of tea but I wanted to ask you a question about it. Watkins Glen and Bristol had a killer turnout and great ratings. People on social media were saying how great the racing was, so why hasn’t NASCAR read the writing on the wall? Why not more road courses (hell, why not try a street circuit) and short ovals? When I came for the IndyCar at Watkins Glen in 2017, I asked the owner of my B&B what the turnout is like for the NASCAR, and he said he is booked up months in advance. When I watched Vegas and looked at the stands, it’s a ghost town. Apparently it was also the worst attendance for a NASCAR race at Las Vegas (I’m guessing the heat helped that one).
I just came back to NASCAR after a 21-year break (minus a few road course races through the years). Every broadcast I watch, it’s clear they are hunting for some kind of change that will bring in more fans and sponsors. Could a massive shake up of the schedule help? Thanks for you passion and coverage of the sport. I’ve been a big fan for a long time. I went to shake your hand at Watkins Glen in 2017, but I think you were about to go live. Just don’t cuss on live TV so I can have a chance next time around.
Hunter in Ottawa
RM: I try to never miss NASCAR at The Glen or Sonoma because it’s two of their best races, and I’m amazed they aren’t trying more (except Charlotte’s Roval may be a stretch his weekend). How about an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader at COTA? I think that would create a lot of interest and be good races. Vegas drew real well when it only had one race, but now that it’s got two… I think that’s why NASCAR is looking at cutting back to one race and one track only, except maybe Daytona.
Q: I’ve been thinking a lot since your last Mailbag about people who have a problem with racers doing donuts at Indy. I can’t imagine anyone who ever risked their life lapping the place being against it, which settles the matter for me. But can you help me understand people who are offended by it?
Steve, New Hope, Minnesota
RM: I don’t think anyone was offended until Keselowski did his on the yard of bricks. I know IMS wasn’t happy.
Q: So, I know you’re not a huge fan of winged sprint cars, but surely you’ve heard the news that we lost another. We all knew BC and what he brought to the table in the racing world, but how about doing a small piece on the Greg Hodnetts, Jason Johnsons, etc. who go out there night after night nearly 100 times a year just to make ends meet because it’s all they know, and what they love, and pay the ultimate price. To me, these guys are a real throwback to the A.J. Foyt era.
RM:I only met Greg a couple times, but Dave Argabright, Bones Bourcier and Doug Ault all raved about what a great person he was, and a helluva driver with old-school roots. It’s been a tough summer for sprinters.
Q: This month, it’s Greg Hodnett. I understand that the sprint car world is a mix of many sanctioning bodies and local tracks with their own rules. So who is going to step up and try to make the sport safer? When Wickens was injured, the talk for weeks was of nothing but how to make IndyCars and or tracks safer. Another sprint car driver dies, and it’s condolences to his family, a shrug of the shoulders, and back to racing. Please tell me there’s more going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about. I love watching sprint cars, but I hate the apparent acceptance of drivers dying.
Tobey Taylor, Houston, TX
RM: Winged sprint cars are safer than ever before from the seats to the suspensions to the tracks, but they’re still rocket ships on quarter and half-mile tracks and it’s a dangerous game. There is no way to make it bulletproof, and that’s the reality of a sport that isn’t going to change.