INSIGHT: Could a NASCAR/IndyCar double-header really work?

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INSIGHT: Could a NASCAR/IndyCar double-header really work?

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Could a NASCAR/IndyCar double-header really work?

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Death, taxes, and fantasy booking the NASCAR schedule.

For the longest time that meant conversation about new venues, a shorter season, and even shorter races. Recently, another idea has received a renewed public push: IndyCar.

Wait, what?

NASCAR and IndyCar. IndyCar and NASCAR. Insiders from both series have been breathing new life into the concept of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and IndyCar competing on the same weekend at the same track. Reaction, however, has been mostly one-sided (IndyCar), and while NASCAR president Steve Phelps hasn’t personally discussed it with IndyCar CEO Mark Miles, RACER understands that he has had conversations elsewhere in the organization. Phelps also recently admitted it’s something that would be considered for a future NASCAR schedule.

“Has NBC had conversations with us about it? Yes,” said Phelps. “Has NBC had conversation with Indy? I’m sure they have. NBC is an important partner of ours. If it makes sense and folks want to have these two series come together to race on a single weekend, it’s something we’d entertain. Is it a longshot? I don’t know. It’s just another element in what we’re looking at broadly for the schedule.”

NASCAR and IndyCar would not be as strange bedfellows as it might initially seem. Since 1997, Texas Motor Speedway has hosted a June weekend with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and IndyCar sharing the facility. An even better ticket for the motorsports fan, however, would be the Cup Series and IndyCar together, providing the opportunity to see the best drivers in their respective disciplines in the same place at the same time. Each series reaching new, and hopefully more, eyeballs.

Clint Bowyer is very enthusiastic about the idea, and questions why both sides wouldn’t make it happen.

“Obviously, we have a strong fan base, they have a good fan base and why wouldn’t you collide those for a fan?” asks Bowyer. “Everybody is a fan of motorsports. (In Daytona), that schedule was not very full and they have the same problem. And if you could collide those on a weekend, or two weekends, or whatever that is, and do a double-header with them or something else, hell yeah.

“I think that would be kick-ass for a fan, and would merge our fans together. Sometimes you get this wall of, ‘Well, you can’t be an IndyCar fan because you’re a NASCAR fan.’ Or, ‘You can’t be a NASCAR fan because you’re an Indy fan.’ Bull—t. You’re a race fan. Come and hang out with us, let’s have some fun, and we’ll put on a good show.”

Bringing the motorsports world and fan base together was a shared sentiment among a few drivers, the idea being that NASCAR and IndyCar might be better together than in competition.

‘Finding new things that create buzz’, is how 2004 Cup champion (and 2014 Indy 500 starter) Kurt Busch describes it. He says he’s open to anything and everything, and “I think everybody has a common theme right now of, it’s not one versus another. It’s everybody help each other.”

Two former IndyCar champions broke it down like this:

“I’m for every motorsports crossover, and these are the two biggest forms in the U.S.A.,” says Josef Newgarden. “It would benefit fans, drivers and motorsports overall. I’d love it. I think we’re getting away from the divided fan bases. NBC has done a great job of bringing everyone together in one platform. That’s how it should be, not a pissing competition (of), hey, we’re better or they’re better. It’s two different forms of motorsports. We all love racing, getting more bang for the buck is good for everyone.”

“I think we’re getting away from divided fan bases,” says Josef Newgarden. “[It shouldn’t be] a pissing contest [of], hey, we’re better or they’re better.” Image by IndyCar

Adds Ryan Hunter-Reay, “We’ve got to start being creative with what we’re doing, and thinking of motorsports as a whole rather than a divided section. I think it would be excellent. Lot of details have to be ironed out – those are two big ships coming together.”

Quite a few drivers on both sides of the aisle are in favor of seeing this concept happen. Daniel Suarez, for example, has friends in the IndyCar garage he enjoys watching, and believes the same applies vice versa. Kyle Larson would like to hang out with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates.

“I think it’d be good for both series,” says Larson. “I think it’d probably benefit IndyCar more than it would NASCAR, just because even though our crowds might be down, theirs are really down. So, it would get more people watching their races, but it would also cross over into us as well. There’s some open-wheel fans out there that probably wouldn’t watch a NASCAR race live other than if IndyCar is there that weekend.

“I’d be up for it. I think it’s just a new, fresh idea that would be really cool.”

Larson’s sentiments are echoed across the aisle by Alexander Rossi. “A double-header is good for everyone,” says the 2016 Indy 500 winner. “Introduce IndyCar racing to Cup fans, and vice versa. It’s a win-win for promoters and fans, and I don’t see any negative.”

There can be no denying this concept would feed the genuine curiosity of seeing the other side up close. Clearly the cars are different, but what about intricacies like technology, team makeup, and strategy? Larson mentions wanting to see his teammates, while Matt DiBenedetto considers himself a fan of all types of racing who likes to educate himself on its different forms.

Martin Truex Jr. is just as interested. The 2017 Cup champion loves to watch racing of all kinds, and when he gets the chance he tunes in for IndyCar events.

“I think it’d be fun,” says Truex. “It’d be cool to be somewhere on the same weekend to get a little bit closer look at how they do things. I’ve never actually been to one of their races, so it’d be neat to hang around and check it out.”

Team owner Roger Penske fields entries in both series, and describes an IndyCar double-header with NASCAR as the “perfect marriage.” Penske declares a need for different things to be tried and different formats implemented, with fans getting to see the differences in both garages.

Aric Almirola (pictured in 2010) would use the Truck/IndyCar twin-bill at Texas as a chance to see open-wheelers up close. TMS has already shown interest in bringing IndyCar and Cup together on the same weekend. Image by LAT

“I’ve done that before with the trucks,” says Aric Almirola. “It’s pretty neat for me to be able to go over there to their garage area and look at their cars and stuff. So, I think the fans, that would give them a pretty cool opportunity to be able to come and look at our cars, look at their cars, on the same weekend, and kind of see the noticeable differences”

But the logistics of making something like this work will be complicated. Scheduling. Location. Races on the same day, or Cup one day and IndyCar another?

When it comes to venue, Larson put his support behind Iowa, which already hosts IndyCar, getting a Cup Series race. Having the double-header there would be a “great, great, deal,” he exclaims.

But there is only one style of track that makes sense to Scott Dixon.

“I could understand a road course, but ovals speed are so different it wouldn’t look good for them,” he said. “Maybe the Roval at Charlotte.”

Michael McDowell also has eyes for road courses.

“I remember when I was running sports cars, we had weekends like that,” he says. “Watkins Glen, where we would race same weekend as IMSA and IndyCar and different places like that, and I always thought that’s fun for a fan. There’s a lot of motorsports fans that are just that – motorsports fans – so for them to see different forms of motorsports on the same weekend is pretty cool. I think it’s good for everybody. I think it helps us attract maybe a fan that doesn’t watch all the time, and I think there’s some cool venues to do that.

“Scheduling is probably always the hardest part, but I feel like the road courses are good places to do that at, and having a flexibility in the schedule to do that, and with us being able to run in the rain now, you’re not really weather-dependent where you gotta leave a big slot if something did happen. The fans win in situations like that, and the manufactures and the other participants where they have multiple cars in multiple entries in different series; I think that would be really neat.”

Busch did express concerns that the different tire rubber could cause problems. Stock cars run on Goodyear. IndyCar teams use Firestone. Almirola expressed the same worry, noting how much Goodyear rubber gets put down, and how slick a track gets.

Ryan Newman had other causes for doubt over the concept, especially if they were held on the same day. First, race lengths. Cup Series races can be three hours or more, and IndyCar at least an hour and a half to two hours. The attention span of a race fan is important, and the NASCAR garage is not unfamiliar with the debate of whether races need to be 500 miles.

How long is too long? Two races in one day is probably not ideal. Which also leads to Newman’s second problem – heat.

“We’re sitting here complaining about the races being too long, so why would you double up and have that much more time that a fan is going to sit in the stands?” questions Newman. “Some racetracks we go to, it’s not even safe. We’re hauling people out on stretchers because they’re dehydrated because, well, multiple reasons, but it’s 95 degrees out there. We’re going to Vegas in September when it’s 100 degrees. Who thought about that one? Are we going to do a double-header there and make the fans sit up there in aluminum grandstands for seven hours? No. I wouldn’t do it.

Support for the double-header idea is broad – but not universal. Ryan Newman wonders whether it would weigh down NASCAR’s already-bloated race format, and also worries about prolonging heat exposure for fans in grandstands. Image by Kinrade/LAT

“In the right time and the right place, everything makes sense. But I don’t know that it’s entertaining for our fans to go out there and sit in the grandstands for five or six or seven hours, by the time you add in pre-race activities and everything else, on a given day. I wouldn’t bring my kids to do it. You go to the county fair, you spend an hour and a half, two hours, play some games, ate something, and go on.”

Of course, heat would be venue dependent. And considering how interested Sam Flood, the executive producer and president of production for NBC/NCBSN, is said to be in the idea of the double-billing, logically suggests that any such an event would fall later in the year when NBC is carrying the second half of the NASCAR schedule. In that timeframe is Texas, whose track president Eddie Gossage has already pushed for the idea of hosting NASCAR and IndyCar on the same weekend.

“I’d love to do that,” says Penske’s Will Power of the concept. “I think a short oval would be cool if a NASCAR driver wanted to drive [an IndyCar], because it’s a not a superspeedway.”

That’s said, now seems like a good time to bring up an intriguing piece of this concept: ride-swapping.

Penske and Ganassi have teams in both series, and Larson has been open to the idea of one day running the Indianapolis 500. Kyle Busch has faced that same question every year, and says he wouldn’t be opposed to any opportunity to get behind the wheel.

Kurt Busch checks out his Andretti Autosport ride ahead of the 2014 Month of May. Image by Kuhn/LAT

“It’d be fun to see those guys, and see how fast they go and what happens,” he says. “I’ve never seen an IndyCar race live in person. I’ve driven a school car one time, and that was pretty cool. But other than that, I’ve never had the opportunity to go race one yet. Maybe one day.”

His older brother Kurt impressed everyone when he made the jump in 2014 and finished sixth at Indy with Andretti Autosport. Don’t forget another NASCAR champ being interested in seeing this concept happen for selfish reasons.

“Totally in favor of it, and I would hope that it would be a road course so I can do the double,” says Jimmie Johnson. “I’m not interested in a oval IndyCar race, so I’d love to have a road course.”

How about the other way around? Power revealed a few years ago that the deal between he and Penske was that he needed to win the Indianapolis 500 before he could try a stock car. Well, Power did that last year. Newgarden is also interested jumping “into anything I can” in the right situation. But Penske is hesitant to let his drivers compete in both series should such a weekend occur.

“That’s a little more complicated, because guys are gonna be competitive in cars they drive, so let’s just get that first step going and have a race Saturday and Sunday,” he said. “We’ll be glad to race on Saturday.”

How intriguing would it be to see Hunter-Reay back in a stock car? In 2008, he tested a car for brother-in-law Robby Gordon.

“I’d love the opportunity to drive those cars again, because they are a lot of fun to drive and I have a lot of respect for what they do,” he says. “It would be great to cross paths and make sports stronger as a whole.”

What about the ever-entertaining Rossi?

“Not sure I’d be super-interested in driving a car on the same track on the same weekend,” he says. “It’s such a fine line now in terms of tenths of a second; you don’t want to mess up your reference points and everything else. I’d drive the weekend before, but I’d be too concerned it could take away from what I’m doing to do it the same weekend.

“I just don’t think you’d see a lot of crossover. It’s different when you’re Kyle Busch driving an Xfinity car to jump in a Cup car – it’s the same thing, just going a little slower. But to jump from an IndyCar to a stock car is apples and oranges, and I don’t think you’d see many takers from IndyCar doing it.”

Yes, there are many hurdles to clear before seeing NASCAR Cup and IndyCar on the same weekend, but the wide-ranging interest is there. The biggest question for two series that could use any shot in the arm is just what Bowyer asked: Why wouldn’t you do it?

 

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