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And why not some NASCAR/Indy-car double-headers? Jimmie Johnson says he'd love to buy into that...and maybe the NASCAR Frances should just buy the IRL

Think Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have trouble on this pit road too? NASCAR isn't the only sport with jammed pit roads (Photo: Indy Racing League)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   NASCAR needs a little marketing shot in the arm….the Indy-car series needs a big marketing shot in the arm.
  Okay, here's a plan: the NASCAR Frances buy Tony George's Indy Racing League and make it a NASCAR-operated venture.
  And then schedule some IRL-Sprint Cup double-headers.
  Consider the potential driver cross-overs.
   Consider potential sponsorship synergies.
   Consider the expanded demographics.
   Richmond works well for both.
   California's Auto Club Speedway and Michigan International Speedway too.
   And Kansas, Texas, Chicago and Homestead-Miami.
   Watkins Glen and Sonoma's Infineon too.
   All nine of those NASCAR tracks (seven owned by the France family itself, through the International Speedway Corp.) currently run Indy-car races.
   And Phoenix would work well easily for the IRL too. And New Hampshire. And Las Vegas.
   Maybe even Pocono, Atlanta and Charlotte.
   That are at least 15 NASCAR Cup tracks that are suitable for such double-headers.
   In fact about the only NASCAR Cup venues that probably wouldn't work well for Indy cars are Bristol, Martinsville, Darlington and Dover….though Daytona and Talladega would be iffy too.
   And consider this option: the Long Beach Grand Prix. NASCAR has had trouble getting fans out to California's Auto Club Speedway…so why not put some NASCAR stars like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and Robby Gordon into Indy-cars for the Long Beach race, as a nice promotion?
   This season, for example, NASCAR's Cup tour ran Phoenix Saturday night April 18th, and the Indy-cars ran Long Beach Sunday afternoon.
   That's barely a one-hour flight car-to-car. 
   Or swap the NASCAR-California and Phoenix dates and put the two series in the same town the same weekend. (Besides NASCAR seems to have trouble getting its LA promotions heard during that Academy Awards weekend anyway.)
   Pick a dozen weekends during the season and run the Indy-car part of a NASCAR double-header on Friday nights in prime time, under the lights.
   Obviously, on the driver side, NASCAR veterans Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon, Casey Mears, John Andretti and Sam Hornish Jr. have raced both series. Hornish, now in his second season on the Cup tour, is a three-time IRL champion, and he won the 2006 Indianapolis 500, with an amazing last lap pass.
   Kyle and Kurt Busch could probably do both, and Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle as well.

Jimmie Johnson (R) listens to Dale Jarrett (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


And Jimmie Johnson, the three-time NASCAR champion, says "I'd love to do some Indy-car racing.
   "As a kid growing up, the Indy 500 was what I had my eye on. The guys who went into asphalt racing from off-road, all went Indy-car racing, via Grand Am and Toyota Atlanta.
   "The Long Beach Grand Prix was the premier racing event on the West Coast. And I'd go up and hang on the fence and watch, and sneak into hospitality tents, and wish I could someday drive in it.
   "My early talks with Chevrolet were about going the open-wheel route. (Chevrolet once had a major role in Indy-car racing.)
   " But when Chevrolet's direction changed and they pulled out of open-wheel, my options were pretty clear – so I packed up and moved to North Carolina.
   "So I'd love to do Indy-cars.
   "Now there's no way you can take a driver from NASCAR, bolt him into an Indy-car, and have him go race with the top guys.
   "Same goes in the other direction.
   "But from my conversations with Juan (Pablo Montoya), and Sam and Tony and Dario (Franchitti), it's easier going to drive a vehicle that has more grip. (Indy-cars have much, much more grip than NASCAR stockers.)
    "Granted, if you bust your butt in an Indy-car, it hurts; they don't absorb the impact very well.
   "And it is such a specific discipline.
   "But I would love to do it.
   "Maybe some day the moons will align and I can pull it off."


Sam Hornish Jr., doing a great job this season in making the transition from Indy-cars to NASCAR, is a three-time IRL champion and won the 2006 Indianapolis 500. He says he's game for NASCAR-IRL double-headers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Hornish says Johnson isn't the only guy here who would like to play in such a double-header: "There are a lot of guys who would like to do that…or at least be able to do the 'double (Charlotte and Indy the same day)," Hornish says.
  "I could see that (double-header NASCAR-Indy-car race weekends). I've seen it from both sides, and can see it from the two fans' side.
   "It would be a heck of a thing for the fans, to be able to watch the Indy cars run Richmond, say, one night and then watch the NASCAR Cup cars run the next night.
   "There are differences between the two fan bases, but it would help both series expand the fan base.
   "There are a lot of NASCAR guys who could do it, obviously, and some – maybe like Jimmie and Jeff Gordon – could do it that you might not think about."
   "Every one of these drivers here," team manager Steve Hmiel, of the Chip Ganassi NASCAR operation, says with a wave of his arm around the Dover International Speedway garage, "could do it."
   Every one of these guys?
   "Yes," Hmiel says emphatically. "Now racing 'em (Indy-cars) might be a little different, but as far as driving them, everyone in here has the talent to do that.
   "I have great respect for Indy-car drivers, and I'm not saying it would be easy, but these guys have the talent to drive those cars, and those guys have the talent to drive these.
   "Now you'd have to have the commitment…and some of the guys who have come in here I don't think have understood the commitment."

Indy's Tony George: Okay, Tony, cash-on-the-barrelhead, how much for a deal with NASCAR's Frances? (Photo: Indy Racing League)


   On the plus side, a huge number of NASCAR engineers came over from the Indy-car ranks, like Scott Miller, who is Jeff Burton's Cup crew chief. "It would be pretty cool to do that," Miller says of the double-header concept. "You could do it (an Indy-car team) with the guys we have right now; you'd just need one experienced guy to keep everyone on the right track."
   And the sponsorship synergies would work well too – the expanded demographics of the fan base might even make companies more willing to jump into the mix.
   The Indy-car engine program is currently a bit unique, something of an IROC-type deal: it's all Honda, and all basically 'crate engines,' double-overhead cams, with Honda supplying not only the motors themselves (detuned, or rev-chip-limited to 10,200) but also the engine tuners.
   The price tag – from $3 million to $5.5 million a season for engines, depending on how many cycles you put on the motors. (Ironically P. J. Jones last year got trapped by that limit at Indianapolis, running out of 'cycles' and unable to negotiate a new deal quickly enough to make more qualifying laps.)
   However there is always talk about 'stock block' Indy engines…and that might even be a way to persuade Honda to get involved in NASCAR racing too.
   Car owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi field teams in both series already, and Ford's Jack Roush once built Indy-car engines.
   And Richard Childress, the veteran NASCAR team owner, has talked at times about doing an Indy-car team. And he just added a Daytona Prototype team to his operation.
   "I have interest in the IRL, I always have," Childress says. "We may look at something there down the road."
   How much would it cost to field an Indy-car team? Less than to run a NASCAR Cup team. Some shoestring IRL teams can run on $4 million to $5 million a year; but the top Indy-car teams probably spend $16 million to $20 million a year.
   Still, with corporate marketing synergies, expanded demographics, and oodles of highly competent technical engineers and engineering available, and with all those tracks just begging for more fans, the concept of NASCAR-Indy-car double-headers just might be an idea whose time has come.

Now how do we stuff all this safety equipment into one of them Indy-cars? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





In my opinion, NASCAR has too much control as it is. They own the only big-time auto racing tour - and most of the tracks. IRL is the closest thing they have to competition.
I think a dual event would be a lot of fun and provide a boost to both series. The problem is that IRL would benefit much more than NASCAR, so it will never happen.
BTW: One big stumbling block is the tire issue. IRL drivers don't like the dual events with the Truck Series because the Firestone rubber and the Goodyear rubber don't mesh well. IRL drivers also make much later entry into corners. The racing lines intersect rather than overlay. Crossing from good rubber to bad rubber upsets the cars - and the drivers.

but with the economy as tough

but with the economy as tough as it is, particularly for corporate sponorships, why not offer a sponsor more bang for the buck, with more demographics, and a bigger crowd, and a bigger tv audience? Yes, the Frances have too much control...but the IRL needs some help, and racing is racing. If Jack Roush and Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs were to jump into the IRL mix, hey, that would pick up the IRL big-time...besides, NASCAR's Truck series and Nationwide series aren't doing that great, and NASCAR needs to diversify, to get sponsors.
Tires? Hey, that just makes for good story lines.

The one party you didn't

The one party you didn't interview about this idea is the France family. I can imagine them refuting the concept by saying "we get 100,000 for a Cup race and 50,000 for a separate IRL race, we aren't going to get 150,000 for a combined race, so why lose ticket sales?"

Well, I wasn't invited to the

Well, I wasn't invited to the tuesday meeting to ask questions or raise points like this.....but I keep coming back to Los Angeles, and NASCAR's difficulties in cracking that key market. We need to keep trying things, and if you've been to California Speedway for a Friday night race or a Saturday race, you won't see many fans in the stands. If a Friday night IRL race at that track would draw 50,000, hey, let's do it. And maybe a good Friday/Saturday package at Fontana might pump up Sunday's Cup crowds -- there is no excuse for not being able to fill 92,000 seats at a facility in America's second-biggest market.
Oh, i'm sure everyone will pooh-pooh this idea....but it's hard to get ahead by doing the same old thing if the same old thing isn't working.
I think the real dynamic here is the low TV ratings for the Indy 500 this year. Can't promote just a one-race series, so Tony George has to make something work with the IRL.
Besides, if a double-header doesn't work, just don't schedule it the next season. And if it does work....then it's win-win. or that's my two cents.

Mike,I'm not suggesting your

Mike,I'm not suggesting your idea doesn't have merit. The France family has to have looked at this,just as they did with the AMA pro motorcycle racing.

I think they believe they operate in a reality distortion zone where the law of physics don't apply.

Remember, LA doesn't have an NFL franchise so the problems at the California Speedway aren't unique in that market. How ironic is it that the brie-and-chardonnay crowd at Sonoma outdraw the car-crazy-culture of SoCal?

Ah, Sonoma -- how in the

Ah, Sonoma -- how in the world does that thing work anyway? You're right: it is so surprising that Sonoma is such a hit, in an area that should really be NASCAR's toughest market to crack, while California Speedway, in the car-crazy south, struggles.
I remember sitting on Sonoma's pit wall with Bill France Jr. back in '89 and telling him that putting these huge stock cars on a technically demanding road course like that was absurd. And he came to me the next year there and boasted about making it work. And he was right. Of course i was right too -- if you look at Sonoma as a place for NASCAR, you just have to laugh. It just shouldn't work. That it does is flat amazing. It surprised me every time I go out there. (I still don't think Bruton Smith's decision to eliminate the Kulwicki Corner was the right move, though.)
So, what are some ideas you might have for what NASCAR and Gillian Zucker should do in LA? I'm thinking move that race date to April.....

Sonoma doesn't work. We just

Sonoma doesn't work. We just overlook & forgive it because it's a great event. There's only one or two turns that make any difference,but that's enough for us to enjoy it.

I asked folks in the Inland Empire the question you pose, having it in April. Logically, it makes sense with races at Texas and Phoenix during April, but you'd have to schedule one race for Saturday to avoid a conflict with Easter.

I would reduce California to one race:October, and build the demand.Forget all the phoney Hollywood and beach references in the promotions and advertising and build it for what it is.

Finally, making changes to the track itself shouldn't be off the table. Look at what it did for Homestead.

Well, Sonoma could certainly

Well, Sonoma could certainly work better, if Bruton Smith would widen the track in some places...why not take Juan Pablo Montoya out there and have him offer advice?
Cutting a Cup in LA? Don't think NASCAR is going to take that step back. and they used to have three races out there...plus it's certainly a market that could handle two or three races easily -- if the racing itself were better. I'm surprised that Gillian Zucker, who runs that track, hasn't gone straight to her boss, Lesa France Kennedy, and demanded some changes. I wouldn't buy NASCAR officials just saying 'Oh, slower speeds and/or plates won't work. We've run the computer simulations.' LA is a very important market; why not spend an extra day out there after the race, and have all the teams out on the track trying different things? I suggested that to Gillian in February, when teams were just hanging out and running up the road three hours to Las Vegas. Lesa France Kennedy's desk is where the buck stops right here. And I was overjoyed to see her at the Tuesday NASCAR meeting. She's a big wheel in this business, and she's got to get out and talk to the men in the trenches, not just the suits in the suites.

Oh, and changing the track?

Oh, and changing the track? Hey, there's nothing wrong with the layout of California or Michigan -- I remember when the best races on the tour were at Michigan, four-wide. When speeds were a lot lower than now. NASCAR has to cut these insane speeds to make for better racing. Robert Yates started pushing for that in 1993 -- BEFORE Ernie Irvan's crash -- and NASCAR turned a deaf ear. Whatcha think?

And when thinking about

And when thinking about adding a race or moving a race to April, let's take Martinsville and do what I've been pushing Clay Campbell to do for years -- a night race, under the lights, one-day in-and-out. you could do that mid-week, you could do that in July.....Martinsville in the spring, hey, think vernal equinox and rain. A night race at Martinsville would be a killer....just ask the folks at Bristol.....

I'm not so sure about

I'm not so sure about Michigan and California as you are. Yes,there were great races, but the cars have changed a lot since those races. I also remember great Indy Car races at Michigan (Montoya vs Michael Andretti?) at insane speeds, yet the newer Indy Cars were a bore at the same track because of different engines, aerodynamics and tires.

For all the talk about the NASCAR meetings last Tuesday,the only concrete change I've seen occur is changing Dale Jr's crew chief. Coincidence?

You assign way too much to

You assign way too much to Gillian Zucker...these changes are above her pay grade.You're right about Lesa Kennedy on all counts,now it remains to be seen if anything comes of all the talk.

As far as the changes at Sonoma, I'll defer to Humpy Wheeler about making suggestions to Bruton Smith. You have to make him believe they are his ideas.

Mentioning Montoya: with two road courses and Indy (assuming they get a tire that will last a fuel run)before Richmond, do you think he'll make the Chase?

I still believe that one of

I still believe that one of NASCAR's great failings lately is not to get JPM into high gear. Tell Chevrolet and Chip Ganassi to make Montoya a winner. Period. No excuses. JPM is one of the most talented racers in the series, perhaps in the world, and for NASCAR execs to let him wither on the vine is inexcusable. Somebody needs to kick somebody's butt on this thing. Put JPM in a Hendrick car and tell me he wouldn't make Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon eat dust.
Just do it.

Where Has BGN or Trucks Benefitted?

We seem to be assuming that Indycar racing would benefit and grow under basically NASCAR sanction. Yet not only have we seen a net shrinkage of BGN and the Trucks - which were supposed to be stand-alone series, with the Trucks being groomed to replace Winston Cup on short tracks and small-market tracks and thus freeing up those dates for bigger markets - we've seen harm done to all of NASCAR's touring classes - Tom Baldwin Sr. was especially vocal about wanting to drop NASCAR out of the Modified Series.

Double-header weekends have failed BGN and the Trucks and should not be an option for Indycars. They need to stand on their own. If NASCAR really wants to help Indycars, then transfer some sponsorships away from NASCAR to Indycars.

the Truck series has its own

the Truck series has its own problems -- it's too expensive for what it should be, a feeder system. It is much too expensive, far out of line with what Bill Jr. laid out. And there is no sponsorship, except what detroit has provided. and detroit, well....
the BGN/Nationwide series has likewise been mishandled -- this is the series that's supposed to be a 'training' ground for new NASCAR team owners and sponsors, and a tour with a lot of small teams. It's become a star-system series, Cup-light on Saturdays, with big Cup teams using it for their own playground. Promoter Bruton Smith has led that charge, with his big-name Saturday shows, which do indeed pack them in; however NASCAR has let the small teams die off. And when the price tag for Saturday show operations hit $10 million, well, I knew right then that whole deal was off-key. Not to mention the cars themselves -- why NASCAR has not reprogramed the Busch/Nationwide over the past five years or so to hit a different, younger demographic -- pony cars -- has surprised me. Ford and Dodge were in favor of that, but GM, for some reason, didn't like it. Bad move on NASCAR's part for not doing something about Saturday teams.
And, I'm sorry, but I don't think this stand-alone thing really works all that well. It's being used as a way to 'touch' some of those market NASCAR doesn't really hit otherwise. Fine; but it doesn't really work all that well...and it doesn't work well at all with out stars.
Which brings us to the Indy-car tour. my two points are that a NASCAR-Indy-car synergy would expand the fan demographics (for both sides) and make racing sponsorships more effective, particularly if NASCAR's big teams get in the Indy-car game too, which is logical, given the drivers, the engineers and the single-weekend logistics. Even Roger Penske saw the wisdom in moving all his racing stuff to North Carolina.
Now it's not about NASCAR 'helping' Indy-cars, but rather about NASCAR-and-Indy-cars paired maybe a dozen weekends a year to help both sides attract sponsorships. Plus I still like the Long Beach angle -- what are we going to do about fontana? I think Jimmie Johnson racing the streets of Long Beach (hey, i know it's street racing ) would be a good PR spin.
your take?

Still Not Sold

What weekends would NASCAR and Indycars pair up? Chicagoland? Kansas? Texas? If they still raced at Fontana, there too?

One could have made the "making racing sponsorships more effective" argument years ago, but the net result really hasn't worked that well, if at all. One can certainly make a case for at least some NASCAR teams to get IRL cars (John Andretti in Richard Petty's Indycar ran better than some of the other darkhorses in the 500); being an IRL fan I'd certainly enjoy John, AJ Allmendinger, and some other Winston Cup guys slugging it out on IRL's superovals with Penske's guys etc. But I still don't buy that Indycars would really benefit as just a part of a NASCAR pairing having seen the mismanagement by NASCAR of the other touring classes.

Well, my real point wasn't so

Well, my real point wasn't so much about NASCAR taking over the IRL as about the doubleheaders. But why would NASCAR want to help the IRL unless it could get some benefit, like in marketing. But then you might be right -- NASCAR marketing has a few holes....

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