An Offer They Can’t Refuse?

After a delay of several months, IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard formally announced yesterday what had been known for months. The IZOD IndyCar Series will conclude its season at Las Vegas. Many, including myself, assumed that the delay was simply because IndyCar was taking on the promotion of this race itself. I thought there were simply more legal issues to work through before they could officially announce it. While that may have been partially true, we now know that this announcement came with a twist.

When the IZOD IndyCar Series runs its finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, there is a very tempting offer on the table for any non-IndyCar driver – five million dollars, to be exact. If any professional driver from another series runs in the IndyCar finale and wins, there is a check for five million waiting for him or her.

Even in this day of ridiculous salaries in professional sports, that’s quite a tidy sum for a day’s work. Of course, we all know that such a feat will take a great deal of work ahead of time just to give a driver a fighting chance. But someone will take Randy Bernard up on his offer.

As predicted, everyone immediately started thinking NASCAR. For years, fans have been clamoring for the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to run in the Indianapolis 500. Personally, I don’t think that is going to happen. When the Speedway announced this week that they were going to move the start of the Indianapolis 500 up an hour, the possibility of NASCAR drivers suddenly pushing each other out of the way to run Indy is what some were saying on Twitter. It’s going to take more than an hour’s difference to make the double something that NASCAR drivers want to tackle.

I’ll admit that when I heard about the $5 million prize, I immediately checked the NASCAR schedule. Sure enough, NASCAR runs at Charlotte the night before. OK, that frees up Sunday assuming that it doesn’t rain on Saturday night in Charlotte. But will that be enough to make the big names try it. Drivers like Dave Blaney or Robby Gordon might do it, but I seriously doubt that the names most people are thinking of would give it a shot. The days of jumping from one series to the other or swapping manufacturers are pretty much behind us.

If it were 2012, when Chevrolet is back in the ZOD IndyCar Series – it might be feasible. But I don’t see Chevrolet allowing Jimmy Johnson to run in a car powered by anything other than a Chevy. It just isn’t going to happen. Team owners aren’t too keen on seeing their high-priced drivers do anything that might jeopardize their ability to drive for them in NASCAR. As much as I’d like to see Kyle Busch drive an IndyCar, I don’t think Joe Gibbs would allow it for a second.

Don’t get me wrong – I think this is a great idea. There was a lot of buzz created by this yesterday. It brought visibility to the series, which is what Randy Bernard seems to excel in. It had a lot of people talking. That was the intent. But I think a taker is more likely to come from ALMS or Grand-Am, instead of NASCAR or Formula One.

Once again, Randy Bernard has shown his creativity. Somehow, I just can’t imagine his predecessor coming up with anything like this. It’s a pretty safe bet, really. It would be an incredible feat to pull something like that off. Contrary to what Darrell Waltrip might tell you, these cars are not easy to drive. It takes a lot of hard work and an enormous amount of talent to win an IndyCar race. All we’ve seen lately are IndyCar drivers failing to make the transition to NASCAR. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen a NASCAR driver try his hand at an IndyCar.

I don’t mean to come off as a wet blanket. I’m really very excited about this offer. It makes IndyCar seem relevant again. I especially liked it when Mr. Bernard said that he was going to put his money where his mouth was, by proclaiming IndyCar drivers to be the best and fastest in the world. But I’m not sure this is going to attract the kind of drivers people are expecting. I certainly credit Randy Bernard for trying, though.

He probably has a very good idea who may or may not give it a try. He doesn’t impress me as someone who tries something on the fly without thinking things through. But as far as top-level NASCAR drivers running in IndyCars in Las Vegas in October; I’m afraid it might be an offer that they will refuse.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “An Offer They Can’t Refuse?”

  1. It’s a great offer, but I especially like his deal regarding tickets. Fans being able to apply for free tickets if they had been to race earlier in the year sounds like a great deal (only for 80,000 though)

  2. Cowboy Racer Says:

    All around a great news release! It gets INDYCAR in the news with big money associated with it and a great deal for the fans. Let’s not forget that this will be the last race for the current cars and hopefully the owners will bring all the spare cars for other teams from ALMS, USAC, Grand-Am, or others to lease for their drivers. Maybe we can get a “Not-so-well-Known” driver from one of these series to grab some headlines while their teams get their feet wet in the INDYCAR program and they come back for the 2012 season. With a lot of luck we may even create a “Trevor Bayne” for INDYCAR!

  3. Agree, George. Bernard’s main feat here was to Indycar’s name in the papers and not only that–but the week after Daytona. He’s got people talking about Indycar.

    Agree also that no top-flight Nascar drivers (or F1 for that matter) will be able to do this–but maybe he’s setting it up for the future.

    I do think this could be interesting for Hornish/Penske (does he qualify?) and maybe someone like Robby Gordon. But even if the challengers are from ALMS or something, it still adds another level of interest for that race.

    If he can set up the dual race in Vegas for next year, would that same offer be on the table for a street course–that could get very interesting.)

    If I’m TK, I’m taking my beer money and running one race this year–the LAST ONE.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Well played by Bernard, between the challenge, the free tickets, and getting this race on ABC. Ending the season on broadcast TV is a must.

    I have a feeling we’ll be surprised by at least one, if not two, of the five $5 million challengers.

  5. I disagree. NASCAR drivers have no fear of distractions (Edwards, Busch, and Harvick run truck, Nationwide races during the Chase). Some drivers have contracts with the manufacters, but others don’t. I don’t know the specifics of anyone’s contract, but this is the type of thing Kyle Busch is fairly likely to do. Saturday/Sunday flying between tracks is something he’s done just for a truck race. And with the possibility of Penske leaving Dodge in NASCAR, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski both have a shot. So does Kasey Kahne, who’s driving a Toyota this year and a Chevy next year.

    • Kyle Busch appears in Toyota TV ads. Therefore, I’d say there’s about a 0% chance that he’ll be able to do this in a Honda-engined vehicle, same as there’s a 0% chance of seeing any of the other Gibbs drivers (the top Toyota team), any of the Roush guys (in bed with Ford since the early-’80s), any of the Hendrick drivers (including Kahne, who’s already under contract to Hendrick), both of the SHR drivers (a team started directly with GM dollars), and probably any of the RCR guys (probably, though not definitely, locked down with GM cash). I’m thinking that those teams, being the flagship teams for their respective manufacturers, probably have pretty restrictive contracts. We’ll have to look under that top tier of drivers for anybody who might consider making the attempt. Thus, I’d say the best bets are the Penske and Ganassi guys (both of whom are fairly independent in the NASCAR world), the RPM guys (Allmendinger, especially), or a complete independent like Robby Gordon.

      This isn’t to say that this will be like this forever. As the gravy train dries up a bit in NASCAR, I’d think that the restrictions in contracts will start to come out for guys who want to try other forms of motorsports. If this $5 million thing can stay in place for 3-4 years, maybe we’ll see more NASCAR guys giving it a try.

  6. I watch almost every NASCAR Race (Cup, Busch, Trucks) lots of qualifying and practice as well (F1 and IndyCar too for the record) And I don’t recall Darell Waltrip ever saying it’s easy to drive an IndyCar. Could someone enlighten be and actually show me the quote?

    • Simon Garfunkel Says:

      Not sure when DW said they were easy to drive but it sounds like him. I do remember him saying that the half season that Franchitti spent in Nascar made him a better driver and is why he won the Indycar title in 2009.

    • Mike Silver Says:

      He said this on Wind Tunnel. I think it was the same show where he said NCAR invented the wheel.

    • All I had to do was Google search for five seconds.

      July 19, 2009 Wind Tunnel With Dave Despain:
      “I’ve never driven an Indy car, but apparently it’s a lot easier to get out of a stock car and get in an Indy car and be successful or competitive than it is to get out of an Indy car and get into a stock car. Seems like it is much more difficult to go from, like Dario, to go from an Indy car to a stock car and doesn’t seem to be able to make that transition. But Tony Stewart has been able to jump back and forth.”

      elsewhere, regarding Whanica: “These stock cars are pretty brutal, they’re hot, they’re hard to handle. She’s used to sitting out there in all that fresh air. Now you’ve got to sit behind an 850-horsepower monster. I’d say the monster would win.” (D.W.)
      boogity, boogity

  7. Gurney Eagle Says:

    Are Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan now eligible for the $5 million?

  8. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    I agree with Gurney Eagle…. If the herd continues to thin at the rate it is now, RB better save his pesos for tea funding…

  9. Great offer. NASCAR is in Charlotte and F1 is scheduled to be in Korea that weekend. Not too logical

  10. I don’t foresee any NASCAR drivers who are in the Chase participating in Las Vegas. Unless AJ is in the Chase, I think he’s viable because of Richard Petty’s participation in the Indy 500 for the past couple of years. Other than that, who knows?

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