Will IndyCar and NASCAR Share a Date?

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The talk of a potential NASCAR/IndyCar double-header keeps getting louder, but let’s be clear – it’s still just talk. Hardly anyone on either side is speaking publicly about it, but there is a lot of speculation from fans and those in the media that this will someday be a reality. But on Friday, NASCAR President Steve Phelps was quoted by Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press saying “Have we had discussions with Mark (Miles) and his team? No. Has NBC had discussions with us? Yes. If it makes sense and people want to see these two series…race on the same weekend, it is something we would entertain.”

While that was carefully crafted as about as noncommittal as a statement can be, there was one part in there that stood out as a reason it might happen – the fact that they have had discussions about it with NBC.

In case you haven’t noticed by now, television broadcast partners usually drive most of the decisions made in motorsports. Although Mark Miles has shouldered most of the blame for the convoluted Indianapolis 500 Qualifying format unveiled in 2014, I think it was motivated by pressure from ABC/ESPN to generate some manufactured drama for Sunday, rather than just second-day qualifying with little or no bumping.

So I am very confident in saying if a NASCAR/IndyCar double-header ever takes place, it will be because NBC made it happen. For accuracy sake, when I say NASCAR, I don’t mean the sanctioning body. I am speaking of their top division – the Cup Series.

I remember this being brought up about fifteen years ago. The idea lasted about as long as it took NASCAR to say no. If I was where NASCAR was fifteen years ago, I would have said no too. They had nothing to gain. They were still reaping the benefits of an open-wheel split. They had seemingly succeeded in making NASCAR mainstream, while IndyCar was being buried further into obscurity in the eyes of the American public. The only thing that might result from a double-header weekend at that time would be for NASCAR fans to see how much faster Indy cars were compared to stock cars.

If you are at Indianapolis, it’s hard for the average Joe to tell the difference between 220 mph and 230 mph with the naked eye. The pole speed for the 2017 Brickyard 400 (qualifying was rained out in 2018) was 187.301 set by Kyle Busch. Simon Pagenaud’s 2019 Indianapolis 500 pole speed was just a tick under 230 mph. A lumbering stock car going 43 mph slower than an IndyCar is noticeable. NASCAR didn’t want their fans to see how noticeable it was. NASCAR had nothing to gain and everything to lose by entering into a double-header agreement at that time.

Times have changed. While IndyCar TV ratings still lag behind NASCAR, they are on different trends. NASCAR ratings and attendance have plummeted in recent years. IndyCar is seeing their TV ratings and attendance increase, if ever so slightly. Make no mistake, NASCAR is still king – but IndyCar is definitely gaining ground.

Had you asked me five years ago if NASCAR and IndyCar would have ever shared the same track on the same weekend, I would have said no. Now I think it’s a question of when and not if. I don’t think we’ll see it in 2020, but it would not surprise me if we saw such a weekend in 2021.

So let’s assume that this can get done and it becomes a reality. The question I ask is where will it happen?

I probably do not need to put out the disclaimer that I want everything from such a weekend to benefit IndyCar more that NASCAR. That starts with the type of track. Should it be an oval? NASCAR will run thirty-six points-paying races in 2019. All but three are on ovals. Do the math. That means less than 9% of their races are on road courses and none on temporary street circuits. Even though the speed disparity is more evident on ovals, I’m wanting the IndyCar drivers to look more competent on the track than the NASCAR drivers. NASCAR drivers will seem more out of their element on a road course, than an IndyCar driver on an oval.

But NASCAR fans relate more to ovals and may be more likely to attend one of their regular oval tracks than a road course normally raced on by IndyCar. I may be wrong on that, but without over-thinking it – that’s my first reaction.

Perhaps they should pick a discipline, but make it one that the one more familiar with that specific discipline would not be familiar with the track. For instance, if they decide to share a road course for a weekend – make it at Watkins Glen, since IndyCar will not have raced there since 2017. If it’s an oval, they should race at either Gateway or Milwaukee since the Cup Series doesn’t race at either of those venues. Cup drivers are more adept at ovals, but would not have recent familiarity with those tracks. That would sort of negate any advantage that track familiarity might bring in relation to familiarity with a discipline.

Then there’s the question of who runs on Saturday and who runs on Sunday. Whichever series runs on Saturday will be perceived as the under card. Would they do it for two years and swap the days of the weekend? And what if it rains all weekend? If they are at a road course, IndyCar can run in the rain, but does NASCAR have rain tires like IndyCar? I’m not a tire engineer, but I think there is more to developing and constructing a rain tire than just putting tread on a slick. I also imagine the added weight of a stock car makes designing and developing a tire that much more difficult.

Some have said to race both series at Texas. NASCAR races at Texas in late March and early November, while IndyCar races at Texas in early to mid-June. There is one big problem. Under the current contract, NBC doesn’t pick up the NASCAR schedule until late June or early July. That means that the only time this could be done for one network to cover both would be in mid-to-late summer.

NBC is covering NASCAR at Texas is when IndyCar has wrapped up its championship about six weeks earlier. I don’t know if IndyCar would want to share billing on one of its top events, but then again – what is a better place to showcase IndyCar racing than Texas?

Could IndyCar do a second Texas date? They used to run two races a year at Texas through the 2004 season, before cutting back to one. If so, would NASCAR move their November date to August or September? That would give each series a solo date in Texas and then the shared date.

Would IndyCar want to end its season at a shared event? If so, would they do it on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon? Would NASCAR go for that? The more I type, the more I kind of like the whole idea of a shared weekend in Texas – but not at the expense of the solo June date for IndyCar.

But doing it in August prevents going up against college or pro football – both of which are big in Texas. You would not want to crown your champion in August. IndyCar fans were not happy when the season ended by Labor Day.

The road course at Daytona is a possibility, but just like IndyCar fans who don’t like the thought of stock cars racing at IMS, NASCAR fans probably wouldn’t like to see Indy cars at the home of their biggest race. Besides, Daytona doesn’t sound too inviting in mid-to-late summer.

As you can see, there are many possibilities when we start thinking about a NASCAR/IndyCar double-header. Most of these hurdles can be worked through. Whether IndyCar races on Saturday or Sunday, I think they would reap most of the benefits of such a weekend. But the biggest winner will be NBC. That’s why I think it will happen.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Will IndyCar and NASCAR Share a Date?”

  1. It’s certainly worth trying but I don’t think it will accomplish a whole lot, NASCAR fans will tune into/attend the NASCAR race and IndyCar fans will tune into/attend the IndyCar race. Both groups of fans know the other series exists, just because they happen to share a track one weekend isn’t going to make people suddenly embrace the other side. It’s great for NBC because it would dramatically reduce their costs by already having the equipment/crew there for both events, so that’s good.

    I’ve never bought into the whole speed discrepancy thing. I’ve seen both series in person dozens of times, stock cars are so heavy and clumsy that they look faster than they’re really going and IndyCars are so sleek and stable they look slower than they’re really going. Unless you’re looking at the time sheets you would not visibly notice much difference, not enough to lessen your enjoyment anyway. And who cares anyway? IndyCar was many seconds slower than F1 at COTA but I think we all know which puts on the more entertaining race. And the slow-as-molasses MX5 Cup was more entertaining than both of them! Top speed is irrelevant.

    Of course NASCAR races in the rain on road courses. 😉 They have for as long as I’ve been watching them (25 years) as far as I can recall, and usually quite entertaining.

  2. It all depends on how badly NBC wants it to happen. Whatever NBC wants will happen ,neither series can afford to say no

  3. S0CSeven Says:

    The NASCAR Pinty’s Series is running with Indycar in Toronto this weekend as they have for years. Yeah, it’s not Cup but nobody cares. It’s a great show. Rain or shine.

    Catch it next week on Youtube, the home of motorsports coverage.

  4. Pie in the sky, Montréal or Road America, which were both entertaining 2nd tier races for NASCAR.

    Likely, Richmond.

  5. Yannick Says:

    I don’t think it will be the Cup Series that is going to share a weekend with IndyCar but rather the former Nationwide Series because then, NASCAR can offer the venue a Cup date when the shared event contract runs out and if the venue bites, NASCAR can drive IndyCar out of another successful event again.

    That’s why it probably won’t happen at Iowa. NASCAR is probably most interested at getting a foot in the door at Gateway and at Road America again.

    I feel they should try this nowhere else but at an ISC-owned track. Richmond and Watkins Glen come to mind. Maybe Loudon/New Hampshire could benefit IndyCar the most.

    For a NASCAR Cup/IndyCar double header, the only two tracks other than Indianapolis or Daytona which offer enough paddock and pitlane space might be COTA and the home of ALMS at Braselton, Georgia. I get the feeling that especially the latter would be a big draw at the box office.

    I like the thought of an IndyCar return to Montreal a lot.

  6. although i would like Richmond, that is not happening.
    i agree with Yannick, Xfinity and Indycar.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    YAWN

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Eddie Gossage claimed that he tried to keep Texas’ second IndyCar race as part of the second NASCAR weekend when it was added in 2005 (a FOUR race weekend!). NASCAR said no.

    This ought to happen and I’d love to attend.

  9. […] a few months ago, I wrote a post here throwing out different locations where this might take place. Robin Miller has suggested […]

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