It Makes Too Much Sense

As said here earlier this week, Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) track president Eddie Gossage has made it clear that he had no interest in running an IndyCar race at TMS with no fans. But when NASCAR showed their interest in running at Texas along with the Governor of that state indicated that he wanted to see racing very soon at Texas Motor Speedway – Gossage was all in. Some IndyCar fans bristled at the inconsistent reaction by Gossage, but the explanation was really very simple – money.

Personally, I don’t blame Gossage. This isn’t about hypocrisy or a stronger allegiance to NASCAR than IndyCar – it’s all about business. NASCAR’s TV contract shares the TV money directly with the tracks, meaning they can still make money without selling a single ticket. The NTT IndyCar Series has a completely different model, where the track has to rely on ticket sales, luxury suite revenue, concessions, parking, souvenirs, etc. in order to turn a profit.

Before anyone starts tossing stones at Gossage, he has now become open to running an IndyCar race at Texas with no fans, as long as it is run as a double-header weekend with NASCAR. The staff and infrastructure for the weekend would already be in place and it wouldn’t cost much more to run the IndyCar race on the same weekend.

To me, this is a win-win and it makes too much sense to not do it. But until it becomes official – I’ll have my doubts.

I am assuming if this were to take place, it would be happening on the weekend of June 6 – the most-recently revised opening weekend for IndyCar. Apparently, Gossage and Roger Penske talked for a while Sunday night about such a possibility. Gossage is on-board and Penske is on-board. But for this to happen, there has to be another party on-board – NASCAR.

NASCAR already has their eyes on being the first sport back. North Carolina politicians have expressed their desire of running the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on their traditional Memorial Day date. That became a little more clouded yesterday when NC Governor Ray Cooper extended their stay-at-home order to May 8 – just sixteen days before Memorial Day. NASCAR may decide that is cutting it a little close, so they may choose to focus on resuming their season in a state where the Governor is actively pursuing them. However, he did say that teams could start working in their shops as an essential business. That’s sort of a combination of mixed signals.

My question is…would NASCAR go for the double-header idea?

I get the feeling that IndyCar has always been warmer to the double-header idea more than NASCAR. Then again, that’s when NASCAR was selling out race tracks and had eye-popping TV ratings. That has not been the case in recent years and NASCAR has been more willing to discuss such a possibility.

But in a time when sports fans are desperate for any live sporting event, whoever takes the stage first will probably have excellent ratings. If it is a motorsports event, it could serve as a tremendous platform to recruit new fans who may have never tuned into a race under normal circumstances. Does NASCAR really want to share that stage?

If such a double-header were to take place, the logical order of things would be to have the Truck Series race on Friday night, the IndyCar race on Saturday night and the Cup race on Sunday afternoon (at least that’s the way I would do it, in case anyone asks me). On one hand, by going last – it appears that NASCAR would be the main event. On the other hand, IndyCar would have the distinction of being the first top-level sport to return after a two and a half month absence of any live sports on television.

I’ve talked to a few people this week who felt like NASCAR would scrap the whole idea. After all, NASCAR is scheduled to race at Michigan that weekend. Most seem to think that Michigan will still be under lockdown in early June, because the situation is still critical there – much more so than Texas, or Tennessee for that matter. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that the NASCAR at Michigan scheduled for June 7 will not happen, but it has not been officially cancelled. Of course, NASCAR has the ability to cancel that race and probably will if they have a chance to race at Texas that weekend. There is also the fact that two networks will be involved. NBC has the IndyCar contract for the entire season, while NASCAR is still on FOX in June. NASCAR doesn’t go to NBC until the second half of the season. Surely that technicality can be overcome somehow.

But others fear that NASCAR will nix the double-header simply because they don’t want to share the limelight. Of course, June 6 is IndyCar’s date so NASCAR would have to find another date if they want to race at Texas, which is one of just a few tracks pursuing them right now.

When my skeptical friends say that NASCAR won’t allow the double-header to happen, I remind them of one key factor – Roger Penske, who has a voice within both sides of this. Not only is he the new owner of the NTT IndyCar Series, he also owns a team that is currently the most successful NASCAR Cup teams, with three cars in the Top-Ten in their current standings. He may not own NASCAR, but I’ll promise you that Roger Penske has the ear of Jim France, CEO and Chairman of NASCAR. The Captain has a way of reasoning with people and is not used to not getting what he thinks should happen. I have an idea that Roger Penske will get this pushed through.

Eddie Gossage has said that proper screening will take place with every single person that enters the gates of TMS. No fans on the grounds, does not mean that there will be no people. For just IndyCar essential personnel, I’m guessing that totals up to close to a thousand people. I’ll still be curious to see how well social distancing will be practiced, but if this weekend happens, it can serve as a template for other sports just getting back.

As a race fan, this makes me very happy. As a US citizen, I applaud the move, but I acknowledge it is risky; but I trust those that are a lot smarter than I am to make these tough decisions. If there is a sudden wave of the virus throughout the IndyCar and/or NASCAR community after this race, we’ll know the wrong decision was made. If not, we can proceed further with a little more confidence. This virus has proven a lot of people wrong over the past couple of months – on both sides of the argument. But we’ll never know if the second step is feasible, unless we take the first step and see how it goes.

I also trust Roger Penske. He is 83 years-old and is definitely at risk. I trust his judgment to make the right decision after looking at all sides of the equation. And if he decides it’s not worth the risk – I think he’ll say so and I’ll applaud that move as well. But for now, it seems the decision is up to NASCAR. In my opinion, it makes too much sense.

George Phillips

One Response to “It Makes Too Much Sense”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    This would be fun and I hope it happens. It is probably an easier sell for NASCAR if they get their way in Charlotte and/or run at Homestead. It is an easier sell for everybody if one of those events happens and we do not see a resulting outbreak among the crews.

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