IndyCar Needs to Announce a Plan B, Now

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This past Thursday, Marshall Pruett of Racer.com posted an article regarding the upcoming west coast swing for the NTT IndyCar Series. After a very busy stretch in August with three races over as many weekends, the series is in the middle of a two-weekend break before resuming for the final three-race leg of the season – all on the west coast. The first stop will be Portland on Sep 12, where an outdoor mask mandate has already been put in place; followed by Laguna Seca on Sep 19 with the season finale at Long Beach taking place on Sep 26.

None of those races took place in 2020, due to COVID-19. The west coast has traditionally had much tighter COVID restrictions than the majority if the country. Back in the winter, Long Beach was moved from its traditional April date to the season finale to make sure that COVID was out of the way. With COVID cases resurfacing at a fast rate and restrictions tightening back up, any or all three of those races could be in jeopardy.

Ironically, if Long Beach had stuck with its original April date it may have had a better chance of running then than it does in September.

As IndyCar fans, I don’t think any of us want to see any races cancelled. I concede that there is a possibility that one or more of these races might run without fans, although I really don’t even want that to happen. All three promoters involved are hurting from missed revenue last season. Green Savoree Racing Promotions, who is the promoter for Portland is also the promoter at Toronto – a race that has not run since July of 2019. As the late Bobby Unser would have said – they really, really, really, REALLY need for Portland to run next month, with fans.

Fans or not, what I really want is to make sure that all three races run. That’s imperative.

The article quotes Jay Frye as saying “…every indication we have right now is that we are full speed ahead.” That’s good to hear, except that it is not really within IndyCar’s control.

This is not meant to get into a political discussion, but some of the leaders on the west coast are very aggressive when it comes to COVID. All it takes is for one local mayor or a state governor to decide that there are no sporting events to take place in a particular county or state and that will wipe out that weekend’s race.

If that happens to any of the three races, the championship is greatly affected.

I know, I know…I should be much more concerned about the virus and my fellow man, than I am about an IndyCar race. But suspend all of your political and biological beliefs, if possible, for the moment and let’s just focus on what losing even one race means.

Last year, IndyCar did a miraculous job of juggling the schedule amid the ever-changing COVID landscape. Although entire race weekends were lost at Barber, Long Beach, Belle Isle and Toronto – double headers were added at other venues, an additional race was added to the IMS road course and St. Petersburg was moved from the season-opener to the season-finale. Consequently. there was a net loss of only three races – from seventeen to fourteen. Once the season got going in June at Texas, there were no races lost – just moved.

Moving races around did not affect the championship. If I recall, St. Petersburg was originally cancelled but appeared back on the schedule once the season got underway. But the addition of an extra race did not affect the championship. Scott Dixon would have won it had the season ended at St. Petersburg or the Harvest Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

Losing a race this late in the season would have a dramatic impact on the championship battle. With three races to go, there are several drivers still mathematically alive to win the championship, although realistically – only four or five have a legitimate chance.

Pato O’Ward is the points leader, followed by Alex Palou who is only ten points back. Josef Newgarden has a lot of momentum after Gateway and he sits in third, only twenty-two points behind O’Ward. Scott Dixon has some work to do, sitting forty-three points back. Marcus Ericsson needs a lot of things to fall his way to have a shot at sixty points back.

You can rest assured, each team has done the math and plotted their path on how they can win the championship and how their nearest rival could lose it. But that’s based on three races remaining. What happens if the Governor of Oregon, who has not demonstrated in the past that she is very supportive of events during a pandemic, suddenly pulls the plug on Portland? Aside from having disastrous consequences for Savoree Green, it suddenly pretty well eliminates Marcus Ericsson from the championship conversation and makes the road a lot tougher for Scott Dixon.

Let’s say Portland runs, but Governor Gavin Newsom pulls the rug out from under the last two races a couple of days before Laguna Seca. Suddenly, the IndyCar season is over and whoever is leading the points coming out of Portland is suddenly your champion. No matter what kind of momentum Josef Newgarden or Scott Dixon is carrying out of Portland, the points leader at that point becomes your champion on a Tuesday afternoon. Wouldn’t that be a celebration for the ages?

I am hopeful that none of this happens and the west coast swing happens as planned and the series crowns the champion at Long Beach. But what if it doesn’t?

I think IndyCar officials would be wise to announce a contingency plan now – before anything like that happens. While not desirable, I think the obvious plan would to announce that the IMS road course be on hold as the season finale, in case one or all three races are lost. The date could be a couple of weeks after Long Beach. That would give NBC time to come up with some contingency plan. You don’t want your series finale and your champion crowned on Peacock.

It would also give IMS a chance to sell tickets. It would not be heavily attended, but most IndyCar fans are concentrated in the Midwest anyway. It would give the fan base a chance to attend a season finale, not on the west coast, in over a decade.

It needs to be announced as a back-up plan only if something gets cancelled. Why not wait, you ask? Because Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden is only twenty-two points out. Imagine the outcry if all three races are lost and Roger Penske announces one more race at the IMS road course. It probably would not be a good look, giving the appearance that The Captain was trying to give his driver one more crack at it. If it’s announced now before that possibility happens, it won’t look as bad.

The last time a season finale was cancelled was in 2011 – at the ill-fated race at Las Vegas, when Dan Wheldon was fatally injured. Lost on that horrible day was the fact that Dario Franchitti won the championship by default over Will Power, who was only eighteen points behind Franchitti going into the day. No one, including Will Power, was complaining at the time that Power never got a final shot at Franchitti and the championship. But had tragic fate not intervened, and the race was run under normal circumstances – would Power have won? We’ll never know.

We don’t need any lingering “what if?” questions regarding the 2021 IndyCar championship if we can avoid it. All three races need to run, eliminating the need for a contingency plan at IMS. But if one or all three of the remaining races get cancelled due to the pandemic, a contingency plan needs to be in place to give legitimacy to the championship. Plan B needs to be announced sooner than later.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “IndyCar Needs to Announce a Plan B, Now”

  1. billytheskink Says:

    I think I would be a bit surprised if Indycar did not have some sort of contingency plan behind closed doors, perhaps relayed to NBC and to the teams. They may not want to announce it for fear of giving the west coast politicians another reason to drop the axe. That said, I personally would like to know what the plan is for my own curiosity, same as probably all of us.

    I believe Power was involved (and injured) in that awful wreck at Las Vegas while Franchitti was still running. Had the race continued after the wreck, the championship would have been decided by that.

    • Talon De Brea Says:

      Yes, Power had an especially terrifying crash amid the larger disaster … sometimes overlooked.

      George makes good points — announce something now, to avoid an epic fail such as what happened with F1 at Spa.

  2. what would the prop bet be
    to run all 3?

  3. Brent Blaine Says:

    Per the above, Power could not have re-started at Las Vegas had the event continued so somewhat of a mute point.

    While I am sure a contingency plan has been discussed…I don’t think anyone of us is willing to go though another shutdown. With a number of major events and the NFL ready to start soon it would be political suicide for a Governor or any local County or State officials to mandate a shutdown.

    Long Beach has already announced that proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test will be required for entry. In addition rapid tests will be provided at all gates and masks will be required both indoors and out.

    Announcing a contingency now just makes it easier for the political’s to issue a shutdown. Let’s stay positive..I plan on going to Long Beach in September!

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