Following a day that saw his team take a well-deserved Indy 500 win, as well as seeing four of his five cars finish in the top six at the Speedway, Michael Andretti proudly proclaimed, ‘IndyCar is back!”
While I would like to agree with my childhood racing hero 100%, I still have some reservations.
Indeed, as an event, the Indianapolis 500 is back. There is no doubt in my mind of that. The past three years have seen excellent racing, great crowds and enough drama to keep us press pundits busy.
While we have yet to see the crowds of 100,000 for Pole Day like we did in the 1960′s and 1970′s, the revamped qualifying procedure added a new element to the month. The events on Friday’s Carb Day and Saturday’s Legends Day produced decent crowds. On race day, it seemed to be a bigger crowd than normal. In my travels over the weekend, I met a number of younger fans who were attending their first 500. Encouraging news indeed.
This year’s running had a storybook ending. In 2010, despite a decent track record and a few wins under his belt, Ryan Hunter-Reay found himself without a ride in open-wheel racing. Michael Andretti signed him to a partial year contract, and Hunter-Reay went on to win the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Andretti quickly set the wheels in motion to sign him full-time. They obtained sponsorship for the effort, and Hunter-Reay rewarded the team with the 2012 Series Championship. This past Sunday, the likeable driver originally from Dallas, Texas etched his name into the history books as the 2014 Indianapolis 500 Champion.
Ryan Hunter-Reay had to endure a late race red flag, and a thrilling six-lap dash to the checkers that saw him hold off Helio Castroneves by 0.06 of a second. Hunter-Reay became the first American driver to win the 500 since 2006.
Behind Hunter-Reay and Castroneves, there was drama. Andretti Autosport teammate, Marco Andretti stormed off in a tantrum. He skipped his press conference and refused to celebrate with his teammate, heading directly to his trailer. While many drivers would be overjoyed with a third-place finish at Indy, Marco felt that he had a car capable of winning. The 45-year long drought of an Andretti winning Indy as a driver continues, and his frustration boiled over.
Another Andretti Autosport driver, James Hinchcliffe, made a banzai three-wide move late in the race. He ended up taking out Townsend Bell and Pole-winner Ed Carpenter. Carpenter said to Hinchcliffe, “If you hadn’t had a concussion last week, I would have punched you in the face!’
In another intriguing story from this year’s 500, NASCAR regular Kurt Bush came over to attempt ‘Doubly Duty.’ Busch qualified a respectable 12th, and quickly dropped to 20th in the race. As the laps clicked off, he became more comfortable with the car and charged on to a sixth place finish taking home Rookie of the Year honors. He was quickly whisked away to Charlotte, where his quest to complete a marathon 1100 miles of racing on Sunday unraveled when the engine expired in his NASCAR ride.
Indeed…good storylines. The stuff us press people love to write about.
But, now we move on to Belle Isle for the Dual in Detroit. Can the Series carry this momentum?
The IndyCar series picked up a fantastic partner when Verizon Communications signed on as Series sponsor, and their influence was felt all around the Speedway this past weekend. With a multi-year agreement, things will only get better.
As a Series, the IndyCars offer more competition, a deeper field, and faster cars than any of the other major racing series. The problem remains that many fans aren’t watching. IndyCar needs an avenue to put it’s product in front of more people, and there are two big problems with that right now.
While The Dual in Detroit will be televised live on ABC-TV, the Series then moves to the NBC Sports Network for the remainder of the season. While NBC Sports Network actually delivers a decent television broadcast, their reach of subscribers reaches falls far short of the primary network channels. This is problematic to me in the sense that many fans that want to see the broadcasts cannot. How are we to attract new fans?
And, that leads me to the next problematic issue that I see; the schedule. The so-called ‘compressed schedule’ certainly eliminates the long breaks during the season. But, we are done in August. That means a seven month long off-season.
Well, if you ask me, that’s a pretty darn long break in the schedule. With seven long months to think about other sports, will the average TV viewer even remember the fantastic finish we saw at Indy a few days ago?
IndyCar has a fantastic product, but it seems as if they are afraid to put it up against the NFL or the NASCAR Chase. Certainly, it’s a David vs. Goliath battle there. But I’d rather try and put it out there and see where the chips fall, rather than hibernate and disappear from the American consciousness for seven months.
You and I both know that the average American has a rather short attention span with the amount of information we are bombarded with every day. I cannot see this type schedule building interest in the Series.
While the Indy 500 is back, without a doubt, I still see that we have a ways to go before IndyCar as a Series is truly back. The partners are in place with Verizon, Chevrolet, and Honda and the racing is top notch. I remain cautiously optimistic.
Tune into to ABC-TV on Saturday and Sunday at 3:30 PM Eastern to watch the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. Coverage is also available on Sirius XM channel 209 or on the IndyCar 14 App provided by Verizon.