Marco Andretti due for big weekend at Barber

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I’ll take the blame if this turns into a jinx, but I’m expecting big things from Marco Andretti at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend.

Andretti’s consistently been the thorn in the Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing side at the three prior IndyCar races at Barber, even if his final results haven’t shown it.

He led a race-high 58 laps at Barber in 2010 and was unlucky to only finish fifth after qualifying fourth. He followed that with a ninth-to-fourth run in 2011, and was on pace for another top five finish a year ago before his tires faded in the final stint and he dropped to an unrepresentative 11th-place finish.

Andretti has altered his driving style for road and street courses this year to be less aggressive, and not over-driving the corners, but still able to save the tires early enough in a stint to save them toward the end.

It paid dividends at St. Petersburg as Andretti pounced in the final stages to secure a podium finish in third place once Simona de Silvestro’s tires fell off in the dying laps.

“It’s all confidence, confidence with your engineers, but also confidence, your guys need to have that in you,” Andretti said after the race. “Obviously I finished better than wherever the heck I was last year. Hopefully we can be part of this snowball effect that people speak of and we can just keep clicking off a lot of great results.

“Obviously I’ve made my improvements where I need to improve, but sometimes you don’t know why they come. You just got to keep working hard and hopefully it can snowball.”

Andretti did not make a single Firestone Fast Six in 2012, but if the pace is similar to what he has produced at Barber in the past, and as quick as the Andretti Autosport contingent was at St. Petersburg, I think he’ll break through this Saturday. A second straight podium or perhaps his first win on a road or street course since his first at Sonoma in 2006 would not totally surprise, either.

Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership

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Wednesday morning’s announcement that NBC Sports Group will become the exclusive home to the Verizon IndyCar Series via TV, digital, streaming, and direct-to-consumer rights was the conclusion of a long and thorough process to finalize a media partnership that can build on the recent growth of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

And CEO of Hulman & Company Mark Miles believes the final outcome is one everyone can be happy about.

“We’re delighted by every aspect of this announcement today and these arrangements,” Miles asserted in a media teleconference on Wednesday, also making note of a number of highlights about the new media package. “The increase in broadcast, the number of races on broadcast, is really important to the continued growth of the series. The continuity with one media partner who is committed to the sport and to INDYCAR, who can help promote from race to race to race to race throughout the season is important. Having our first product, if you will, our first offering to fans in the direct-to-consumer channel is important to us.”

Miles added, “It met our objectives of increasing the exposure of the sport, increasing the promotion of the sport, and getting us into the over-the-top (streaming) market. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

John Miller, president of programing for NBC Sports and NBCSN, echoed Miles’ enthusiasm and noted that INDYCAR viewership on NBCSN has grown substantially in recent years, and this new and enhanced partnership, which will feature the 103rd Indianapolis 500 broadcast on NBC in 2019, will build upon that.

“From the NBC perspective, we’ve seen the growth of IndyCar on our cable network NBCSN. We’ve had sustained growth each of the past several years. So the opportunity to have the entire series was very important to us. Of course, to be able to do the crown jewel, the Indy 500 on NBC, really puts the icing on the cake for us and makes our championship season portfolio even stronger,” Miller said.

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, added that this will also help the individual drivers grow their brands and attract more sponsorship opportunities.

“As drivers, we’re out there risking our lives to put on a good show,” Hinchcliffe said. “The more people that get to see it, get entertained by it, the better it is for us. As athletes, we’re all individual brands in and of ourselves. Getting ourselves in front of more people, it raises our value to our current partners and potential partners. From every element, this is a huge win across the board.”

The sponsorship angle is a critical side-piece to the new media contract, especially in light of several new sponorship announcements for a number of IndyCar teams as well as IndyCar’s ongoing effort to find a new title sponsor for the series in 2019.

Miles further emphasized that new media partnership will do a lot to serve the business of the teams, drivers, and the series in regards to sponsorship.

“I think it’s important to the entirety of the IndyCar ecosystem,” Miles noted. “For the series itself, at some point we should talk about our sponsorship effort, how we think they’re going to be benefited with this relationship. James earlier talked about our drivers or athletes, and they are individual brands. They’ll get more exposure. That will be good for them.

“We earlier this morning spoke to our team owners. They’re enthusiastic about it as it gives them more to say in the marketplace, more value. Certainly that will be true for our promoters of the races as well.”

A few highlights of the partnership are below.

  • Eight races will be broadcast on NBC, including the Indianapolis 500. The remaining races will be broadcast on NBCSN.
  • Qualifying and practice for all events will also be available live, either through NBC, NBCSN,, the NBC Sports App, or NBC Sports Gold an over-the-top streaming service offered by NBC.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also feature extra content to further supplement IndyCar coverage such as archived races and full event replays. Further information about that content will be revealed in the coming months.
  • Details about international coverage are pending.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also do a handful of exclusive live broadcasts for practice and qualifying sessions that are not televised.
  • NBC Sports Gold will do live broadcasts for all Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races. More details about coverage for the Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires series will come at a later date.