Will fifth time be the Barber charm for Scott Dixon?

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Ever have that ‘so close, yet so far away’ feeling? So annoying. So frustrating.

Now put yourself in the racing shoes of Scott Dixon, who’s had to deal with that feeling – a lot – at Barber Motorsports Park.

It’s not just that the serpentine road course – site of this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sun., 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) – remains one of a handful of tracks on the current Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that he’s yet to win on.

It’s that he’s come as close as he can get to scratching Barber off that list for each of the last four seasons.

The series’ inaugural race there in 2010 saw him finish second to Helio Castroneves. Then in 2011 and 2012, he was led home each time by Will Power.

Last year saw him push Ryan Hunter-Reay to the very end, but he ultimately lost out to the American by six-tenths of a second – prompting Dixon to quip that he needed to “buy a bridesmaid’s dress tonight.”

The four consecutive runner-ups at Barber mark just the second instance since 1956 that an IndyCar driver has done that at the same racetrack.

The other instance came when Dixon finished second from 2006-2009 at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway – although he likely didn’t mind the 2008 runner-up as it helped him clinch the second of his three IndyCar championships.

So what does Dixon make of Barber? He certainly doesn’t like all the near-misses, but he also knows that he’s remained one of the bigger threats there.

“I think a couple of the races where we finished second or one of them, we gave it a pretty hard-fought battle to get there,” Dixon said recently. “But I know two for sure…Last year, we kind of went off-strategy, got caught up in some traffic and that really hurt us – and I think we had the fastest car.

“And then the year before that, with Will, [he] got us on a pit stop exchange. We stayed out a lap longer and got caught behind a slower car, so those ones are tougher to sort of leave behind. Yet the fact that we’ve been able to be on the podium every time we’ve been there is still something good.

“We just need to work on that one extra spot.”

Dixon has earned 162 points at Barber in his career, which puts him second only to Power’s 167. The Iceman’s efforts in last year’s doubleheaders may have gotten him Title No. 3, but going P2 for a fourth time in the Heart of Dixie didn’t hurt him either.

As for the here and now, Dixon could use a good result after his pit stop for fuel with two laps to go at Long Beach not only enabled Mike Conway to score the upset win, but knocked him to a 12th place result.

It wasn’t a big hit to his early championship hopes. He’s a tolerable 42 points behind Power in sixth, and after turning a 49-point deficit into a 25-point edge going into last year’s season finale at Fontana, his current deficit should feel like nothing to him.

But he’s also been around long enough to know that in a series this tightly competitive, it’s never good to leave points on the table.

And that ought to give Dixon an added sense of motivation this weekend.

Not that finally getting rid of that ‘so close, yet so far away’ feeling wasn’t enough.

Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership

Photo: IndyCar
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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,NBCSports.com, 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.