IndyCar: Penske looks for fifth straight Sonoma win this weekend

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So at Mid-Ohio, we noted that Chip Ganassi Racing had a shot at a six-pack of consecutive victories at that track – and come Sunday afternoon, courtesy of a strategic and fuel-saving gem from last to first by Scott Dixon, they’d achieved it.

Heading into the next permanent road course on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, it’s Team Penske that has a win streak on the line.

Dating to 2010, Penske has won the last four races at Sonoma Raceway, with Will Power winning in 2010, 2011 and last year. Ryan Briscoe won in 2012 in a result that in hindsight, may have cost Power that year’s championship.

Alas, a Penske win in 2014 would all but certainly secure the IndyCar championship for either Power or Helio Castroneves. Power leads his teammate by 39 points after his Milwaukee domination, and he heads to Sonoma seeking to extend a streak of four consecutive top-two finishes.

For good measure, Power also won three straight poles in Sonoma from 2010 through 2012, and faded to “only” third last year on the grid.

Castroneves has a Sonoma win on his record in 2008, but has generally struggled of late this season

The third member of the team who could add to this streak is Juan Pablo Montoya, who took one of his two career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Sonoma in 2007. Montoya may have raced here for the last seven years, but in a completely different car and course configuration. Either way, you’d still figure him to be a factor this weekend.

Not only is the Penske streak intact, but either Penske or Ganassi has won every Sonoma race since 2007 – the last outside of those two was Marco Andretti in 2006, for his first career win.

And as we noted last year, it’s not just wins – it’s top fives and Firestone Fast Sixs that the Penske and Ganassi squads have nearly locked out these last several years.

Last year was a rare year of diversity, with five different teams finishing in the top five. Power won from Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) and Dario Franchitti (Ganassi), with Andretti and Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports) rounding out the top five. Hard as it is to believe, that podium was Wilson’s second most recent and Franchitti’s final career podium in an IndyCar.

The diversity of IndyCar in 2014 has been consistent; there have been 10 different race winners and 20 different podium finishers in the first 16 races. But adding to those numbers at Sonoma, based on history, will be hard to accomplish.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”