Auto Club Speedway track surface set to factor into MAVTV 500


FONTANA, Calif. – One of the oddities of the Auto Club Speedway is that the track surface, while rough and tumble for NASCAR that has produced great racing in recent years, has made for one of the more challenging oval events for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

In particular, the track surface comes up and peppers the cars and drivers.

On Friday, drivers discussed the concerns they have about going through tearoffs and how they need to manage them throughout Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“There’s something with the track and debris, it’s always been that way,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner. “I wish there was something you can do with the vacuuming with the extraction of the gravel. It’s literally gravel. I had marks on my hands.

“We’re gonna have to have a tearoff strategy, more than a fuel or tire strategy,” he added. “You’re gonna have to have restraint. Every one is priceless. If I had my way it’d be every 10 laps, but you’ll have to make it last a stint and a half. It’s not even dirt, I think it’s just particles of the track. Seems to be getting worse in recent years.”

Hunter-Reay tweeted this picture of the buildup after Wednesday night’s test session.

Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe said this is a serious issue that will need to be dealt with.

“I’m gonna try to track down thinner, multilayer, tearoffs, because I had to drive through the bottom of my visor,” he said. “My last one for 20 laps, the visor was written off. It’s a genuinely serious concern. The problem is what we’re seeing isn’t just dirt or dust. You can send a blower out, but it’s not normal debris we see at a race track.”

Ryan Briscoe offered a measured response.

“It seemed like a lot of sand the other night, but we didn’t notice it so much today,” said the driver of the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “I’m not sure if from the track, or the steel mill, but there’s a lot of it man. It’s like rain with spray, there’s a lot coming off the car.”

Less worried were Ed Carpenter and Charlie Kimball, a past Auto Club Speedway winner (Carpenter in 2012) and a driver who nearly won here last year (Kimball).

“I don’t think there needs to be the complaining, it’s the same for everyone,” Carpenter said. “We will just have to pass cars earlier than what I was hoping for.”

Added Kimball, “Vision could be an issue. With 22 of us to start. It’s gonna be challenging. But with attrition and as guys spread out, it shouldn’t be too bad.”

We shall see how the drivers handle the conditions on Saturday night.

‘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.”