Rossi and Capps. Photo: IndyCar

NHRA champ Capps joins fellow NAPA driver Rossi in Long Beach

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It’s been a good 12 months for NAPA Auto Parts’ sponsorship in motorsports.

NAPA made a last-minute deal to become the primary partner for Alexander Rossi in last year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Rossi subsequently paid them off with the legendary, Bryan Herta-aided strategic “clutch-and-coast” gem where Rossi drove beyond his years for the victory in the No. 98 Honda.

Then at the other end of the experience spectrum, longtime NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car star Ron Capps secured one of the most popular championships in recent memory, finally breaking through in 2016 for his first title in the NAPA Dodge Charger.

And with Chase Elliott on the verge of his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race win – he’s won stages and kicked off 2017 with his second straight Daytona 500 pole in his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, the company is on the verge of getting back to victory lane there.

Elliott was obviously busy at Texas Motor Speedway on NASCAR duties this weekend but with a break in the NHRA schedule this weekend, Capps made his maiden voyage to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this weekend as a guest of Andretti Autosport and Rossi.

The two of them had met at the NAPA Owner’s meeting in Orlando just before the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg earlier this year.

This weekend, Capps got a first-hand look into the world of IndyCar, and got a two-seater ride with Mario Andretti.

“Getting to ride with Mario in the two-seater is something I never in a million years thought I would do, and what a ride it was,” Capps said. “It was one of the most thrilling things I have ever gotten to do.”

Capps recapped the rest of the weekend, as it was a break in-between NHRA’s most recent round of the season at Las Vegas and a couple weeks before the next three-in-a-row stretch, starting at Houston on April 23 (more below, starting at the 2:52 mark, during this week’s IndyCar Paddock Pass with Anders Krohn).

“I don’t have very many ‘off weekends’ with our (NHRA Funny Car) schedule,” explained Capps, “so, to be able to not only attend the Grand Prix of Long Beach for my first time, I was able to take my family for the weekend and take in everything that had made the Grand Prix of Long Beach what it is today.

“I was pretty excited when I heard Alexander Rossi was going to represent our great sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, but the weekend showed me why Michael (Andretti) and everyone at Andretti Autosport is successful on and off the race track. It was fun to be a part of the great NAPA Racing crew during the race as they executed race strategy that I knew was going give them a great chance to win. And, to watch Alexander drive such a consistent, fast pace all day was exciting for me. I felt devastated for the team when they had the problem near the end of the race. I can’t wait to go to our next IndyCar Series event!”

Rossi was on pace for a likely podium finish at least in his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, probably second or third behind eventual race winner James Hinchcliffe, before a mechanical issue took him out of the race.

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

Photo: Chris Estrada, NBC Sports
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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.”