Allmendinger: Both IndyCar and NASCAR can be popular

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During yesterday’s Media Day activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske rookie A.J. Allmendinger (starting fifth) was asked about which race was bigger to him: The Daytona 500, which he has run four times in his Sprint Cup career, or the Indianapolis 500, which he will run for the first time this Sunday.

The former Champ Car standout said that Daytona was “special” and expressed his wish to win NASCAR’s biggest event one day. But to him, the Indy experience is second to none.

“We haven’t even gotten to Sunday yet and walking in this place, walking through Gasoline Alley and taking it all in – there’s nothing that comes close to it,” said Allmendinger. “Every year, I’ve watched for whoever would win the race and over the past few days, I’ve been watching all the old races that have been shown [on TV].

“I’ve seen a couple of the races where [team owner] Roger [Penske] won, whether it was with Helio [Castroneves] or Gil [de Ferran] or Sam [Hornish Jr.] going to Victory Lane – or heck, even Rick [Mears] back in ’79 and ’91 – you see those emotions and I don’t think there’s anything that replaces that.”

That answer eventually led to a question about whether NASCAR fans would take offense to that, but Allmendinger responded that his belief didn’t “degrade” Daytona and that everyone is putting too much into the argument of which form of motorsports is better.

“The way I look at it, people are so easy to go, ‘Okay, what’s better? NASCAR or IndyCar? What needs to be bigger?,'” he said. “The problem is, I think there’s enough [room] in North America to say ‘Hey, both series can be big.’ It doesn’t have to be one or the other being better. They’re different, but they can all be just as big.

“…I don’t know if it’s the IndyCar fans or the NASCAR fans or a combo [of them] or the media, but it doesn’t have to be about what’s bigger or better. It just has to be about what it means to you.”

Truth be told, that’s a refreshing opinion from the California native. Fans certainly have the right to their preferences and to argue over them. But from an objective standpoint, it seems more and more these days that it’s essential to have clear, designated “winners” and “losers” in regards to public perception.

For the last two decades, it can be argued that NASCAR has been the “winner” and IndyCar has been the “loser.” But as the latter continues to regain strength bit-by-bit, that could change down the road. One can’t expect the argument between fans of the two categories to ever cease, but every now and then, we need to remember to step back and appreciate what’s good about them both – and all other forms of motorsport for that matter.

As Allmendinger said, it’s all about what it means to you. And in his case, Indy just happens to mean a lot.

“I’ve wanted to be at Indy my whole life,” he said. “And I finally get that opportunity.”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”