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.”

Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.