In past years, NASCAR’s finest such as Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle have taken their shot at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. But at the moment, the presence of NASCAR stars racing in the endurance race kickoff to the 2014 North American racing season is minimal.
Thus far just Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s pair of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are the only confirmed Sprint Cup drivers who will be participating in this year’s race, though JTG Daugherty’s AJ Allmendinger is expected to be confirmed soon with Michael Shank Racing, the team he has been with for years at the Rolex.
“It’s the most fun race I get to run all year long,” McMurray said on Friday at the Chip Ganassi Racing team announcement in Daytona. “There’s no points for us and it’s all about being able to win. What makes it such a good time, you’ll see guys all year long and they’ll be here, so you can eat lunch with them, hang out and things like that. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
McMurray has five career Rolex 24 starts with a best finish of second in 2011, while Larson will be making not just his sports car debut, but his 24-hour race debut. But the 21-year-old had a good one-liner yesterday when it came to the potential of driving overnight shifts.
“I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to do it this year,” Larson said. “As far as 3-4 a.m. shifts, I’m usually out that late anyway, so bring it on.”
Both have the tutelage of Scott Pruett to work with in the CGR stable. Pruett’s win last year was his fifth overall, tying the record set by Hurley Haywood.
As for as other full-time NASCAR Cup drivers go, last year Marcos Ambrose raced with Shank and Clint Bowyer with Michael Waltrip in an AF Corse-run GT class Ferrari 458. At the moment, neither is projected to a seat this year.
Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.
The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.
“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”
“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.
“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”
Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.
That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.
The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.
Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.
The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.
The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.
Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.
“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.
“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.
“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.
“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”
The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.
“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.
“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.
“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”