IndyCar’s new points structure worth a shot

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If we didn’t know motorsport is in a battle for relevancy, we certainly do now.

Arguably the three biggest racing organizations on Earth – NASCAR, Formula One, and now IndyCar – have altered their points structures in attempts to produce more compelling products that can’t be ignored.

NASCAR is now on its fourth version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which virtually ensures race winners a spot in the post-season and features eliminations after every third Chase race.

Formula One, dealing with a fan base sick and tired of Sebastian Vettel winning everything, chose to go ahead with making the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix a double points event.

And just yesterday, IndyCar revealed double points for their 500-mile events and a new points-paying system for Indianapolis 500 qualifying.

Never mind the hardcore fans well-versed in the nuances of the sport. Brian France, the FIA, and Mark Miles need to build their respective series’ presence and from their perspectives, they need the casual fan to do it.

Unfortunately, the casual fans can be quite fickle – they may clamor for one thing, but once they get it, they decide they don’t like it and clamor for something else.

Thus, we don’t know where this ongoing situation of series overhauling their championships, all in a bid to make their “show” a can’t-miss event, is going to lead.

In a time where there’s more entertainment options that continuously fragment an average person’s attention span, that “can’t-miss” status  has become the Holy Grail. And the hardcore fans of the sport are going to have to deal with that.

Pertaining to IndyCar, its great racing product has been no-sold for years by the general public, so one can argue they don’t really have a choice but to find ways to get attention, artificially or otherwise.

While fans enjoyed the fact that IndyCar’s original (and, for non 500-mile events, still intact) points format allowed for what they believed was a purer way to settle a championship compared to the Chase, did the subsequent title battles become national stories? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

And so, Mark Miles, Derrick Walker and the rest have come up with their plan to build buzz: Double points at Indianapolis, Pocono and the season finale at Fontana, plus an Indy 500 qualifying structure that will dole out points in descending order for all Saturday qualifiers (33 points for first place, one point for 33rd place) before the pole is settled Sunday among the Fast Nine drivers (nine points for pole, on down to one point for ninth position).

The good news in IndyCar’s case is that we can see a method to the madness. Unlike Formula One’s version of double points that simply sticks the idea at the season finale, IndyCar’s version saves it for their longest races of the season.

It also balances the importance between the ovals and the road/street courses in regards to the championship, especially those road/street doubleheader weekends that Scott Dixon used brilliantly on the way to his third IndyCar title last year.

Points still skew toward the twisty tracks (600 points up for grabs on non-ovals, 492 on ovals) but with just six ovals on the schedule, that breakdown is tolerable.

Of course, you wish it wouldn’t have had to come to this and that the series’ on-track magic would speak for itself. But that’s just not going to happen.

With that in mind, the new structure is worth a shot on IndyCar’s end and a “wait and see” approach on ours.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.