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Frye taking pragmatic approach to new role within INDYCAR

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s apparent already that INDYCAR’s new president of competition and operations, Jay Frye, has the right temperament, focus and skill set to serve him well in his new role with the sanctioning body, moving on from being the chief revenue officer for last two years.

Speaking with NASCAR Talk editor Dustin Long at this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event from Phoenix International Raceway, Frye is determined to translate some of his efforts in the past to make a healthier paddock and continue to grow the sport and avoid some of the turmoil that existed internally in the past.

“Once you build consensus and become consistent as a league, there will be times where you have to make decisions,” Frye told Long at PIR. “Whether it’s an 80 percent agreement or 50/50, or whatever, you have to make the call.

“You’re not going to make everybody happy all the time. But if as a league, you have to have respect, and they get it; they might not agree, but they understand why you’re doing it.

“The next time it could be the opposite end. The same group that might have previously not agreed before but respects it, actually agrees. As long as you’re all in it together, that’s the key.”

Derrick Walker, Frye’s predecessor in the role, had entered in 2013 with high hopes but struggled to maintain a happy paddock as the 2015 season went on.

A particular sore point occurred at qualifying for this year’s Indianapolis 500, where a series of accidents in the lead-up to qualifying led to INDYCAR deciding to qualify the cars in race downforce trim, a much higher downforce package that produced slower average speeds.

Frye will address race control as one of the elements of his new role, although he noted how challenging officiating is, regardless of the discipline.

“Officiating is very difficult, no matter if it’s NASCAR, NFL, whoever,” Frye told Long. “We’re going to try to eliminate some of the debate. Debate is good, but sometimes there’s too much debate about things that are black and white.

“We need to create a package the teams understand, and know what the consequences are for certain actions.”

Frye said one of the areas that will need to be explored further is race control within the race. Far too often this year, in-race incidents were subject to post-race reviews, and later post-race penalties issued on Wednesday.

“This is more during the game, during the race (we’d be looking at),” Frye explained.

He hopes to have personnel in place within the stewards system, which will continue, by the end of the year. He said it’s “hugely important” that a driver participates within race control, in his opinion.

“Drivers know better than most what’s going on,” he said. “You need a group with great knowledge. Consistency is being there every week. Maybe you have your core group, and a few alternates available if someone isn’t able to come.”

One of the other areas Frye has been able to re-establish is an increased dialogue with International Speedway Corp. (ISC) with regard to future races.

Frye’s presence was instrumental in getting Phoenix back on an IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2005, and he hopes it’s the start of more ISC tracks returning in the years to come.

“We had a group that participated in a schedule committee, and I’ve been on it the last several years,” Frye told Long. “So somewhere in June, I didn’t understand why we weren’t doing more in particular areas of the country. So I called John Saunders of ISC and we went through some different ideas and scenarios, and he was enthused.

“We basically called (PIR track president) Bryan Sperber, and then Bryan and I started working through the process for how the deal could look. And Bryan and his group have been phenomenal. There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm from us, from INDYCAR; we’d been coming here for 40 years, but we haven’t been here the last 10.

“We were already doing business with them, and that was one of the things with my call to John was, ‘What can we do to make something happen?’ Say it’s 2-3 events going forward, and we can come up with some sort of formula. There’s a whole menu of different facilities throughout the whole country.”

Other elements Frye touched on during a wide-ranging conversation were a presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 and potential tethers for wings coming on board in 2016.

There’s no announcements on either front yet, but said the presenting sponsor is something INDYCAR has been actively pursuing and attracted a lot of interest, as Hulman Motorsports CEO Mark Miles told MotorSportsTalk back in May. Tethers, he said, fall under the day-to-day process of making INDYCAR safer in any way, shape or form.

On the whole, Frye said the product is good and building the sport from a people side is key to growth going forward.

“We have in INDYCAR, a great racing product. We don’t want to affect that in any negative way. That’s the first thing on the list,” Frye told Long.

“Part of this, coming from a racing background or perspective, particularly on the team side, our teams … we have some great teams, some great people. It’s very important to do the right thing with the teams. Some cost containments, and getting the teams more involved in the decision-making processes. That’s something I’ve always done.

“And from a team background it’s all about the people. As a league, we need to make sure we have the right people in the right spot, doing the right thing.”


Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”