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Full-time entries deserve guaranteed starting positions in Indy 500, owners say

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Three of open-wheel racing’s most prominent and powerful team owners have recently made public comments in support of full-time entries receiving guaranteed starting positions in the Indianapolis 500.

Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti, the three major team owners in the series who own a combined nine full-time entries and have won eight of the last ten Indy 500s, have all recently come out in support of the idea, stating that they believe that if a team is willing to spend the money and resources to compete full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series, then it should be guaranteed a position in the event.

“I think a full-time team that starts day one and runs the full season and commits with the same driver, I think they have to have it [ a guaranteed starting position],” Penske said.

“I remember back in the days at Daytona, they’d come in with cars, and if you didn’t qualify, you’re spending $10,000 to give some backmarker to give up a spot. To me, it’s a whole different world. We don’t have 45-50 cars coming. I don’t think it’s a vote of the teams. I think the people who manage the series have to understand the impact. Some of the same people they’re calling on to support the TV package and other things, next week, their car doesn’t make the Indy 500. It’s a ricochet that goes across the whole season. I hope they understand that.”

When asked by reporters at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend, Chip Ganassi stated he agreed with Penske.

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“He knows what it’s like not to be in that race,” Ganassi said. “Thank God I don’t know what that’s like. But obviously I agree with him. When you’re making a commitment all year for the series, a commitment is just that.”

Unlike NASCAR, which uses a charter system that promises a starting position in all 36 Cup Series events to teams that own a charter and show up to each event, INDYCAR does not have any system in place that guarantees starting positions in any race. The series does offer the ‘Leader’s Circle’ program, which promises a set amount of prize money to full-time entries. However, the program offers no promise of a spot on the grid in any race, with teams expected to make their way in on time.

Though DNQs are very rare in IndyCar racing outside of its biggest race, the Indianapolis 500 features a unique qualifying system that has seen many big-name drivers and teams miss the race over the years.

Indy’s qualifying system has seen various changes in recent years, but one tradition has always remained the same: Bumping. Unlike other events, Indy 500 qualifying allows drivers and teams who did not initially make a qualifying run fast enough to make the race to go out again and try to post a faster four-lap average speed.

Should a team post a time faster than the 33rd and final car on the grid, the said driver/car combination is “bumped” from the starting grid, and unless the bumped car goes out again to make an even faster run to make the field again, the whole team will generally find themselves watching the 500 from the stands.

This unique qualifying system adds an element of drama to race qualifications, and has resulted in several big-name drivers and teams failing to qualify for the biggest race of the year. In 1993, then-defending CART champion Bobby Rahal failed to make the field. Two years later, the Team Penske duo of two-time Indy champ Emerson Fittipaldi and defending race winner Al Unser, Jr. failed to make the field. Just last year, 2016 Indy polesitter James Hinchcliffe was bumped from the field.

Though Hinchcliffe’s sponsor, Arrow Technologies, responded to the situation with grace, the possibility of not making the 500 certainly keeps teams and sponsors on edge.

Michael Andretti recently cited 2011 qualifying in an interview Thursday with the Indianapolis Star as an example of a potential doomsday situation for a team and sponsor.

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With Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and sponsor DHL bumped from the field, Andretti quickly scrambled together a deal with A.J. Foyt Racing to buy out and place Hunter-Reay into and DHL logos onto one of Foyt’s entries, stating that DHL “probably wouldn’t be in the sport today” had RHR and DHL not took the green flag in the 2011 race.

With the three most successful owners in the series lobbying for the change in rules, one has to wonder how INDYCAR will respond. NBC Sports recently reached out to INDYCAR management, who stated that no changes will be made for 2019 qualifying and that no further comments would be made at this time.

Hulman and Co. CEO Mark Miles spoke with the Indianapolis Star Thursday to offer his thoughts on the issue:

“Look, If I’m a car owner, a full-time car owner, I make a significant investment in racing in the IndyCar Series, and the most important event of the year is the Indianapolis 500. So I’d want to know I’m going to be able to race in it — just like I know I’m going to be able to race at Long Beach or any other IndyCar event if I should turn up, if I’m a Leaders Circle team. I understand that. It’s not illogical.

“One of the reasons this event is what it is, is because it has a brand. It has traditions. It has a tradition that means something to fans. And we believe a big part of qualifying is the drama around the possibility that a car isn’t going to get in. Whatever car. We try to consider all the points of view and decide what we ought to do.”

Though the Indy 500 will not have not have guaranteed entries in 2019, the idea could become a reality sometime within the next few years, and it would not be the first time it had happened.

In 1996 and ‘97, the then-new Indy Racing League, headed by then-Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George, created the “25/8 rule” to discourage competitors from the rival CART series from cherry picking the 500 and not running other IRL events. Widely disliked by fans, the 25/8 rule promised starting positions for the top 25 teams in the IRL points standings, with the remaining eight starting positions open to any other competitors. The rule was discontinued after the 1997 season.

Not many IndyCar drivers have publicly expressed their opinions on the matter, but 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi recently expressed his take on the issue, stating to IndyCar.com that he understood both sides of the argument.

“From a selfish perspective, you’d like that security,” Rossi said, “but from a purist’s standpoint, I think there’s validity to bump day and the fans being able to witness that. It should probably stay the way it is.”

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Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

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