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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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Adam Cianciarulo wins 250 championship, Eli Tomac wins Ironman 450s

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Not content with the championship, Eli Tomac ended the season in style with his sixth overall victory of the season at Ironman Raceway in the season finale.

Finishing third in the first race behind the two riders who were his principal rivals for most of 2019, Tomac did what he has done for most of the season and finished better in his second moto. In fact, he scored his 11th moto victory.

“It was a fun day,” Tomac said on NBC Sports Gold after Moto 2. “The mindset was there to attack. The first lap there (in Moto 2) was chaos with the crash with Marvin (Musquin). After that, Ken (Roczen) got by me right away. He was so good on the first couple of laps. I rode behind him for the majority of the race and was able to get by. What a year.”

The first moto may have been one of the best fans have seen all year.

Roczen grabbed the early lead, but Tomac kept him in sight. The other member of 2019’s Big 3, Musquin lurked in third and none of them were able bot get away from the other. In the closing laps, Musquin surged from third to the lead. At the checkers Musquin held a .707 second lead over Roczen with Tomac less than three seconds back in third.

Neither Musquin nor Roczen could keep their momentum, however. Musquin crashed in the opening lap of Moto 2 and was carted off the track. Roczen had the lead of the second race before giving it up to Tomac after the halfway point – and has often been the case this season, he faded in the closing laps to finish third.

Roczen’s 2-3 was enough for second overall.

Zachary Osborne (5-2) rode to a top five finish in the first moto, but it was his performance in the second that gave him his sixth overall podium finish of the season.

In what is probably his last ride with the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, Joey Savatgy (4-6) finished fourth overall.

Justin Barcia (7-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

In the 250 class, Adam Cianciarulo wrapped up the championship with one moto remaining.

Dylan Ferrandis needed to win in order to keep the pressure on Cianciarulo and he certainly did his part. Ferrandis took the lead from Kyle Peters on Lap 2, but it would not be that simple. Teammate Justin Cooper would not make it easy on Ferrandis when he grabbed the top spot on Lap 5. Ferrandis paced himself and regained the lead on Lap 12. With that pass, he was going to extend the championship battle into Moto 2 unless Cianciarulo could respond. Cianciarulo ran in third about five seconds back.

Ferrandis held on for his eighth moto win of the season.

“My goal today was to finish on a high note,” Ferrandis said on NBC Sport Gold after the first race. “So, I won a moto. I did the hard part of the job. AC was on it again today. He completely deserves this title. I was bad this year and lost points to him. I made a lot of mistakes this year, but I learned a lot also.”

When Ferrandis passed Cooper for the lead, it lit a fire under the championship leader. Cianciarulo caught Cooper in two laps to minimize the effect of Ferrandis’ win. Entering Moto 2 with a 27-point lead, he did not even need to start the race to claim the championship.

“Those guys were going really fast at the beginning,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s kind of hard. I felt like I had some pace, but I didn’t want to get in between them because that’s when things get hectic. So I thought I would let it play out as it was going to. I was cheering on Justin the whole moto. I was like ‘Come on man! Good lead, you’re doing good.’ Then I saw Dylan make a charge. I don’t know what happened to Justin, but then I knew I had to get him.

“I really did not want to sit in the rig for 45 minutes between (motos) and stress about it the whole time.”

All that was left was to see if Cianciarulo could round out the season with a perfect record of podium finishes.

Moto 2 was dominated by the same riders who ran well in the first race. After struggling with starts all year, Ferrandis earned the hole shot and rode to an easy win over Cooper getting his fourth overall win in the process. All four wins have come in the last six weeks.

With this moto win, Ferrandis bettered Cianciarulo in that statistic with nine to seven. This was Ferrandis’ best year in America with his Supercross championship and a second in the outdoor series.

Cooper’s second-place finish combined with his third in Moto 1 to give him second overall.

The answer to the question of whether Cianciarulo could sweep the podium was “yes.” Finishing fourth in the second race, he was third overall

Chase Sexton was able to snag the last podium spot of Moto 2 for his first such finish since Round 3. With a 4-3 he finished fourth overall.

Michael Mosiman (5-5) rounded out the top five.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[11] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II, Ironman I)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[4] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II, Ironman I)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[9] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II, Ironman I & II)
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

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