INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski

Pocono was on 2020 INDYCAR schedule as late as last Thursday

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PORTLAND, Oregon – INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports.com that Pocono Raceway was on the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule as late as “Thursday night.”

Miles, who spoke with NBC Sports.com after the 2020 schedule was released on NBC Sports before Sunday’s telecast of the Grand Prix of Portland, said INDYCAR was willing to have an 18-race schedule for next season. Miles, along with INDYCAR Vice President of Promoter and Media Partner Relations Stephen Starks worked with Pocono Raceway officials through late last week to try to find a way to keep the series at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped speedway.

“It was absolutely not a foregone conclusion,” Miles told NBC Sports.com. “We were talking to them about substantive points as late as Thursday of last week. It was only on Thursday night that it was clear it was not going to get done.

“We appreciated the point of view that maybe there would be a new opportunity there because of NASCAR schedule changes for next year, but we still could not get it to work.”

Miles said there were a variety of factors that led to the decision to not return. And, he emphasized that the two groups could get together in the future, sooner, rather than later.

“We and they worked hard on it this week and only threw in the towel Thursday night,” Miles continued. “People say, ‘Well, you’ll never go back.’ Well, here we are in Portland and think Road America, Gateway and now Richmond, I think we have a track record of going back to places we have raced at before.

“We were working with Pocono and we were already committed to Richmond. That would have added a net race and be at 18 for next year, so we are willing to have an 18-race schedule under the right circumstances.”

Miles said the decision to increase to 18 races would be an economic decision with the teams in mind. Currently, teams have been able to generate enough sponsorship to the budget to have a healthy lineup for 17 race schedules.

“You have to look at the expenses and sets of tires is one and then the number of miles on engines,” Miles explained. “Engine leases limit the number of miles on engines. If you could add a race without having to go to another engine, then that would lessen the cost. But if one more race meant one more engine, that would be considerably more. It’s a variable analysis.

“We thought we might be able to go to 18 races without having to go to an additional engine. We looked at testing and other uses.”

Pocono Raceway Nick Igdalsky expressed his disappointment shortly after the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule was announced on Sunday.

“It is with great disappointment for Pocono Raceway to confirm we will not be on the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule,” Igdalsky said. “Our partnership with the premier open wheel series in the United States has concluded for now. It has been a pleasure to work with INDYCAR representatives during this honest and candid negotiation.

“On behalf of the entire Pocono Raceway family, it has been a joy getting to know the teams and partners, many of whom have become dear friends. Thank you to ABC Supply Co., Inc., who have supported our INDYCAR events since 2014. Thank you to all the fans that have supported Pocono over the years. We share in the disappointment of thousands who also dreamed of future open wheel races at ‘The Tricky Triangle.’ A sincere thank you to Mario Andretti, for his years of passionate support.

“And finally, we thank all the drivers who dazzled us with their talent and heroics, as well as those drivers who spoke in support of Pocono during their recent visit. We sincerely wish INDYCAR and their competitors best of luck with the remainder of the 2019 season and beyond.”

Miles believes next year’s schedule has a balance of street courses, road courses, high-speed and short ovals.

Next year’s schedule also has significant changes because of the Tokyo Olympics, which will be televised on NBC and its cable channels. IndyCar will have a three-week break next summer.

Also, the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was moved from the third weekend in March to the final weekend of April so that it did not conflict with the annual 12 Hours of Sebring IMSA Sports Car race.

Every year when INDYCAR announces a new schedule, there remains fan support for some tracks that haven’t hosted IndyCar events in years, or even for more than a decade.

“The decision making on the schedule is complicated with lots of considerations,” Miles said. “The first now is we are not in a position to look to add to the total number of races unless it makes sense for us to do that. Economics is part of that, timing is part of it, proximity to other races in the same time of year and whether it would be a good event and bring in a good crowd.

“We try to stay current with the other venues so if there is reason to re-evaluate, we will do it. It’s not as simple as having a track and we will go there, it’s more complicated than that.”

Some fans long for the days of the old “Triple Crown.” That was three 500-mile races that included the Indianapolis 500 and, in the past, 500-milers at Pocono and at the old Ontario Motor Speedway in California, which closed up in the 1980s and is now commercial development. In more recent years, such tracks as Michigan Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California were part of the “Triple Crown.”

“I didn’t think that it added a huge amount of interest,” Miles said. “The promotion of the ‘Triple Crown’ didn’t cut through.

“Right now, our fans are focused on who is going to win the championship and that is a more important consideration than any three races. Your ability to promote multiple messages is limited. I don’t see that happening any time soon because when we did do it, it didn’t move the needle on interest.”

Miles believes INDYCAR’s television partner at NBC has helped “move the needle” and that is why it was so important to announce the schedule on live television during Sunday’s race on the NBC.

“It was great that it was on network and NBC was open to it and enthusiastic about it,” Miles said. “NBC has done a great job for us all year and this is the most recent example. To do it in a way that Scott Dixon was able to talk about his experiences at Richmond and give the high points of the schedule was a great way to get it done.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”