Dale Jr., Newgarden see bright future for IndyCar-NASCAR crossovers

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The first time that the country’s top two racing circuits will share a track on the same race weekend will be absent any car swaps or even much driver interaction at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The reigning IndyCar champion, though, has another track picked out for his NASCAR debut.

“Man you tell me I can run a stock car under the lights at Bristol (Motor Speedway), I’m there,” Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden said on NBC Sports’ latest Countdown to Crossover conversation (video above). “Let’s go. You don’t have to give me practice. I’d take that opportunity any day.

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“I want to drive a stock car so bad. I’d love the challenge of it. I’d love to understand what those guys experience. Doesn’t matter where, but if I had a choice, Bristol would be my spot.”

With the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Cup Series racing on consecutive days this weekend at IMS (the former on the road course; the latter on the oval, with both races on NBC), the buzz that began last year has been rekindled about more crossover events in the future — especially because this weekend won’t seem a full and proper inaugural.

Given team member restrictions and social distancing because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, IndyCar and NASCAR drivers essentially will be precluded from being on site together (and their fan bases also won’t intermingle because the track’s grandstands are closed).

But there is momentum building for the Indy doubleheader weekend becoming an annual event and perhaps allowing for stars running in multiple series (2018 Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power said Wednesday he wants to run IndyCar, Xfinity and Cup in the same weekend).

It’s possible that crossovers also could become a happening at other tracks. NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he has gotten calls from Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti about running an Xfinity road course race with his JR Motorsports team, and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson will test a Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing next week at IMS with an eye on racing IndyCar road courses next year.

Two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden made laps Sept. 27 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Some of the credit for the push should go to Newgarden, who has been long outspoken about his love of NASCAR and ran his Dallara-Chevrolet on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval during the NASCAR race weekend last September (a week after he won the 2019 championship).

Newgarden said it “created a lot of positive impact of the potential we could have these two great championships competing together one day. And now with Roger acquiring the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and everyone collaborating in this unique time of the world, it’s created a perfect opportunity for bringing us together.”

“It was a treat just to see Josef out there,” Earnhardt said in the Countdown to Crossover feature. “It got everyone’s mind running in the right directions. There’s been this conversation about bringing the two championships together at the same venue.

“These are unique times that created this opportunity. I felt like we want to go and be fans of their sport. We know they’re fans of ours. I know those guys would love to get an opportunity to drive stock cars. Jimmie’s testing an IndyCar and he’s talked and had conversations about running in that series potentially in the future. So this is opening up a lot of possibilities and opportunity not only for the two series to join together at the racetrack but also the drivers to move around try new things.”

Josef Newgarden speaks to the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway before making laps on the track’s road course last September (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

Newgarden would like to see more moonlighting in the future because “a lot of these guys are capable of this. This used to be a lot more normal 50 to 60 years ago to see this crossover action. I think Dale could probably get into one of these things and rip around a speedway just fine. He proved he could do that in iRacing. I think he would transfer pretty good in reality. You really have a lot of great crossover.

“I text guys like Jimmie and Kyle Busch. They love what we have going on, they’re really interested in it. All the IndyCar guys, we are glued to the NASCAR stuff, too, we love watching them, it’s an amazing sport and everyone does such great job over there. We’re always eyes wide open trying to learn from each other.”

Earnhardt said he would test with an IndyCar team if provided the chance.

“You definitely want to take that opportunity to try the car out and see what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s going to be something completely unfamiliar and fun but just having that knowledge of what those cars feel like, how they respond would give you another perspective, especially if we ended up back on the pit box at Indy sometime for the 500 with (Mike) Tirico.

“I’ll have more information and understanding of what those drivers are dealing with. There’s a lot of buttons and switches and tools for IndyCar drivers to have fun with and adjust and that in itself would be an education.”

For the full Countdown to Crossover discussion with Earnhardt, Newgarden and Leigh Diffey, watch the video above or click here.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.