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


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.

GMR GRAND PRIX: Everything you need to know about IndyCar at IMS

‘YOU JUST WORRY ALL THE TIME:’ IndyCar drivers on avoiding COVID-19

“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.

IndyCar Detroit GP starting lineup: Alex Palou wins first pole position on a street course


DETROIT — Alex Palou won the pole position for the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series race and will lead the Detroit Grand Prix starting lineup to green on a new downtown layout.

The 2021 series champion, who finished fourth in the 107th Indy 500 after qualifying first, earned his third career pole position as the first of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top four (Scott Dixon qualified fourth, and Marcus Ericsson sixth).

Scott McLaughlin will start second, followed by Romain Grosjean. Coming off his first Indianapolis 500 victory, Josef Newgarden qualified fifth.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It’s the third career pole position for Palou and his first on a street course — a big advantage on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile track that is expected to be calamitous over 100 laps Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s going to be a tough day for sure,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It feels good we’ve had a great car since the beginning, and it was just about maximizing. They did a great strategy on tires and everything. We need to finish it (Sunday).

“I got off a lot in practice. We wanted to see where the limit was, and we found it. It’s a crazy track. I think it’s too tight for Indy cars and too short as well, but we’ll make it happen.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for Detroit GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

The narrow quarters (originally listed as a 1.7-mile track, its distance shrunk by a couple hundred feet when measured Friday) already were causing problems in qualifying.

Colton Herta, who has four career poles on street courses, qualified 24th after failing to advance from the first round because of damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. It’s the worst starting spot in an IndyCar street course race for Herta (and the second-worst of his career on the heels of qualifying 25th for the GMR Grand Prix three weeks ago).

Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood also found misfortune in the second round, damaging the left front of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda despite light wall contact.

“I’m disappointed for the crew because that was a pole-winning car,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Man, I barely touched the wall. I touched it way harder in all the practices, and it’s just like the angle at which the wall was right there, it caught the point and just ripped the front off the car.

“If the wall was rounded, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s just unfortunate for the guys, but it’s my mistake. It’s hard enough to get around this place let alone race around it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many IndyCar drivers are expecting it to go badly, which isn’t uncommon for a new street layout. The inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee, was the biggest crashfest of the 2021 season with 33 of 80 laps run under caution plus two red flags.

It could be worse at Detroit, which is the shortest track on the IndyCar circuit. It also features the series’ only split pit lane (with cars pitting on opposite sides and blending into a single-lane exit), a 0.9-mile straightaway and a hairpin third turn that is considered the best passing zone.

“If there’s one day you need to be lucky in the year, it’s tomorrow,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “A lot is going to happen, and it’s being in the right time at the right place.”

Said Dixon: “Expect probably a lot of unexpected things to happen. We’ll try and get through it. I think it’ll be similar to Nashville and maybe the last man standing is the one who gets the victory.”

With the field at 27 cars, Palou estimated the length of the course leaves a gap of about 2.4 seconds between each car, which he preferred would be double. During practice Friday, there were six red flags and 19 local yellows as teams tried to sort out the tricky and tight layout.

“I don’t know what the perfect distance is, but I would say adding 30 seconds to a track or 20 seconds would help a lot,” said Palou, one of many drivers who also said the streets were too bumpy despite work to grind down some surfaces. “We have a lot of cars. It’s crazy. It’s really good for the series, for the racing. But when it comes to practice, and we have 10 red flags, 25 yellows, it’s traffic all the time.”

It seems certain to be a memorable reimagining of the Detroit GP, which was moved downtown by IndyCar owner Roger Penske after a 30-year run at the Belle Isle course a few miles north.

McLaughlin, who drives for Team Penske, believes the race will be very similar to Nashville, but “it’s just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to figure it out along the way. I think there’s going to be a lot of passes, opportunities.

“With the track, there’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen on Twitter, from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, this is a new track, new complex. I think what everyone has done to get this going, the vibe is awesome. Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.

“First-year problems, it’s always going to happen. It’s just going to get better from here. The racetrack for the drivers is a blast. We don’t even know how it races yet. Everyone is making conclusions already. They probably just need to relax and wait for (Sunday).”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds (95.734 mph)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:02.1592 (95.271)


3. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:02.2896 (95.072)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:02.4272 (94.862)


5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:02.5223 (94.718)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:02.6184 (94.573)


7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:02.1817 (95.237)
8. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:02.1860 (95.230)


9. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:02.1937 (95.219)
10. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:02.2564 (95.123)


11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:02.2958 (95.063)
12. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 1:04.6075 (91.661)


13. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:02.5714 (94.644)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:02.1911 (95.223)


15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:02.9522 (94.071)
16. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:02.2644 (95.111)


17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:03.0017 (93.997)
18. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:02.6495 (94.526)

ROW 10

19. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 1:03.1599 (93.762)
20. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:02.9071 (94.139)

ROW 11

21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:03.2126 (93.684)
22. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:02.9589 (94.061)

ROW 12

23. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:03.3879 (93.425)
24. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:03.4165 (93.383)

ROW 13

25. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:03.7728 (92.861)
26. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:03.7496 (92.895)

ROW 14

27. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:03.8663 (92.725)