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.