A viewer’s guide to IndyCar in 2023: ‘Hate sells’ and other storylines to watch


With the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season set to begin today, a viewer’s guide to key storylines when the green flag drops on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock):

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Hate sells.

It’s the key to any rivalry in racing. If you want to gain new fans and keep their attention, your stars regularly need to lock horns and occasionally throw fire at each other when the cameras and recorders are running.

Petty vs. Pearson. Lewis vs. Max.

Josef vs. Simon?

As the NTT IndyCar Series prepares to launch a new docuseries (“100 Days to Indy”) squarely aimed at capturing the zeitgeist the way that Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” did for Formula One, the biggest question is how real can it get for a series that has very affable and appealing stars but often has lacked the feuding that has fueled the growth of NASCAR and Formula One.

There are some budding rivalries among IndyCar’s diverse driver lineup. But its collection of stars also can be chummy in public and often decline to take the gloves off during the periods with peak eyeballs when the audience demands drama to stem from the on-track scuffles that stoke emotions in every race.

Conor Daly has encouraged aggression of access from the CW/VICE docuseries that will follow IndyCar though the 107th Indy 500.

“I told the producers and the director, ‘Really get in our faces right after the races,’” Daly said. “That’s kind of when we really will be honest about what happened or who did what to who. There are really a lot of us, for sure, who do get along. On track a lot of those friendships go out the window. Talk about that! Talk about who you trust and talk about who you don’t. I think that’s something people would really want to see.

“It’s uncomfortable to be generating that type of chatter between drivers because there are some fans and people that support some drivers more than others, and if there is something said about that driver that they support, then they will come after you

“But honestly, good. What’s happening on  F1 and NASCAR Twitter is very aggressive and very angry and very crazy at times, but it is people talking about it, so that’s good. The more talk the better.”

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver would be an obvious candidate for more conflict given his many run-ins with the brash Santino Ferrucci, who returns to IndyCar full time this year with AJ Foyt Racing.

Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud has spent much of the preseason throwing darts at former Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, and it’s been hard to tell if the potshots are playful or rooted in anger.

“I don’t think punching is his style,” Newgarden cracked about the Frenchman. “He’s like throwing crepes or something. But yeah, I love me some Pagenaud.”

Newgarden openly is wondering when (not if) he and teammate Scott McLaughlin won’t see eye to eye. Even though they have celebrated their tight-knit friendship with an irreverent video series called “Bus Bros”, Newgarden was joking before the season opener at St. Petersburg about preemptively attacking McLaughlin to slow his rapid development into IndyCar championship contender.

“I kind of just want to break Scott’s leg at some point and get it over with,” Newgarden said. “We’ve not had a big moment yet. I think it’s inevitable we’re going to have a scrap at some point.

“It’s a hard balance. He’s probably the first teammate I’ve had that’s really understood the dynamic of look I want to beat him terribly badly, and he feels the same about me. But we’re professional about it. He respects my craft, and I respect his. There’s no one I hold higher than McLaughlin. There’s respect between us that makes it work right now. I think it’s inevitable that we have a scrap. When that happens, I don’t know the outcome, but we’ll have to work it out.”

Rivalries can be tricky in racing because of many underlying factors. Teams are largely funded by the support of corporate sponsors that tend to frown upon outspoken personalities who skirt the edge of controversy and can drum up publicity that might be perceived as negative.

“The world nowadays, you’ve got to be so careful what you say, what you do, how people are judging you,” 2004 champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan said. “Social media just hammers you all the time.

“Yeah, to be a good one I think we’re going to have to just be honest, and I think we’ve seen other examples of other reality shows that — you can still show controversy. You can still show that we don’t all love each other. Some guys out there, we definitely don’t like each other, and it’s fine.

“It will be really important for the series, but also I think it’s on the producers as well, to put the pressure saying, ‘Guys, this is not a movie. This is a reality show, so be real.’ ”

Alexander Rossi already has gotten a taste of it with a “100 Days to Indy” sitdown in which he discussed his altercation last year at Mid-Ohio with former Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean. On his “Off Track” podcast, Rossi said IndyCar drivers will need to get outside their comfort zone by getting outspoken about their competition.

“I hate when we go back to ‘Drive to Survive’ because it’s different, but like you look at the honesty of not only drivers but the team owners, that’s what made the show,” Rossi said. “The real, “if that guy doesn’t perform, he’s fired.”-type thing. So I think you’ve got to have a level of that.”

Some other storylines and teams to watch entering the season opener:

–With pole-sitter Grosjean and Colton Herta sweeping the front row, Andretti Autosport has backed up the promise that the team has shown in strong preseason testing performances.

There’s much at stake for Herta, who signed a contract extension last year and believes he is ready to win a championship, and Grosjean, who is entering a contract year with the team after a disappointing 2022. New addition Kyle Kirkwood, who qualified fifth, could be pushing both of them after learning the lessons of a wreck-filled rookie season at AJ Foyt Racing.

–Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has overhauled its engineering department by bringing in Formula One veteran Stefano Sordo as its new technical director. Graham Rahal, who remains in the cockpit of the No. 15 Dallara-Honda but naturally is transitioning into a management role, said the team is in the midst of a “cultural shift” from top to the bottom.

–Kirkwood has taken the spot of 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who left for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar Team after seven seasons with Andretti. Ferrucci will be teamed at Foyt with rookie Benjamin Pedersen. Sting Ray Robb

–In adding a third car for Rossi to pair with Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren has been part of an expansion to a track-record 27 cars for the season opener. Juncos Hollinger Racing also has added a second car for Argentine rookie Agustin Canapino.

Eli Tomac wins Seattle Supercross, ties Cooper Webb in championship points


In the past two weeks, Eli Tomac lost his momentum and with it the Monster Energy Supercross red plate to Cooper Webb, but a gutsy performance in Seattle gave him a sixth win of the season as he and the series heads into an off week tied. Tomac is currently tied in the points with Webb.

With this win, Tomac also ties James Stewart for second on the all-time wins list at 50 with six rounds remaining in 2023.

“I needed that bounce back,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien. “It was almost like I was in a little bit of a slump in the past couple of weeks; just a little bit off. I’m feeling much better now. That track raced really cool. There were a lot of different lines out there.

“It was obviously very dicey early on. I got passed and then had to make those passes back.”

Tomac suffered with a stiff neck in Indianapolis two weeks ago when he lost the red plate to Webb for the first time in 2023. In that race, he scored his worst finish of the season in eighth. He lost more points in Detroit after finishing a distant third behind Chase Sexton and Webb. This is the fifth time this season that Tomac and Webb finished 1-2 in a race. Tomac has won them all, but Webb has been more consistent.

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Seattle

Webb was disappointed to lose the ground to Tomac, but he will enter the Glendale, Arizona race with a red plate and a share of the points’ lead.

“It was overall a great night to get up front and get a second was great,” Webb said after the race. “Those few spots where I would get close to Eli and then make a mistake.

“The track was gnarly. It was no joke. It was cat and mouse as to who could ride the cleanest race and pick the line. I got off to a decent start, but Chase and Eli were ahead of me and I had some catchup to play and got into a good position.”

Early in the race, Sexton was indeed ahead of Webb and the remainder of the field. Another costly mistake sent Sexton to the ground. He battled back to finish fifth but is now 22 points out of the lead and in jeopardy of dropping out of championship contention unless Tomac and Webb have problems.

Rounding out the podium was Justin Barcia, who scored the third-place finish on his birthday

“Awesome ride,” Barcia said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m sure we kept the fans on their feet tonight. The track was gnarly. […] We’re searching; we’re so close to having that speed. We want it so badly. We’ll keep pushing hard and going for that win.”

Sexton’s mistake kept the three top points’ earners of 2023 from sharing the podium for the sixth time in 11 rounds, but the trio finished 1-2-3 in Heat 2 with Webb first, Sexton second and Tomac third.

The 250 West contenders were back in action after giving the last four rounds over to the East riders and Jett Lawrence picked up where he left off in Oakland: In Victory Lane. Lawrence scored his fourth win in five 250 West rounds. Last week his brother Hunter Lawrence tied Jett with 10 wins, but everyone knew it would not take long for Jett to regain the advantage.

Between them, the Lawrence brothers have won all but one race each in their respective divisions.

Lawrence rode a patient race in the Main. He settled in behind Stylez Robertson and concentrated on navigating the ruts mistake-free. He could not afford to be patient any longer when Cameron McAdoo caught up to the leaders. Lawrence found a second gear and gapped the battle for second.

An incident in their main made the battle between Lawrence and McAdoo more dramatic. While racing for second, the pair of riders ran out of room in the rhythm section. Both crashed but had a large enough lead over fourth to maintain their positions.

“It was a very eventful day,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’s Daniel Blair, answering a question about the earlier contact. “[…] It’s good to be back racing. It’s been a while. I feel like I’ve had another offseason. Glad to get out in one piece tonight.”

Lawrence now has a 23-point advantage over the field with four rounds remaining.

Click here for full 250 Main Results

RJ Hampshire finished second in his race and is second in the points after a seesaw affair that produced the final pass for position just before the white flag was displayed.

“I felt like I had a pretty good pace going for a little bit,” Hampshire said. “I closed the gap and then had a couple of big mistakes that almost put me on my head. I backed it off a little bit.

“Cam actually gapped me a little more than I would have wanted. I knew I could get a push there at the end. I thought that was the last lap, which is why my pass was a little more aggressive than it should have been, but I’m stoked to be able to close the gap a little bit.”

McAdoo took the final spot on the podium. This is the fourth time in 2023 these three riders have shared the box and if not for a sixth-place finish in Anaheim 2, he would be mounting a much more formidable challenge for the points’ lead.

“The track was really demanding tonight,” McAdoo said. “It did change a lot and the key thing was to get off the rhythms every time. We were swapping back and forth.”

Enzo Lopes in fourth and Max Vohland rounded out the top five.

Robertson had the early lead but when he lost the top spot to Jett he cross rutted on the next lap, crashed hard and failed to finish.

2023 Race Recaps

Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

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