Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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IndyCar drivers open for more NASCAR doubleheaders in the future

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On Thursday’s “Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico on NBCSN, IndyCar Series owner Roger Penske said he would like to see more doubleheaders between IndyCar and NASCAR in the future.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader is scheduled for July 4 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Penske is also the owner of that fabled facility.

IndyCar will stage the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on the IMS road course. Also scheduled that day is the Pennzoil 150 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

The next day, the Brickyard 400 is scheduled for the NASCAR Cup Series.

Just a few days after he won his second NTT IndyCar Series championship, Josef Newgarden got that conversation rolling when he drove his Chevrolet Indy car around the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

Because real racing has been halted because of COVID-19 pandemic, virtual racing has given fans a chance to see how drivers from one series stack up against those in another.

The fourth race of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge is the Firestone 175 at virtual Twin Ring Motegi in Japan (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). NASCAR’s Kyle Busch will be included in that contest. It also marks the return of three-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver and longtime NTT IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves.

Newgarden also would like to see more drivers from other series try to compete in different forms of racing when real racing returns.

Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images

“Oh, definitely,” Newgarden said. “For me as a younger guy in the sport, sort of reaching the middle point, I’ve always wanted to see more crossover from drivers and teams and series. I think most drivers do, to be honest with you.

“We got in this place over the last however long you want to call it, 20 or 30 years, where everyone became specialists. There was less of this. If you’re an IndyCar guy, you can’t run NASCAR, this or that.

“This has provided a really fun push where series can come together and provide more value for the fans, can provide more action for the drivers to really take in or soak in different experiences. Maybe that will lead to more crossovers from different drives.”

So far in the six-race IndyCar iRacing Challenge, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have competed in a virtual Indy car. In Saturday’s race, two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch will compete in an Indy car.

“Kyle Busch really wants to run the Indianapolis 500,” Newgarden said. “All of us want that. We want to run against the best in the world. I think it’s vice versa. If there’s a guy like Scott Dixon that wants to run in NASCAR for an event, I think those guys want to see that happen, too, because Scott is one of the best.

“Without a doubt, there’s been some positives from this sim racing. I think what they’re proposing in reality as we go back to the real world is quite exciting. I think we’re all pretty excited and confident that Roger is leading that charge and is probably the best person positioned to get something like that done.”

Driver Scott Dixon — Getty Images

Scott Dixon is a five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, a winner of the 2008 Indianapolis 500 and a multi-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner.

Although he doesn’t think the virtual form of racing is the same as the real thing, it does allow drivers from different series to square off with one another.

“The format itself is fun,” Dixon said. “I think having the accessibility and ease to have that crossover is pretty cool, probably more so for the sponsors.

“The way these things drive, it also depends on a lot of things: how long you’ve done it, what kind of car you’ve been driving on the sim for a period of time, trying to get up to speed. Even going from an IndyCar to a GT car, there’s all these tiny little things that you need to mold into your driving pattern and how you use it.

I think it’s cool for a spectacle. It’s been a lot of fun. Even yesterday with Kyle Busch running in the practice sessions, it’s a lot of fun, conversations, everybody is chatting and getting along.

“The reality of it is very unreal in a lot of ways. I think the racing has been a lot of fun. Yesterday I think Motegi leading into this weekend, the multiple lines, what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be pretty cool.

“Last week at (virtual) Michigan, even though I had to watch most of it from my couch, it was pretty cool to watch.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500