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Open-Wheel Wednesday: INDYCAR and NASCAR – United They Stand, Divided They Fall

Could NASCAR be the key to INDYCAR’s success?


Back up.

Did I just say that? Certainly that’s a preposterous statement, right INDYCAR faithful? The two organizations are competitors, after all. Each side has seemed to make that quite clear over the past two decades. Surely there’s no possible way that the “taxi cab series” could benefit INDYCAR in any meaningful sort of way.

Well, open-wheel fans, that concept may have been true in the 80s and early 90s, but times have changed, and it is actually quite possible that the modern-day of success of INDYCAR in this country could hinge on the success of that pesky stock car series originating from down South. Don’t understand where I’m going with this? Let me explain.

In case you don’t follow along with such things, INDYCAR is currently enjoying a three-race stretch of year-over-year TV-ratings increases. Those three races (Fontana, Milwaukee, and Iowa) all also ranked as the highest-rated cable races for the sport since 2011. One doesn’t have to look very far to figure out where those extra eyeballs are probably coming from.

Indeed, NASCAR’s return to the NBC family of networks appears to be raising the viewership of the network’s other motorsports properties. And it makes total sense. NASCAR still has a huge viewership base that loyally follows the series on whichever network that broadcasts the races. The NASCAR races on cable channels NBCSN and FS1 bring in over 3.5 million viewers tune in each and every week. During those races, INDYCAR is heavily cross-promoted, and NASCAR-coverage often serves as a lead-in to INDYCAR-coverage. That means millions of oval-racing fans who follow NASCAR are being exposed to the INDYCAR brand every time a NASCAR event is covered. In essence, INDYCAR is getting free advertising and PR distributed to what essentially amounts to its target market, American racing fans, each and every time a NASCAR race is covered on NBC/NBCSN.

Suddenly, those ratings increases make a lot of sense don’t they? It’s no coincidence that the large ratings gains began almost exactly when NBC and NBCSN began ramping up promotion for it’s new NASCAR coverage. It’s pretty surprising that other sports biz/sports media pundits haven’t picked up on it yet. If they haven’t to this point, the reality shoud hit them at some point in the very near future.

So what does this little revelation mean for the two titans of American motorsports? It means that they need to start working together more. This whole notion that the two series are fierce competitors focused on bringing the other down has to stop. And for those of you who aren’t in the know, trust me when I say that that sentiment is held by powerful folks on both sides of the battle. It’s silly, pointless and counterproductive.

INDYCAR needs to take these ratings increases and use it to foster better relationships with its racing cousins down south. NASCAR, on the other hand, needs to look at these results and realize that it too could benefit from such cross-promotion. There is room for two successful motorsport organizations in the United States. When one is strong, the other benefits. People who like racing tend to watch all sorts of forms of racing. These are facts that should be obvious to everyone.

We live in a different sports business environment now than we were in a decade ago. Racing is not the hot property it once was. It is going to take deliberate thinking, cooperation, and some compromises for each of these two series to get back to where they once were. Think about it: what better way is there to raise attendance at a given racetrack than to hold both a Sprint Cup and an IndyCar Series race on the same weekend? INDYCAR fans become exposed to NASCAR, NASCAR fans become exposed to INDYCAR. It’s simple and everyone benefits.

This idea, of course, means that NASCAR needs to quit with it’s passive aggressive dismissal of INDYCAR’s value to the motorsports world. It means that INDYCAR and it’s fans also need to drop their elitist attitude towards NASCAR. It means that powerful folks from both sides need to be receptive to the ideas from the other. It means, furthermore, that both sides need to work together for the good of American motorsports.

So what are we waiting for? The cold war between INDYCAR and NASCAR needs to end. Each is stronger with the help of the other.

It’s time for the powers that be to wake up to that realization, because the future of auto racing in the United States depends on it.

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Dave Blake

I agree with everything you said in this article, but you missed another factor…those last 3 IndyCar races were on oval tracks. That’s the IndyCar racing I miss. IndyCar should not be F1 America. Oval racinbg built Indy Car racing (USAC) to the height of its popularity, and oval track racing could rebuild it to a large degree!


IndyCar also benefited from a perfect storm of events. Ovals were one, 3 races not up against NASCAR racing at all, and the publicity from California all helped,good for them. Now they go back to a road circuit, against a Cup race so they get sent to CNBC (still a lot better than being sent to FS2), and TPTB imposed rule 9.3.8 . I hope they keep doing well and hope fans go to Pocono this Aug. to see IndyCar, but we shall see.


Well done Matt.

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