Race Weekend Central

The Gap: IndyCar’s Scheduling Void

IndyCar has already lost momentum.

This week, the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the second race of the season. Unfortunately, after an eventful opening round at St. Petersburg, Florida, on March 5, in which a battle for the lead knocked out the two best cars and there was still a pass for the win at the end, the series has been out of sight for three straight weekends.

By the time the green flag falls Sunday, the series has already fallen out of the news cycle and been replaced with March Madness, three weekends of NASCAR racing, two PGA events and NFL free agency – totaling four whole weeks of no IndyCar action. The race at St. Pete will be overshadowed by the lack of IndyCar presence on TV ever since.

But after this week, IndyCar’s schedule ramps up. From Texas until the Indianapolis 500, the series settles into a consistent two-week racing rhythm, which over previous years is an improvement. In the 2022 season, the first four races were separated by three weeks each from Feb. 27 until the May 1 Barber race. The gap between the first two races isn’t good, but at the same time, the series is able to rebuild momentum from Texas until the critical Indy 500.

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In future years, IndyCar must address this, but the challenge is finding a market to host an IndyCar race this early in a warm climate and keeping the 12 Hours of Sebring weekend free since several teams have IMSA programs. And they have tried.

Since Barber was added in 2010, creating the St. Pete, Barber, and Long Beach triumvirate, IndyCar has tried teaming those events with six other races, with only one – the Indianapolis Grand Prix, sticking beyond three years. A race at Kansas fell off in 2010 after being the oval warm up to the Indy 500, a Sao Paolo, Brazil street course was well attended but lacked city support; Phoenix had three tries but not enough fans; New Orleans was ran in a thunderstorm and more than half the laps fell under yellow, ruining further tries there and Circuit of the Americas stuck around one year before the COVID season prevented a second try at it.

Further, IndyCar moved Texas to the spring, which has helped alleviate the racing droughts, but attendance has been reported as unimpressive over the last few years, so its long-term status is debatable.

It’s commendable that the series has been able to find the five events that have been mainstays on the schedule leading up to May. But what are possible solutions to the five-week gap and don’t conflict with Sebring? Essentially, the series just needs a race to fit in a week after St. Pete or before Texas. But to overcome that challenge, it may require a direction the series has been neither able to accomplish nor willing to pursue.

If IndyCar were to try old markets they could reconsider going back to Phoenix, with one caveat: make it a doubleheader with NASCAR when they run the weekend after St. Pete. There are challenges with logistics at the track and on-track times, but none more daunting than the willingness of both series to cooperate. Unlike Indianapolis in July when NASCAR and IndyCar share the weekend on the road course, NBC isn’t available to leverage both sides for a motorsports weekend that’s broadcast on one network. Instead, FOX owns the first half of the NASCAR schedule.

Furthermore, as IMS is owned by Roger Penske and it makes business sense to use his assets for IndyCar during the Brickyard weekend, Phoenix’s NASCAR ownership group may not see things similarly. But regardless of opinions and egos, the real winners in a weekend like this are fans. An event already filled with NASCAR could be further enhanced with a Saturday night IndyCar feature.

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Other options could be a return to Miami-Homestead Speedway, which last ran IndyCar in 2010 as the season finale. But so soon after a race in St. Petersburg which is outside Tampa, might prove unfeasible. Revisiting the NASCAR doubleheader idea, would COTA work? That race is one week before Texas and could create a Texas IndyCar back to back. However, is the fan support there for two Texas events? And again, would NASCAR’s other major track partner – Speedway Motorsports who leases COTA for the race – be up for it? Another winner for fans, but can it happen?

As far as domestic races, that taps out a lot of availability for IndyCar to find a location for an event. Would the series consider the international market? Besides Canada, IndyCar has not visited another country for a race since the Sao Paolo event in 2013. The series has invested in growing more in the States vs internationally but is there a race in South America that’s a possibility? With recent news reports of the IndyCar leadership checking out a site in Argentina, that could be a market they commit to for a future race.

There are options for IndyCar to address the gap that affects the series’ momentum this early in the season. Good news is, starting with Texas, IndyCar is full speed towards their Memorial Day classic at Indianapolis.

About the author

Tom Blackburn

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. Besides writing the IndyCar Previews and the occasional Inside Indycar, he will hop on as a fill-in guest on the Open Wheel podcast The Pit Straight. His full-time job is with the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. After graduating from Purdue University with a Creative Writing degree, he was commissioned in the Army and served a 15-month deployment as a tank platoon leader with the 3d ACR in Mosul, Iraq. A native Hoosier, he calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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Mike Kalasnik

Why not go to Alabama? Its between Florida and Texas. Kentucky Speedway is also sitting there doing nothing. 2 good stops between FL and TX.

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