Open Wheel Wednesday: My 1st Experience in Covering IndyCar

My first day at Frontstretch was Sept. 3, 2021, and the first NASCAR weekend I covered for the site was at Circuit of the Americas in March 2022. That was the first of seven (and counting) weekends where I’ve been on-site for a race in the last year.

NASCAR has always been my first priority in watching motorsports, but it’s not my lone interest. I also try and watch the NTT IndyCar Series when I can, and I was able to attend IndyCar races at Texas Motor Speedway in 2016 and 2017 before saving enough money to make a trek up to Indiana for the 2018 Indianapolis 500.

The second race weekend I covered for NASCAR was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in July 2022, and that weekend featured an IndyCar race the Saturday before Cup. I had credentials to be in the garage area for the IndyCar race, but it turns out that I did not have the credentials to be on pit road after its conclusion. So, while I was at the race, I wasn’t able to cover it.

Reporting for an IndyCar race finally became a reality in 2023, as a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race was paired with an IndyCar weekend at Texas for the first time since the pandemic began. I was going to be at Texas Truck race due to its proximity, and I got the green light to have my first go at IndyCar. Why not?

After all, it was a weekend where I had two of my Frontstretch colleagues in Phil Allaway and Mike Knapp at my side. If I ever had a question, I had two experienced IndyCar reporters to turn to.

The weekend of March 31 and April 1 was a two-day show, so that Saturday featured Truck practice, qualifying and the race as well as IndyCar practice and qualifying. Quite a day.

When the cars hit the track for practice, it wasn’t the first time that I had seen them up close. But after not attending an IndyCar event for nearly five years, it’s easy to forget just how fast they go.

The stock cars average about 180 miles per hour per lap at Texas, which is fast in its own right, but it’s a snail’s pace when compared to the open wheelers roaring down the frontstretch and backstretch at over 220.

Stock cars have been restricted to go over 200 mph at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, yet that speed is well eclipsed at the track one mile shorter in length. But the intensity – and risk – of IndyCar at Texas is still there; just one mistake has the potential to turn into a disaster at those speeds.

And given the show that the field put on, the stakes were high.

Fans in attendance were treated to a Texas thriller that hadn’t been seen in years, as drivers had the potential to run side-by-side and pass around the racetrack; something that IndyCar had struggled with in previous Texas races.

The race featured 27 lead changes, the most in an IndyCar race at Texas since 2001. Each restart had frantic and intense racing out front, but that didn’t stop the most dominant cars from taking over, either.

The race featured a 119-lap green flag run from lap 60 to lap 178, and it was in this time where Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward put on a clinic.

Newgarden started the day by leading 115 of the first 128 laps, but O’Ward was able to get by him for the lead on lap 129. He then proceeded to leave everyone in the dust.

O’Ward quickly stretched out a five-second lead over Newgarden, and his rocket ship of a car started lapping people left and right. He blew by the Chip Ganassi Racing teammates of Scott Dixon and Alex Palou to put them a lap down while they were battling for fourth, and he then roared passed third-place Romain Grosjean as if he wasn’t even there; it was a display that I had never seen on an oval in all my years watching.

O’Ward’s reign ended after a caution on lap 179, and the wave around left eight cars on the lead lap for the remainder of the race. An additional two cautions kept the field racing side-by-side on restarts for the lead, as Colton Herta, Palou, O’Ward and Newgarden all took turns in the top spot with just under 40 laps remaining.

That continued for the entire race as the crowd was on the edge of their seats. Newgarden made a pass for the lead on O’Ward with two laps to go, and that proved to be the winning move as Grosjean’s crash allowed Newgarden to take the yellow and checkered flags to complete lap 250.

See also
Josef Newgarden Repeats Texas Win in Thrilling IndyCar Race

As for the media coverage, the NASCAR Cup Series traditionally has a media session on Saturday for the drivers that are top-30 in the points standings, and it can only be described as first come, first serve. You had to be assertive if you wanted to get a question in, and you also had to be relatively close to the driver in order to achieve the best visual and audio quality for the interview. If you approached the driver before the rest of the media did, you got a leg up on everyone else.

IndyCar had the same media availability with the field during Saturday’s qualifying session. Unlike NASCAR, however, this session had a different procedure. The session had IndyCar officials, and if you wanted an interview with a driver that was currently in the bullpen, they would bring them right to you. The drivers would often answer questions for five, six sets of reporters before heading on with their days.

It was a nice change of pace and relaxing, and you had to be prepared. You couldn’t rely on other people to ask questions and for drivers to give answers you hadn’t thought of. You had to bring all of that to the table when interviewing the drivers individually, and in the world of motorsports media, there is such a thing as a stupid question.

I do not know if that is the procedure used for every pre-race IndyCar media session, but it was a nice to mix it up and experience asking questions and reporting in a different manner.

Post-race and care center interviews were much of the same, as second through fifth were available on pit lane. Drivers that crashed out were interviewed outside the care center as usual, and if you wanted a post-race interview with a driver that finished outside the top five, you had to individually seek them out on pit lane or in the garage area after the race.

We split up following the checkered flag, and Phil and Mike decided to get soundbites from the top five, including a video that Phil got from fourth-place finisher David Malukas.

With the top five covered, I elected to get footage of Newgarden’s victory lane celebration, which included the thumbnail for this column.

The winning driver interview on the frontstretch became a formality for NASCAR’s broadcasting partners in 2017, and less emphasis has been put on covering the victory lane celebration in that time.

All of Newgarden’s interviews and celebrations happened in victory lane, and it was fantastic experience to witness it all close up. Prior to Sunday (April 2), I had never been present for the victory lane celebration in any race I had covered.

After the celebration had died down, I went back to the media center to be present for the press conferences involving the top three finishers (Newgarden, O’Ward, Palou). My coworkers and I then completed the rest of our duties for Frontstretch and said our goodbyes.

I have the most experience and knowledge in NASCAR, but it was a fantastic experience to diversify my palate. NASCAR will still be my primary focus going forward, but if there ever presents an opportunity to cover a different from of motorsport in a future weekend, I’m jumping right on it.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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