The doubleheader at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which features the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday and the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday is an absolute win for race fans, drivers, and sponsors.
It is possible this will go away by next year, and that the oval will return for NASCAR to run the Brickyard 400. If so, the doubleheader won’t be feasible if Cup cars have to hold qualifying on Saturday. So the great experiment at IMS may be over.
Setting aside the fact Cup returning to the oval is a return of a crown jewel, the absence of a doubleheader would be a loss for fans, who are forced repeatedly each weekend to choose one motorsport over another as the sport competes against itself. What has made the doubleheader such a revelation is the unique format of putting two of America’s top motorsport bodies at the same venue. The races don’t overlap on television and the convenience is sublime. Fans who follow both series save money by investing in one weekend to see four races (including the Indy NXT race on Friday) and possibly get to see their favorites drivers in different series. It’s such a win-win.
This doubleheader idea shouldn’t be tossed aside. If NASCAR and IndyCar were to try this again – and they should! – what other tracks or events could benefit from this positive partnership?
The road course is a natural beauty and iconic in regards to history in open wheel and stock car racing in the U.S. With its previous running of Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980 and IndyCar on three separate occasions, it’s a perfect recipe for another doubleheader.
For IndyCar, there would have to be some willingness on the part of NASCAR, who owns the track, to oblige to move forward on partnering. In the current Indianapolis doubleheader, the weekend is NASCAR, but since it’s Roger Penske that owns the track and IndyCar, he has leverage to offer such an opportunity for his stakeholders and to TV partner NBC. Any event like this at a NASCAR (formerly International Speedway Corporation) track wouldn’t have that initial buy-in. It would have to be something that makes sense – perhaps more importantly, cents – and even that isn’t guaranteed.
The current schedule on NASCAR’s weekend is similar to the Indy doubleheader, but instead of Indy NXT on Friday, it’s the ARCA Menards Series. IndyCar drivers would be a fan of the tracks addition to the schedule, as it’s an enjoyable circuit for them to race with multiple passing opportunities. One driver in particular would easily give it two thumbs up if it returns, and that’s four-time winner Scott Dixon.
The Hy-Vee IndyCar Race Weekend at Iowa is jam packed with concerts and races. It has been a successful endeavor in turning oval tracks on the schedule into events like street circuits have the reputation of being. This was well received in its second year, as over 80,000 fans were reported to attend the fastest short track in July. Further, the NASCAR Xfinity Series racing product at the speedway has been historically solid.
Dropping one of the IndyCar races and adding a Cup race – which has never run there – would add more value to the event, further cementing itself in the minds of the Des Moines area market. If IndyCar were to downsize their running to just one race, then that one could be extended to a 400 lapper to increase the challenge, and possibly give others a chance against Josef Newgarden. Even better, IndyCar could run their race Saturday night under the lights (please Racing Gods, lets do that, it’s so hot).
Or the Cup race could run on Saturday night, as the race would be big enough draw to keep folks out there all day with just one concert in the afternoon and the open-wheelers run on Sunday (sigh). Iowa Speedway, like the Glen, is NASCAR owned, but the doubleheader is an IndyCar managed event, with leasing of the track and proceeds going to Penske, so there’s plenty of reward for both sides in this.
Any Street Course
It was clear the inaugural street course race for NASCAR at Grant Park, Chicago was a great success. Just the visuals of the cars rolling along on the tight, mixed pavement course was breathtaking. The best shot was seeing the stop lights and active street traffic as the NASCAR machines were rumbling down the course. It was an interesting juxtaposition.
Now that the Cup Series got their feet wet in the street racing game, why not add another one? IndyCar races at several courses with strong histories, including Long Beach and Toronto. Detroit added a new downtown course this year and St. Petersburg has been a great season premiere event for many years.
Out of the events available though, the Music City Grand Prix would be an excellent choice to stage a street circuit doubleheader. The city has embraced the current IndyCar weekend, and who in Nashville doesn’t like a good chance to party? The three runnings of the race have been successful and a new circuit is coming next year that will include several blocks of Broadway.
There are concerns with garage space for the Cup cars and balancing the demand to return to the Fairgrounds or the current race at the concrete Nashville Speedway. If NASCAR wants to stay on an oval in the area, then why not expand the doubleheader to two circuits, with Cup at the oval on Saturday night and IndyCar on the streets on Sunday. Sounds like a great way to party across the whole city.
Texas Motor Speedway
For both Cup and IndyCar, the stand-alone races at the Texas Motor Speedway have seen better days. Since the re-profiling of turns 1 and 2, which affected NASCAR more than the IndyCar series, the racing has suffered. Crowds have diminished for both products due to poor races from both series, however IndyCar’s April event was slightly improved over previous efforts.
What better way to help out both series, and a track in a big television market, than to add a doubleheader? Previous track promoter Eddie Gossage was a fan of the idea and pushed for his facility to be the first to try it before IMS took it on. There’s a lot of options for scheduling, whether two day races or a night race on Saturday followed by a day race on Sunday. But it wouldn’t hurt to try to reinvigorate what was once a popular stop for both series.
The Big Boys
Finally, the granddaddies of them all, the biggest tracks showcasing the biggest stars in American motorsports. Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway. Now they both don’t require a doubleheader, but wouldn’t that be amazing, instead just one of them would be an acceptable option. Bringing them up as a pair is due more to the prominence the tracks have in American open-wheel racing to the former Triple Crown and their massive size.
Pocono was most recently on the schedule as recent as 2019, while Michigan hasn’t seen an IndyCar event since 2007, but each have long histories with the series. Putting a doubleheader at one of these tracks would alleviate the downtime associated with oval racing and make the event seem more like a road course race with non-stop action.
If NASCAR wanted to add a second visit for Cup to the Irish Hills outside Brooklyn, Michigan, then a Saturday 500-miler with IndyCar would be a good way to plus up the showcase for the fans. The same could be said for Pocono, with both series benefiting from the added weekend attendance. In either case, IndyCar would play as a guest to the NASCAR world, and supplement the show with a Saturday 500 mile feature.
And lets be honest, everyone in the IndyCar world wants Michigan to return, some way, some how. This could be that way.
All five weekends are great options for a future doubleheader, and frankly, those aren’t the only ones. What matters is that this exercise by NASCAR and IMS/IndyCar is not discarded. In the age when sponsorship is hard to find, viewership is splintered and there is an increased amount of entertainment options, the American motorsports scene should work more closely together to ensure fans have a robust and diverse racing weekend. That can be accomplished by different disciplines and cars having a shared event, once, twice, maybe three times a year. Then fans can really consume the motorsports product, and let their interest in racing grow.
Isn’t that the goal anyway? To grow the sport? If so, then let the fans win by giving them more.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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