Josef Newgarden’s run sparks more IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader talk

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CONCORD, N.C. – There are still many issues to resolve (namely, scheduling, track conditions, tire compounds are among myriad logistical challenges) about the viability of an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader race weekend.

But as Josef Newgarden’s Dallara-Chevrolet whizzed around the 17-turn, road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway under the watchful eyes of stars and executives from both NASCAR and IndyCar, there was no doubt about the infectious buzz for a marriage between the two biggest series in American motorsports.

That was evident from the smiles on the faces of Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, who sent their Team Penske compatriot off from the pits and then greeted him in victory lane.

“We need to have a doubleheader, man!” Newgarden exclaimed to Blaney and Logano shortly before making the first laps in an Indy car at the track in more than 20 years. “And we need to do the ride swap.”

After watching his teammate turn six blazing laps, Logano was ready to trade in the keys from his No. 22 Ford for a test drive.

Josef Newgarden talks with NASCAR teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney (photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images).

“You’re grabbing another gear, we’re hitting the brakes your first lap on the frontstretch,” Logano told Newgarden with a bemused laugh.

“The NASCAR guys, I love they’re interested in us, and we’re interested in them,” Newgarden, who clinched his second NTT championship five days earlier, told NBCSN’s Rutledge Wood. “You can tell we’re just racers. They love our race cars. I love theirs. The only thing that would have made me more excited would have been if I would have been able to get in one of their cars today.

IndyCar president Jay Frye, who was on hand as an observer along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles, was highly encouraged by the enthusiasm.

“It was spectacular,” Frye said. “All the Cup guys were out watching the big board, obviously there’s interest from (the news media), from us. What’s next for all of us is something we’re working on, and it’s great we certainly felt welcome and wanted here. This is a great facility. So who knows? Lots of things are possible.”

Newgarden’s biggest concern was about how the tire compounds would mix (IndyCar uses Firestone; NASCAR is on Goodyear), but that turned out fine, as did the track’s banking and transitions that caused a “heavy” wheel because Indy cars have no power steering

“It was getting better each run,” Newgarden said. “It felt pretty good.”

He said his fast laps were in the 67-second range, or about 14 seconds faster than William Byron’s pole speed (80.9 seconds) 30 minutes earlier – which was exactly the spread that had been predicted by Team Penske simulation software (according to Blaney).

Mindful of Team Penske president Tim Cindric’s playful yet stern warnings (“I told Josef we’re not going to get a trophy for what happens today. That million dollars for winning the championship won’t go far in replacing this thing. Have fun, but it’s on you.”), Newgarden said he took it easy in the Dallara-Chevrolet that Simon Pagenaud finished fourth with last Sunday at Laguna Seca Raceway, leaving “another second or two” on the track.

With a setup optimized for qualifying, it’s conceivable that he could have lapped in the 1-minute range and left his Cup teammates fully in the dust – though showing up NASCAR was far from the goal for Newgarden, who bent over backward being magnanimous toward his stock-car counterparts.

The two-time IndyCar champion talked multiple times about his dream of running a Cup car (practically begging Cindric for the opportunity during a news conference) and effusively praised the reception he received from NASCAR fans, noting that it likely would have been different during the Cold War the series engaged in through much of the 1990s and 2000s.

“I think everyone was really supportive of what we’re doing,” Newgarden said. “There just seems to be a  lot more movement to racing fans being racing fans again. I love that because I’m a huge NASCAR fan myself.

“It doesn’t matter that I grew up racing open-wheel cars. I still appreciate top-level racing, and these guys are the best at what they do. They feel the same way about us. This whole discussion that’s emerging about trying to promote racing as a whole is a really great thing. I love it. I’m so interested in what they do all year, and I think it’s the same from their side, so the more we can do together in the future the better.”

How soon that will happen was the big question lingering over Friday’s exhibition, which Clint Bowyer referred to on NASCAR America as “the first test session for IndyCar on our Roval. Why wouldn’t we bring those guys to race with our sport? I think it’s a great idea.”

The chatter around an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader began to reach a fever pitch in May when NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newgarden and many others expressed interest (in an NBCSports.com story) about bringing the series together.

Executives from NBC Sports Group, which broadcasts the Indianapolis 500 and full IndyCar schedule and the final 20 races of NASCAR’s Cup season, also has expressed interest in the concept. NBC Sports recently cross-promoted the series in a humorous commercial with Roger Penske, Blaney and Pageanud.

“That was a lot of fun and a lot of great response to it, and that’s things we couldn’t have done in the past,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said last Friday in a news conference at Laguna Seca Raceway. “I think that’s part of us leaning in at NBC in trying to grow all of motorsports, and it’s important that every form of racing gets attention, and that’s what we’re pushing.”

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles has vacillated publicly on the idea. Asked by NBC Sports last week if IndyCar was moving toward a doubleheader weekend, Miles said it was unlikely before 2022.

“It was said that there was momentum in May. In my view there was more discussion in May, more talk about it, more smoke than fire. So I think the folks at NASCAR know that we think it’s a good idea. I think as far as I can tell, they think it’s a good idea.

“So we’ll see if it can be pulled together. But it’s something that we think, if it gets more people watching motorsports, it’s well worth working on.”

However, at least one person with direct knowledge of the talks (but not authorized to discuss them publicly) told NBCSports.com that a 2021 doubleheader hadn’t been ruled out.

Friday’s exhibition run was described by Newgarden as a “gift” from sponsor ShellPennzoil (“the coolest thing all week” during his championship celebration), which also has a strong business relationship with Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Track general manager Greg Walter described his contact with IndyCar officials about a race as preliminary, “first date”-level conversations. Walter was encouraged by Newgarden’s results.

There probably would need to be changes made with Indy cars (such as removing the “turtle” curbs that cause massive damage to Cup cars as a penalty for veering off course), but Walter said Charlotte is exploring IndyCar and other series (such as IMSA, support sports cars circuits and Formula E) for its Roval layout.

“We’re open to any form of racing if it makes sense,” Walter told NBCSports.com. “So if it physically and financially makes sense, and from a fan following if it makes sense, we’re open to it. NASCAR has been our focus and continues to be our focus, but we always ask is there something else out there that fits as well.”

Frye, who has boundless contacts in NASCAR from many years as a team and sponsor executive, said Newgarden’s car “looked very natural out there, looked good. The lap times were within reason of what everyone thought it would be. So, who knows?

“There really aren’t any hurdles (to a doubleheader), necessarily. It’s just schedules. Timing, how that all works. Obviously our season ended last week. That’s something we could look at down the road, how it could fit.”

Frye also stressed that the Roval wouldn’t be the only option for a doubleheader.

Richmond, Texas and Indianapolis are other tracks that are raced by both IndyCar and NASCAR, and Newgarden certainly seems open to trying any of them.

“I think it would be really cool for the fans without a doubt,” Newgarden said. “Why would you not want to have that doubled up on a weekend? They’re just both great championships.

“I respect these guys so much, and I love keeping in touch with what they’re doing, so having a little closer access to them and vice versa for us, I think it would be a win-win for everybody.”

Long: No fans mutes Indy soundtrack, but Chase Briscoe still relishes win

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INDIANAPOLIS — Mimicking what his hero Tony Stewart twice did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chase Briscoe climbed the fence after winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the road course.

But unlike Stewart, who looked out to a sea of fans bathing him in cheers, Briscoe saw only empty gray bleachers and heard only the shouts of his crew members who joined him on the ascent.

The culmination of a historic doubleheader with the NTT IndyCar Series and the Xfinity Series also meant the end of a day — and a July 4 at that — unlike any other at the famed speedway.

No fans at NASCAR races have become common during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sight — and lack of sound — at Indy was stark.

Sunday’s Cup race will not have fans. It also will not have seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who announced Friday he and his wife have contracted the coronavirus.

Johnson says he is asymptomatic but admits he has more questions than answers about how he and his wife got the virus and when he’ll be able to return to racing. Sunday was to have been his final Cup start in a race he’s won four times.

Johnson will be missed. So will be the fans. Just as they were Saturday.

The fans provide a soundtrack to any event, even a race where engine noise dominates. There was no roar from the crowd when the command to start engines was made. No cheers for the winner when he emerged from his car in victory lane. No oohs and ahhs when the top four cars in the Xfinity race sailed down the long front straightaway into a sharp right-hand turn with two laps left, dueling for the win.

The only sound came from the engines echoing off the canyon of empty seats.

Even in the smallest settings, interactions were missed. When Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race earlier in the day, his crew, unable to be in victory lane because of protocols, stood on a stairwell 20 feet above him and clapped.

When Briscoe won, there was no family to greet him. Two years ago his father had tears seeing Briscoe drive at Indy. One could only imagine what his reaction would have been Saturday.

My family is probably crying at home,” said Briscoe, an Indiana native. “I was thinking about that the last couple of laps. That is tough. I wish they could have been here to experience it. It is something that may not ever happen again. It is definitely bittersweet to win without them here.”

If he wins again at Indy, good chance it could be with Stewart-Haas Racing. Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director, served as Briscoe’s interim crew chief because Richard Boswell was serving the final race of a four-race suspension and voiced his support for Briscoe.

“I think he is still young and has a lot to learn, but I am very, very impressed with how quick he is learning how to race these stock cars,” Zipadelli said. “I hope he is a part of Stewart-Haas for a long period of time.”

What makes Briscoe — only the second driver to win five of the first 13 races of a season in the Xfinity Series — stand out?

“He is able to dig deep,” Zipadelli said. “There are some people that when it is time to close, I see that a lot in him, he finds a little bit extra. He has a lot of confidence but isn’t getting cocky, which I love. Most of all he is just a good race car driver.”

While IndyCar had run on this course, this was new for Xfinity Series. Briscoe had prepared since February for this race, spending time weekly on the Ford simulator driving the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course. The training came through as Briscoe battled AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley for the lead late. 

Even though Haley finished second to Briscoe, he still enjoyed the afternoon.

“I have zero complaints about the Indy road course,” Haley said. “I thought it was an amazing day

“When the fans are back, I think it’s going to be better.”

Briscoe said he can’t wait for fans to be back at this track and elsewhere.

“They are the reason you celebrate and the last couple of times I didn’t really celebrate because without the fans I don’t get hyped up,” he said. “Here I was obviously excited. I wish there were fans here.”

Even so, Briscoe would still have a celebration.

A former dirt track racer, Briscoe planned to visit a dirt track Saturday night within an hour’s drive of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“My little sister has decided she wants to try to drive a race car,” Briscoe said. “At the end of the night she is going to drive a mini-sprint around there for 20 or 30 laps. I am going to head there and see a lot of my friends I don’t get to see anymore and hang out with my dad and family.”

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Justin Allgaier ready for starring role as Jimmie Johnson’s understudy

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If Sunday’s Brickyard 400 was a Broadway play, Justin Allgaier would be the understudy stepping in to fill in for the star, namely, Jimmie Johnson.

And while it may be looked at as only a fill-in role for Allgaier driving Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet due to Johnson having tested positive Friday for COVID-19, a strong run in Sunday’s race (4 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports App) could put Allgaier’s name on the list of potential replacements for Johnson, who is retiring at the end of this season.

“I would say the list for the 48 car of potential drivers is extremely long and I don’t know where I fit on that list,” Allgaier said after finishing sixth in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “For me, 100% is what I can give. I think it’s gonna be important to go out there and just do what I can do.

“And if an opportunity were to come out of that and to go somewhere, obviously I would love for that opportunity. But on the other side of that point, I have a great relationship with my team at JR Motorsports. … That’s gonna be the most important part is, just going it 100% (Sunday) and whatever happens after that happens.”

Johnson filling in for Johnson isn’t exactly a surprise. Allgaier has been Johnson’s designated backup since NASCAR resumed racing in May following a nearly three-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have had our own basically secondary line-up and that includes anyone from driver to crew chief all the way through the crew members that travel to the race track,” Johnson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, said. “There really was no extra thought that we had to put into it. This lineup was already set.

“We had all the plans in place just out of the abundance of caution that we wanted to take. And again, even before going back racing in Darlington, this has been in place. There were no extra decisions to be made. Justin has been on stand-by this whole time and has been aware that this could happen.”

For now, Allgaier is slated to replace Johnson for Sunday’s Brickyard 400. There’s also the possibility he could stay in the No. 48 for next weekend’s race at Kentucky.

Johnson must have two negative COVID-19 tests in no less than a 24-hour period and also be given clearance by his doctor before he can return behind the wheel.

By missing the Brickyard 400, which he’s won four times, Johnson also snaps a streak of 663 consecutive starts in the Cup Series dating back to his rookie campaign in 2002. It’s the longest streak of any active driver in the Cup Series.

“I didn’t expect this opportunity would come to fruition,” Allgaier said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team, the 48 team, I’ve worked with a lot of guys on that team closely. I’m excited in one aspect, but the other part of this is we’re thinking about Jimmie and his whole family. Their safety is of utmost importance.

“No matter what happens tomorrow, we want to see Jimmie get healthy and (Johnson’s wife) Chandra get healthy.  … I texted Jimmie last night and said I want to see him get healthy quick so he can get back because I want to see him back in victory lane a lot more before the end of the season.”

While Allgaier is known most for his 319 Xfinity Series starts, 11 wins and 182 top-10 finishes, the 34-year-old native of Riverton, Illinois, also has 76 starts in the Cup Series on his resume, with a career-best finish of eighth at Bristol in spring 2015.

Given his prior Cup experience, as well as working hand-in-hand with Hendrick Motorsports in various capacities such as testing over the years – team owner Rick Hendrick is also a part-owner of JR Motorsports – Allgaier is both comfortable as well as somewhat nervous of becoming the first driver to ever fill in for Johnson during Johnson’s Cup career.

“That really resonates with me as a driver when you’re already on pins and needles when you’re filling in for somebody else,” Allgaier said. “You want to make sure you’re doing everything right and give them the best finish that you can give them.

“When you’re able to do that and be comfortable, that makes a big difference, and I think that’s what’s been the best part about all of this for me.”

Allgaier considers racing in Johnson’s shoes one of the most humbling experiences of his career.

“I can’t even begin to describe it to you, to be honest with you,” Allgaier said. “The cars at HMS, any of the four cars, it’s definitely an honor to drive and to be part of that program.

“The 48, being the iconic number it is, Jimmie winning seven championships and here (at Indianapolis) four times, the guy Jimmie is and the respect he has in the sport, you top that off with the fact he’s the only driver to drive the 48 since he started his career there.”

While Johnson and Hendrick aren’t putting any undue pressure on Allgaier, he understands the gravity of the position he’s been placed in.

“If you have the opportunity to drive for Mr. Hendrick, you take it, no questions asked and try to run with that ball,” Allgaier said.

But at the same time, Allgaier isn’t going to try and drive over his head or beyond his ability just because he has such a great opportunity.

“Opportunity or not does not supersede to go out there and do the job at hand,” Allgaier said. “100% is what I have to offer. That’s what I’m going to give them tomorrow.

“101 or 110 (percent) or trying to be a hero, there’s no place for that. This isn’t what this role is about. My plan is to go out and give the 48 car the best opportunity to run at its max potential.

“In my mind, I believe that max potential is to go out and win the race tomorrow. So I’ve gotta do a really good job. … I need to make sure that I don’t put myself in bad positions, I don’t do things Jimmie wouldn’t do and being somebody different in the car, everybody in the field is going to know that.

“There are going to be some that respect that and others who are probably going to take advantage of that. You just have to know who you’re racing against and put yourself in the best position you can.

“I just have to make sure when the checkered flag falls tomorrow, I’ve given it 100% and whatever the results are, that’s just what they’re going to be.”

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Cup start time at Indianapolis: TV, stream, lineup, forecast and more for Sunday

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The Cup Series looks to start a new tradition by racing on the Fourth of July weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kevin Harvick looks to continue his strong run this season and win at this historic track for the third time in his career and second year in a row.

The Cup race is scheduled to start at 4:24 p.m. ET (Watch on NBC or the NBC Sports app).

Denny Hamlin, who beat Harvick a day after Harvick beat him at Pocono, will look to win at the Brickyard for the first time after coming close before.

Justin Allgaier drives the No. 48 car today after Jimmie Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

Here is the Cup start time at Indianapolis and other info for Sunday’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records President & CEO, will give the command to start engines at 4:13 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:24 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 8 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 1:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 3:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4:05 p.m by Pastor Mark Schuitema of College Park Church in Indianapolis. The national anthem will be performed at 4:06 p.m. by Valory Music Company recording artist Abbey Cone. Two A-10 Warthogs from the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard in Fort Wayne, Indiana, will perform the flyover.

DISTANCE: The race is 160 laps (400 miles) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 12.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 50. Stage 2 ends on Lap 100.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with the NASCAR America Pre-Race Show on NBCSN. Countdown to Green follows at 3:30 p.m. on NBCSN before coverage moves to NBC for the race. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network’s coverage will begin at 3 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: You can watch the race on NBCSports.com or on the NBC Sports app.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions with a high of 91 degrees and a 24% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Denny Hamlin won at Pocono. Kevin Harvick placed second. Erik Jones was third.

LAST RACE AT INDIANAPOLIS: Kevin Harvick won last September’s race. Joey Logano was second. Bubba Wallace placed third.

TO THE REAR: Justin Allgaier (replaces Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48)

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Jimmie Johnson uncertain how he got COVID-19

Jimmie Johnson tests positive for COVID-19

First 15 Cup races have been “eye-opening” for Christopher Bell

Indy says no need to alter barrier Brad Keselowski struck in 2019 race

Friday 5: Crew chief strategies will be key at Indianapolis 

Face masks among precautions for Bristol All-Star Race

Indy provides a treasure trove of memories for Cup drivers 

Can anybody catch Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick?

 

 

Results, standings after Indianapolis Xfinity race

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After being pushed out of the lead, Chase Briscoe roared right back in the closing laps to win Saturday’s inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s Briscoe’s fifth win of the season. He predicted in the preseason that he would win eight races in 2020. He’s now just three wins away from that goal.

Justin Haley finished second, followed by Noah Gragson, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric.

Click here for results

Ranked No. 1, Briscoe opened his lead on Noah Gragson to 21 points in the driver standings and a 55-point edge over third-ranked Ross Chastain.

Updated Xfinity driver points after Indy

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