Graham Rahal

Roger Penske: ‘I think you’re going to see more’ NASCAR, IndyCar doubleheaders

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Roger Penske, the owner of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, believes “you’re going to see more” NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheaders in the future.

Penske’s comments Thursday on NBCSN’s “Lunch Talk Live” represent just how quickly the idea of doubleheaders with NASCAR and IndyCar has taken hold over the last two years, resulting in the first doubleheader scheduled for July.

In November 2018, NASCAR President Steve Phelps thought the prospect of an IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader “would be a good show. We would have to figure out how that works.”

Just last year, the idea of a doubleheader between the NASCAR Cup Series and IndyCar was gaining steam, but it was considered a “long shot” by IndyCar CEO Mark Miles in June.

Things have escalated in the last four months.

In January, Penske officially bought IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two months later, both NASCAR and IndyCar’s seasons were suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, causing both series to postpone and rescheduled races.

That long shot has turned into a reality, with Xfinity Series and IndyCar races now scheduled for the IMS road course on July 4, followed by the Brickyard 400 on July 5.

“I’ve known (NASCAR CEO and Chairman) Jim France and the France family for a long time, we were partners in fact at one point when we built (Auto Club Speedway),” Penske told Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.”

“So I reached out Steve Phelps and to Jim to talk about what we could do to potentially make these weekends better. We came up with this idea of running an IndyCar race on the Brickyard weekend, and I think you’re going to see more of that. I think it’s a fan experience, and I think it will be very, very good from a TV perspective to see the different disciplines. I would hope that this is just the start of things that we can do together as we go into 2020 and beyond.

“Obviously, NASCAR’s got a great fanbase and we’d love to be with them on certain weekends and vice versa. We need to be sure that we can bring motorsports back to where it was prior to this pandemic and I think that’s job one from a standpoint of not only NASCAR but IndyCar and our team.”

In late March, IndyCar driver Graham Rahal said the July doubleheader is “huge.”

“I’ve been a big proponent of it,” Rahal said. “IndyCar and NASCAR would be a great combination. It’s mutually beneficial for both to do this and for the health of motorsports.

Added Rahal: “From a TV perspective, to combine those two over a weekend is huge. I think it’s a great opportunity.”

Mayhem Monday kicks off NBCSN’s Racing Week in America

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Get ready for wild action today as NBCSN begins Racing Week in America with “Mayhem Monday,” a collection of past races that feature some of the most intense battles across NASCAR, IndyCar, Supercross and American Flat Track.

Among the races on today’s schedule: The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race that saw Kyle Busch win in overtime and Chase Elliott confront Denny Hamlin for costing him the victory. Two years earlier at Martinsville, Jeff Gordon earned his final win after Matt Kenseth put his feud with Joey Logano to rest.

“Mayhem Monday” also has the 2015 INDYCAR race from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which produced a record 80 lead changes before Graham Rahal won.

The day begins with the 2019 Bristol Cup playoff race that saw 23 lead changes, eight cautions and Denny Hamlin pass Matt DiBenedetto late to win. You can catch the action online here.

 

COVERAGE TIME (ET) NETWORK
NASCAR – Bristol Motor Speedway 2019 1 p.m. NBCSN
INDYCAR – Auto Club Speedway 2015 3 p.m. NBCSN
NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge – Rockingham 7 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Martinsville Speedway 2017 8 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Martinsville Speedway 2015 10 p.m. NBCSN
Supercross – Anaheim #2 2020 12 a.m. NBCSN
American Flat Track – Buffalo Chip TT 2019 2 a.m. NBCSN

Has virtual racing given Jimmie Johnson a head start on IndyCar?

Jimmie Johnson
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NTT IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal believes Jimmie Johnson will be competing in a limited number of IndyCar races next season once his full-time NASCAR Cup career concludes at the end of this season.

Johnson joins the full field of NTT IndyCar Series drivers for the second week in a row Saturday at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

“I think it’s been great to have Jimmie cross over,” Rahal said Friday in answering a question posed by NBCSports.com. “I think Jimmie is a tremendous guy who is so well-respected in our sport. To have him come and race at Watkins Glen last week was big. He will be better at Barber than Watkins because he practiced a lot. Jimmie was on the sim a ton. He was expecting to test there in April with Robbie Wickens’ team (Arrow McLaren SP). I know he spent a ton of time on the sim.”

Click here for the full story on MotorSports Talk.

NBC Sports’ Racing Week in America begins April 6

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Beginning April 6, NBC Sports will present Racing Week in America on NBCSN, providing racing fans with a chance to relive the most thrilling motorsports moments from the past two decades on NBC and NBCSN.

Featuring races from NASCAR, INDYCAR, IMSA, Supercross and other series, Racing Week in America will have a specific theme for each day, starting with “Mayhem Monday” on April 6. NBC Sports will air 12 hours of motorsports coverage (1 p.m.-3 a.m. ET) Monday-Thursday and seven hours (8 p.m.-3 a.m. ET) on Friday-Saturday. Sunday’s coverage airs 2-4 p.m. ET and 10:30 p.m.-3 a.m. ET. Below is each day’s highlighted content throughout the week:

  • Monday, April 6: “Mayhem Monday”
  • Tuesday, April 7: “Twists and Turns Tuesday”
  • Wednesday, April 8: “WednesDale”
  • Thursday, April 9: “Best at the Brickyard”
  • Friday, April 10: “Daytona Speed Day”
  • Saturday, April 11: “Championship Saturday”
  • Sunday, April 12: “Sunday Funday”

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

In addition, NASCAR America will present the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge from Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin headline a group of 18 drivers competing at virtual versions of iconic race tracks across America.

 

MONDAY, APRIL 6 – MAYHEM MONDAY

“Mayhem Monday” will feature some of the most intense battles across NASCAR, INDYCAR, Supercross, and American Flat Track, including two classics from Martinsville Speedway. The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race saw Kyle Busch win in overtime and Chase Elliott confront Denny Hamlin for costing him the victory. Two years earlier at Martinsville, Jeff Gordon earned his final win after Matt Kenseth put his feud with Joey Logano to rest. “Mayhem Monday” also has the 2015 INDYCAR race from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which produced a record 80 lead changes before Graham Rahal finally won out.

COVERAGE TIME (ET) NETWORK
NASCAR – Bristol Motor Speedway 2019 1 p.m. NBCSN
INDYCAR – Auto Club Speedway 2015 3 p.m. NBCSN
NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge – Rockingham 7 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Martinsville Speedway 2017 8 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Martinsville Speedway 2015 10 p.m. NBCSN
Supercross – Anaheim #2 2020 12 a.m. NBCSN
American Flat Track – Buffalo Chip TT 2019 2 a.m. NBCSN

 

TUESDAY, APRIL 7 – TWISTS AND TURNS TUESDAY

From city streets to massive dirt jumps, NBCSN will showcase the best twists and turns that motorsports have to offer starting Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. “Twists and Turns Tuesday” includes the NASCAR Cup Series’ thrilling first race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL; a return to INDYCAR Victory Lane for NBC Sports’ own James Hinchcliffe at iconic Long Beach; and the closest finish in Supercross history from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

COVERAGE TIME (ET) NETWORK
IMSA – Long Beach 2019 1 p.m. NBCSN
INDYCAR – Long Beach 2017 3 p.m. NBCSN
NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge – Lucas Oil Raceway 7 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL 2018 8 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Watkins Glen 2017 10 p.m. NBCSN
Supercross – Arlington 2019 12 a.m. NBCSN
Monster Jam World Finals 2019 2 a.m. NBCSN

 

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8 – WEDNESDALE

NBC Sports presents a full day dedicated to motorsports icon and NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt. Jr. From his emotional victory at Daytona in 2001 to making “Slide Job!” go viral in his broadcasting debut at Chicago in 2018, fans will see highlights from his memorable career, as well as an episode of his popular podcast/TV show, The Dale Jr. Download.

COVERAGE TIME (ET) NETWORK
NASCAR – Talladega Superspeedway 2019 1 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Chicagoland Speedway 2018 3 p.m. NBCSN
NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge – Myrtle Beach 7 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Daytona International Speedway, July 2001 8 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Talladega Superspeedway 2017 10 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Martinsville Speedway 2005 12 a.m. NBCSN
The Dale Jr. Download 2 a.m. NBCSN

 

THURSDAY, APRIL 9 – BEST AT THE BRICKYARD

Thursday takes a look back on NBC Sports’ exciting history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, highlighted by Simon Pagenaud’s win last May in NBC Sports’ first-ever Indianapolis 500 broadcast. Also included are emotional Brickyard 400 wins for Indiana native Tony Stewart and transplant Jeff Gordon, and Drive Like Andretti, NBC Sports’ captivating documentary on the life and times of racing icon Mario Andretti.

COVERAGE TIME (ET) NETWORK
INDYCAR – Grand Prix of Indianapolis 2019 1 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – 2005 Brickyard 400 3 p.m. NBCSN
NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge Championship – Martinsville 7 p.m. NBCSN
INDYCAR – 103rd Indianapolis 500 (2019) 8 p.m. NBCSN
Drive Like Andretti 11 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – 2004 Brickyard 400 12 a.m. NBCSN
100th Indy 500 Special 2 a.m. NBCSN

 

FRIDAY, APRIL 10 – DAYTONA SPEED DAY

Whether they’re on two or four wheels, legends are made at Daytona International Speedway. On Friday, NBCSN focuses on ‘The World Center of Racing’ with exciting races from NASCAR and Supercross, plus highlights from this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona – better known as the Rolex 24.

EVENT TIME (ET) NETWORK
NASCAR – 2004 Daytona 500 8 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR – Daytona International Speedway, July 2001 10 p.m. NBCSN
2020 Daytona Supercross 12 a.m. NBCSN
IMSA – 2020 Rolex 24 2 a.m. NBCSN

 

SATURDAY, APRIL 11 – CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY

It’s what every driver works for. On Saturday, NBCSN gives fans some of the best championship moments, starting at 8 p.m. ET. The day’s schedule includes Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying 7th NASCAR Cup Series title in 2016; Kurt Busch’s stirring rally to become the first champion of the NASCAR Playoff era in 2004; and Scott Dixon’s triumph over Juan Pablo Montoya by the slimmest of margins to win the 2015 INDYCAR crown.

EVENT TIME (ET) NETWORK
NASCAR Cup Series Championship – Miami 2016 8 p.m. NBCSN
INDYCAR Championship – Sonoma 2015 10 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR Cup Series Championship – Miami 2004 12 a.m. NBCSN
American Flat Track – Meadowlands 2018 2 a.m. NBCSN

 

SUNDAY, APRIL 12 – SUNDAY FUNDAY

Above all else, racing is fun – and that’s what the final day of Racing Week in America is about. “Sunday Funday” has the incredible 2019 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race from Talladega (won by Ryan Blaney over Ryan Newman by .007 of a second), as well as INDYCAR’s Texas thriller from 2016, where four drivers – Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud – went wheel-to-wheel in a pulse-pounding dash to the checkered flag.

EVENT TIME (ET) NETWORK
NASCAR – Talladega Superspeedway 2019 10:30 p.m. NBCSN
INDYCAR – Texas Motor Speedway 2016 12:30 a.m. NBCSN
Racing Roots – Kyle Larson 2:30 a.m. NBCSN

Friday 5: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing

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Long gone but never forgotten, North Wilkesboro Speedway will make a comeback.

On iRacing.

Steve Myers, executive vice president and executive producer at iRacing, told NBC Sports that “we’re on track to get (North Wilkesboro) released the first week of June.”

No other long lost track is as revered among NASCAR fans as the .625-mile speedway where the frontstretch went downhill into Turns 1 and 2 and the backstretch went uphill into Turns 3 and 4.

NASCAR ran 93 Cup races there from 1949 — when it was the finale in the inaugural season of NASCAR — to 1996. Hall of Famer Junior Johnson was the local favorite. Richard Petty and Bobby Allison had an epic door-banging battle in 1972. Ricky Rudd and Dale Earnhardt tangled on the last lap in 1989 and crashed, leading Rudd to hide in the back seat of a passenger car to escape the wrath of fans. Jeff Gordon won the final Cup race there in 1996.

The track was revived in 2010 and held a few races. Its final race was 2011. 

North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1966. Jim Paschal won the pole and the race. David Pearson started second and finished third. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

In December, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others helped clean the surface so the track could be scanned and added to iRacing’s sim racing program.

“There were certainly sections of the track that were much worse condition than could possibly be raced on,” Myers said. “Turns 3 and 4, the pavement was sliding. You could see it was buckling in on a section of the track … from sitting unused for so many years.

“Going into Turn 1, the drainage coming out from underneath the grandstands kind of ran across the track and because it was downhill, it was funneling down the front straight pit wall and right along into Turn 1 and collecting in the apron at the exit of the pits. You could tell there (had been) a lot of water there because the pavement started peeling up along that wall. So those things are kind of the obstacles that we have in the production process of trying to figure out how to smooth those things out and do the best we can.

“The data, we looked through it already, we’re pretty far along on the development of the track. It actually looks pretty good.”

That’s not the only track iRacing is working on to give race fans. They are working to do a version of Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville.

“Everyone that has kind of been clamoring for that, I think, is going to be excited about that,” Myers said.

2. Offseason iRacing?

OK, it was one event under extraordinary times where there were no other live sporting events on TV at time when normally there would have been NCAA basketball tournament games, NBA and NHL contests, among other sports, but the excitement (and viewership) for last weekend’s debut of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series has raised the question of if this is something that could be done in NASCAR’s offseason.

With NASCAR looking to end future seasons earlier and possibly making the offseason longer, a question was posed on social media if iRacing with Cup drivers would be a good offseason element for the sport and its fans.

Tim Clark, NASCAR senior vice president and chief digital officer, told NBC Sports this week that “anything is possible, (but) I do think it’s probably early to think about that now.

“I think we’re in a unique position in that we’ve got not only sim racers like you see in the (eNascar) Coca-Cola (iRacing) Series but also professional drivers that are able to do this at a high level,” Clark said. “What that does, I think it gives us some flexibility to determine what we’re going to do with these platforms and the timing. I think we want to strike the balance between having some opportunities to do more in this space but also being cognizant enough to not oversaturate.”

Should there be something in the offseason, it would face obstacles. Many drivers typically take vacations after the season. With the holidays of December, that makes it more challenging.

Now, if there was an interest in a short series of offseason races, January could be the time. Sundays could prove difficult because of NFL playoff games. So maybe a midweek event? Still that would face competition from other pro and college sports. And of course, the biggest question is if people will still want this after sports resume throughout the calendar.

3. IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheaders

Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s announcement Thursday that it was moving its IndyCar GMR Grand Prix from May 9 to July 4, puts it on the same day as the Xfinity race there, also on the road course, and a day before the Cup race on the oval.

IndyCar and NASCAR doubleheaders have been discussed often in the last year and Josef Newgarden ran six laps in an IndyCar on the Charlotte Roval in September. Now fans will have the chance to see the NTT IndyCar Series and NASCAR’s top two series at the same facility on the same weekend.

Josef Newgarden drove demonstration laps Sept. 27, 2019 at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval. (Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., which owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series, explained the move and what it could mean for the future.

“It’s not like we had a plan in place,” Miles said Thursday in a conference call with reporters. “It’s something that comes up. It’s been clear for a long time that both series, under the right circumstances, thought it could be a good thing for the sport and for each of our series.

“The spirits have always been willing. It hasn’t necessarily always been the highest priority, but this just sort of created the opportunity of here’s an opportunity, let’s go for it and as has been said there wasn’t much hesitation.”

IndyCar driver Graham Rahal expressed his feelings with running at Indy with NASCAR and the possibility of future doubleheaders with NASCAR.

“I’m extremely excited to run with NASCAR,” Rahal said in a social media video. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our sport, for their sport to come together. Opportunity maybe for some doubles to be done, which we’ll look into and things like that. But I do think that’s really good and it’s exciting for all of us to go off and do that together.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway also announced Thursday that the Indianapolis 500 would move from May 24 to Aug. 23.

4. What to do?

With shops closed or running with a limited crew because of no racing until May 9 at the earliest for Cup organizations, teams are trying to figure out what to do next.

“What became very apparent to me about two Mondays ago is after Atlanta is that you could not make a long-range plan,” Philippe Lopez, general manager of Richard Petty Motorsports, told NBC Sports. “Because I did. I did it on Tuesday. I redid it on Wednesday. Then on Friday, I said, ‘You know what, it’s impossible. We’ve never gone through this.’ ”

RPM driver Bubba Wallace with team owner Richard Petty earlier this season. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lopez said the RPM shop was closed this week and was closed part of the previous week.

“The biggest thing we’ve told (employees) that right now this is about them and their families and we wanted them to be home and be safe. We have continued to pay our employees and not cutting anything yet.

“They know, obviously if this goes on for much longer, we can’t afford to stay at that rate and that pace. There are, fortunately, some teams that can but we’re, unfortunately, not one of those.”

Lopez said that he is reaching out to employees each Friday to give them the plan for the coming week.

“The biggest thing was,” he said, “is we’re all going to get through this together.” 

He said a group text for employees has been “really heartwarming to see how they are taking care of each other. It’s just a good bunch. Everyone is taking care of each other right now. I told them to not worry about the racing part. We can build cars in two weeks.”

5. Long wait

There are certainly bigger issues in the world with COVID-19 infecting more people in the U.S. than any other country and the demand for medical supplies.

While racing, along with all sports, waits to resume, there have been many stories that have intrigued me. One is Jesse Little.

The 22-year-old senior at UNC Charlotte spent the previous five seasons trying to make it in NASCAR’s Truck Series but never competing in half the races any of those season. His was a case of a driver seeking work his way into a full-time ride.

He got that chance this season in the Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports and after four races, he, like everyone else, waits for when sports can return.

Jesse Little is in his first season in the Xfinity Series. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Little understands his plight does not compare to others who are suffering.

He also understands that this pause is just part of a journey he has gone through to become a full-time racer.

“I’ve learned to expect nothing and be prepared to react to everything,” Little told NBC Sports.

The Xfinity Series is not scheduled to return to racing until May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, meaning teams would go 11 weeks between races. He’s gone months between starts in his Truck career, which has seen him run between four and nine races since 2015.

He admits there have been times when his career could have ended because of the lack of rides.

“Like a lot of drivers in my position, there were always crests and there were troughs,” said Little, whose best finish this season was 14th at Las Vegas. “I think at the end of 2017 when I ran only four Truck races that year and my last race I crashed and was, like ‘OK this might be it. Luckily, I’m going to school full-time who knows.’

“We were fortunate enough to be able to make the investment and go racing and bring back some people I had great chemistry with and had good notebook and that’s when I had my most successful year in Trucks in 2018. So in the span of six months, I went from thinking I was pretty much done to having my best career finishes and leading laps.”

And it led to him getting a full-time ride this season.

“I’m fortunate to have the support system I do,” said Little, the son of former NASCAR driver Chad Little, of family and friends. “If it wasn’t for them, without a doubt, I probably would have said, ‘All right this racing stuff didn’t work out. I played my cards.’ “They forced me to continue down the path and in doing so, each step … I’ve been given chances and I’ve seen personally that I believe I have what it takes and I’m confident enough in myself. It’s proved to me and I think to the people I want to prove, I think I deserve a shot at showcasing the potential I have. Each one of those things has given me the next step to readjust and get to that next spot.”

While he waits to race, he keeps busy with school work.

“The week heading into Atlanta I was stressing a lot because the week going into Homestead was my midterms and I was swapped absolutely with school,” said Little, whose major is management information systems. “The week after my midterms was my senior project. Literally racing got put on hold right when I needed to focus on my two classes at school the most. That’s what I’m taking up my time and I’m able to focus on my school stuff.”

Even with that, he’s still doing his race prep work from exercising and studying race film.

“I want to be as prepared as I can,” he said about when racing returns.

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