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Roger Penske approves of shorter NASCAR schedule, Cup-IndyCar doubleheaders

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The Captain has spoken.

Roger Penske, one of two owners to field cars in both NASCAR and IndyCar, would like to see the two worlds merge for doubleheader weekends between the Cup Series and IndyCar.

In an appearance Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” Penske discussed the possibility of a doubleheader in relation to also shortening the NASCAR schedule.

“I would love to (see) us run on the same weekend,” Penske said. “It would be fun to fans to see the difference of the IndyCars and also the NASCAR cars. … We’re going to have to disrupt some of this as we go forward. That might be one of the things to do.”

Penske’s words come with the weight of being the defending Cup championship owner and the reigning Indy 500 winning owner, which resulted in two trips to the White House since April. Team Penske is also coming off Joey Logano‘s win Monday in the Cup race at Michigan.

The discussion of potential a Cup-IndyCar doubleheader has been prevalent since May, with Cup drivers expressing their support of it along with IndyCar President Jay Frye, who said it “would be a game-changer in a good way.”

But earlier this month IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said that while he’s “not opposed” to it, he called the prospect a “long shot.”

Said Penske, “We’re going to talk about two races on one weekend, because one of the things we have to do is take a look at this (NASCAR) schedule and the future because when you think about 36-38 weekends, if we can take five or six of those and make those doubleheaders and let our guys go home.”

NASCAR is experimenting with a doubleheader weekend next year by holding two Cup races at Pocono Raceway June 27-28.

“We do that in Supercars in Australia, we run Saturday and Sunday, typically a smaller race on Saturday and the big event on Sunday and we have seven crew members with each car, plus a couple of engineers and a team leader,” Penske said. “We do that with one car at the track.”

Penske sees financial and personal benefits to tightening up a schedule that runs from February to November.

“It can be done and again I think that’s something we’ve got to look at from cost perspective,” Penske said. “From a personal perspective I think we’ve got to think about the life these guys have on the road and what we need to make them be home more. Those are things that I know that (NASCAR President) Steve Phelps and certainly (CEO and Chairman) Jim France understands.

“And we’re going to see changes probably in the rules, we’re going to see changes in the schedule, I think we’ve got to tie it together with our media partners … and say ‘What’s better? How can we make this sport better?’ People maybe want to see shorter events. People’s timeline that they have to be able to watch some of these events, is it three hours? Is it an hour-and-a-half? What gives us the best results from a commercial perspective as far as I’m concerned.”

 

Report: IndyCar CEO calls IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader a ‘long shot’

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Mark Miles characterized the idea of a race weekend featuring the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NTT IndyCar Series at the same track a “longshot,” according to The Indianapolis Star.

Miles is CEO of Hulman & Company, which oversees the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

While Miles said he’s “not opposed” to such a weekend, he told The Indianapolis Star: I don’t know if I feel like there is a lot of momentum (behind it). It’s certainly not a new idea. I haven’t had any direct conversations with (NASCAR) about it recently, so we’re not any closer to getting it done than we were previously.

“I think making it happen is a bit of a long shot.”

Talk picked up last month about the idea of Cup and IndyCar running at the same track on the same weekend.

Jay Frye, IndyCar president, said last month that he would be a “huge supporter” of an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader weekend.

“It could be a cool American motorsports extravaganza-kind of weekend,” said Frye, who was a former Cup team executive before moving to IndyCar. “We’ve talked about we’d run Saturday night and that Cup stays in its normal spot on Sunday. There are a lot of crossovers with manufacturers and amongst teams. We’ve talked about the friendships we have with them.

“I think it would be a game-changer in a good way. It’s not something you do every week. If you did it once or twice a year. You have to do it one time first. See how it goes. There would be certain tracks we would go to that would fit. At end of day, why not try it? It’s good for NBC, good for IndyCar and good for NASCAR.”

IndyCar driver Graham Rahal is all for such a doubleheader.

“We have to all help each other grow,” Rahal said on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Doing these joint events that only certain tracks can do are huge. We have to do it. We have to build our sports together. To do it independently, yeah, we might make ground here or there, but ultimately we’ll never make enough.”

There is support from some in the NASCAR garage for a weekend at the same track with the IndyCar Series.

“I think it’d be great,” Denny Hamlin said. “I mean I think that sometimes our fans are not the same and so it would be an opportunity to introduce each other. I’ve never been to an IndyCar race before, so it would be an opportunity for me to kind of see it up close and personal and I wouldn’t mind wandering around the garages and seeing how they do things.”

Miles scoffed at the notion of conducting a third IndyCar race at Indy, according to The Indianapolis Star. He also made clear that neither the IndyCar Grand Prix nor Indianapolis 500 would be interested in sharing their weekends with NASCAR.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO and President Marcus Smith said he is aware of the topic but “I wouldn’t say it’s on my top 10 list at this point. But we’re certainly open for discussions because we like to do things that are different and fun. So who knows? Our schedule for NASCAR is set for next year. I’m sure if it’s interesting to IndyCar after they finish the Indy 500 then they’ll want to talk about it.”

SMI owns such tracks as Texas Motor Speedway, which hosts the IndyCar Series this weekend. NBCSN has coverage of the race beginning at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

 

 

The Furniture Row Racing veteran who stayed in Denver … and in racing

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Furniture Row Racing closed its doors after the 2018 season, engineer Pete Craik was facing the same dilemma as a few dozen of his co-workers.

How to remain a resident of Colorado but also continue a full-time career in a national racing series?

There were no shortage of offers to stay in the NASCAR Cup Series, including following crew chief Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing, but all would have required a relocation to North Carolina.

Having settled in Denver, Craik and his new wife, Abby (whom he met after moving to Colorado four years ago), decided they wanted to stay.

He found empathy in the decision from Pearn (who jrecently discussed his own reservations over leaving Colorado in an interview with The Athletic).

“Cole said, ‘That’s fair enough. We really want you (at Gibbs), but I get it,’” Craik said. “I just decided initially to say unless I can stay here, I’ll figure something else out.”

The Australian managed a good compromise.

Craik, who came to America in 2012 to work in the NTT IndyCar Series for three seasons before his NASCAR stint, joined Ed Carpenter Racing in January.

He still lives in Denver, staying in touch with ECR team members in Indianapolis daily through instant messaging programs. He travels the 18-race IndyCar circuit and visits the shop once a month.

Pete Craik was the race engineer on Ed Carpenter’s sixth-place Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500.

There’s a parallel to the relationship that Furniture Row Racing had with top engineer Jeff Curtis, who worked remotely from the Charlotte area while the team’s headquarters were in Colorado.

“It’s not like you’re out of the loop at all,” Craik said while standing outside his team’s Gasoline Alley garage stall four days before the Indianapolis 500 last month. “It’s just you’re either in the office here or my office at home.”

Craik is the race engineer on the No. 20, which qualified second and finished sixth in the Indy 500 with Ed Carpenter (who will race the Dallara-Chevrolet this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway).

“I really like this series,” said Craik, who spent three seasons at Andretti Autosport before moving to NASCAR with Furniture Row in 2015. “The cars are good. It’s competitive. I’ve always said that it pains me that it’s not more popular, because I think it’s a great series. It was an easy decision once I spoke to (ECR). It’s a good team, and hopefully I can try to contribute something to that.”

Craik is one of a few Furniture Row Racing veterans who joined IndyCar teams since last year. A few others remained in Denver to work at team owner Barney Visser’s machine shop. But many naturally decamped for North Carolina.

“Honestly I don’t know that many people in Denver anymore because they all moved,” Craik said. “I didn’t have time to go and make friends because we all had each other.”

The camaraderie was a hallmark of the success for Truex’s No. 78, which won the 2017 championship and made the title round in three of four seasons. Craik said a key to the tight-knit group’s success was putting the finishing touches on chassis supplied by other teams (first Richard Childress Racing, then JGR).

“The cakes were baked, and we were putting icing on the cake,” Craik said. “We obviously were heavily sim based and relied on that a lot. We just had a good group. We just wanted to win. I think everybody does, but we were a bit of a ragtag group of guys.

“We had a lot of fun. We just got along well. Everybody was pushing in the same direction. There wasn’t a bad egg amongst them.”

He remains in touch with many of them. Team owner Barney Visser attended a Denver wedding reception in January for Craik (he was married in Australia last December to Abby, who is pictured above during a visit to IMS).

“Barney was putting in a lot of his own money, having health issues and wanted to spend more time with his family, so I get it,” Craik said about Visser’s decision to walk away from NASCAR. “Hey, I wouldn’t want to spend that money myself, so I totally get it.

“It was a good time, but the time’s over. You’re not going to get it back, so there’s no point in looking back on it and wishing it still was.”

The bonds from that team remain strong, though, particularly with Pearn and James Small, a fellow Australian who helped recruit Craik to Furniture Row but went to the No. 19 this season.

“We all still get along,” Craik said. “There’s no hard feelings about it at all. I think everybody’s ended up in good positions otherwise, whether it’s in Colorado not in racing, or in racing. Some people didn’t want to move, but it ended up that way. I feel really fortunate I didn’t have to move, and I get reminded of that by James and Cole every day.

“They text me and are like, ‘Man, you really got a good deal.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did.’ ”

NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader? ‘Bring it on’ say some drivers

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CONCORD, N.C. — What do NASCAR drivers think about the prospect of their world colliding with IndyCar’s in a hypothetical doubleheader weekend, with their top series competing at the same track?

The idea of a doubleheader has been part of the conversation this week in Indianapolis, where the Indy 500 preceded tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

At least three NASCAR drivers would embrace it with open arms.

“Sure, bring it on,” Daniel Hemric told NBC Sports. “I have nothing against it. Obviously, Chevrolet does a lot for our garage, as well as that side of it. I think it would be cool.”

Denny Hamlin echoed Hemric’s sentiment about the possible mixing of the two different motorsports circuses.

“I think it’d be great,” Hamlin said. “I mean I think that sometimes our fans are not the same and so it would be an opportunity to introduce each other. I’ve never been to an IndyCar race before, so it would be an opportunity for me to kind of see it up close and personal and I wouldn’t mind wandering around the garages and seeing how they do things.”

Former Team Penske driver Justin Allgaier experienced the NASCAR-IndyCar overlap when he competed for the team in the Xfinity Series. Allgaier is “all for” a doubleheader.

“When I was at Penske, being able to go through the IndyCar shop, I’ve made a lot of friends over there,” Allgaier said. “The technology in those cars are fantastic. I love watching IndyCar races. I’m hopeful that we can make it happen.

But Allgaier admitted “there’s a lot of challenges” facing the two sanctioning bodies.

“There’s safety, (NASCAR’s) AMR team vs (IndyCar’s) Holmatro team,” Allgaier said. “The difference in tires. Having the different rubber compounds. For us it doesn’t affect us as much, but it affects them a lot. There’s a lot of question marks. You know what, if any two series can make it happen, I really firmly believes it’s NASCAR and IndyCar. It’d be great to have a doubleheader.”

With NASCAR expected to make overhauls to its schedule in the coming years, the possibility of the two different racing disciplines’ top series coming together for a weekend under one tent has picked up momentum.

IndyCar president Jay Frye has said he would be a “huge supporter” of an IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader weekend.

“It could be a cool American motorsports extravaganza-kind of weekend,” Frye said. “We’ve talked about we’d run a Saturday night, and that Cup stays in its normal spot on Sunday. There are a lot of crossovers with manufacturers and amongst teams. We’ve talked about the friendships we have with them.”

The two worlds already get a small taste of one another each June when IndyCar and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series share Texas Motor Speedway for a weekend. There’ll be a second IndyCar-Trucks weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway starting next year.

Other tracks NASCAR and IndyCar compete on at different times of year include Iowa Speedway (Xfinity and Trucks), Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road America (Xfinity), Mid-Ohio (Xfinity) and Pocono Raceway.

Texas and Charlotte Motor Speedway are among the eight tracks that Cup visits that are owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc.

SMI CEO and President Marcus Smith said he was aware the topic had come up earlier in the week.

“I wouldn’t say it’s on my top 10 list at this point,” Smith told NBC Sports and the Athletic prior to the Coca-Cola 600. “But we’re certainly open for discussions because we like to do things that are different and fun. So who knows? Our schedule for NASCAR is set for next year. I’m sure if it’s interesting to IndyCar after they finish the Indy 500 then they’ll want to talk about it.”

Which of his eight tracks would best fit the bill for a doubleheader?

“We have a lot of tracks that could run IndyCar,” Smith said. “I don’t know off the top of my head where it’s best suited. People have talked about maybe running the Roval in the fall as a doubleheader. There’s a lot of logistics that need to be worked out. Our entire business is a logistics business. We’re in the entertainment business, but in order to do that we’ve got thousands upon thousands of items that need to be to kind of checked off the list. The details, the space, the timing. So many things that come to my mind. We’ll just have to look and see. Certainly, all of our tracks except Bristol could host.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes Indy 500 should never have guaranteed starting positions

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INDIANAPOLIS – Like many viewers watching last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 “Bump Day” on NBC, former NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was captivated by the drama.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedule

He also believes INDYCAR should not follow NASCAR’s path of “Chartered Teams” locking up positions in the major races; such as the Daytona 500. That has taken away the excitement and drama of the Daytona Duels.

“Not trying to get myself in the weeds here, but I think Indy could look at the history of NASCAR and how it has changed the excitement for some of the Duels and qualifying,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports.com. “I would not go in that direction. If I was in control of things, I would not pull those levers to have guaranteed spots. The thrill of Bump Day and the battle for the final row, increased the value of Sunday and viewership for Sunday. It taught people about other drivers and teams. We don’t learn those things if you don’t see them going through that battle and experience.

“I thought it was a tremendous win for the people that want to keep things at Indy as they are.”

Earnhardt, who is part of NBC’s crew for Sunday’s telecast of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, believes the way it all played out created a storyline that enhances the interest in the 500-Mile Race.

“I experienced the drama before with Bump Day that has happened here in this race in the past, but I thought it was symbolic with the conversation going on about guaranteed spots,” Earnhardt said. “For the folks who are the traditionalists who believe you have to earn your way in, it was a great day for those folks and their argument. Fernando Alonso and how that story played out and his reaction to not making it, I thought he handled it like the champion he is. All of that was interesting.

“The little teams beating the big teams was pretty cool. It created some really exciting stuff and did nothing but build excitement in the race.

“Even though Alonso is not in the race, I’m just as interested, or more interested, than I was before. Them not being in the race didn’t change it for me. If anything, that whole drama and how it played out made me more excited to see the event.”

Earnhardt is attending his first Indianapolis 500 in person. He will be part of NBC’s Indianapolis 500 Pre-race show along with Mike Tirico and 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt will also drive the Pace Car to lead the 33-car starting lineup to the green flag to start the 103rdIndianapolis 500. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.