Here's what a NASCAR test driver said you can expect from the new Xfinity road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard this summer. Indianapolis Star
The roadmap has been laid for IndyCar’s return. Now – outside of praying for better weather than the rain that’s plagued the Carolinas for the past several weeks – all that’s left is execution.
Once two separate American motorsports entities seemingly dueling in an unspoken battle, NASCAR and IndyCar have banded together in recent months – first by design under Roger Penske’s new regime, then by necessity with the entire world of motorsports reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
All of a sudden, two series realized that they were incredibly like-minded, evident in the similarities of each other’s plans to facilitate a return to on-track action, and that fact sits as a promising beacon as American open-wheel racing competition returns after a nearly nine-month layoff.
“We couldn’t be prouder of what (NASCAR) has done and how they’ve done it,” said IndyCar president Jay Frye of NASCAR’s first five races since their return at Darlington May 17. “So that gives us confidence going into this weekend, knowing that the hybrid piece of our place is intact and should work fine.
"Strategy is a commodity, but execution is an art. We have to go out and execute this plan this weekend."
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Frye and Penske Entertainment Corp. CEO Mark Miles were clear to note that IndyCar’s playbook of rules for Saturday’s one-day show at Texas Motor Speedway – which veteran driver Tony Kanaan said Monday is a “35-page document” – isn’t a carbon copy of NASCAR’s, even when considering just the off-track activity.
But TMS president Eddie Gossage said back in May that even at the early stages, he’d been privy to the details in both series’ return plans that, at the outset, were created independently. And when both series put their pencils down and compared notes, they were, remarkably, largely the same.
And in recent weeks, little has changed – even with NASCAR’s five-race return head-start now complete.
“Nothing’s really cropped up where (NASCAR) felt like they had gotten something wrong or needed something to be improved upon,” said Gossage, who said he’s had a couple members in attendance at recent NASCAR races to take notes. “Nothing’s been learned like ‘Boy, they missed this, and we need to make sure we get it’ cause they did a great job with it.
“It just confirms the plan is solid, and everyone feels good about it.”
Gossage continued, admitting his confidence entering Saturday stems, in-part, from the assurance that in the midst of uncertain times, an unprecedented race day model had largely confirmed as solid nearly a half-dozen times.
“It’s certainly easier not to be the first one, the test monkey, so to speak,” he said. “It’s less stressful to say the least.”
The stress, if any, will likely come from the unpredictability of temperature tests that will greet all drivers, as well as team, series, track and media personnel early and often come Saturday. Those flying down on one of the several charter planes from the Indianapolis hub will be screened before and after takeoff, as well as upon entry to TMS. Individuals with a temperature above 100 degrees – a guideline IndyCar adopted from the state of Texas, rather than the CDC’s 100.4 – will be evaluated further.
But if that issue arises before they step onto the plane – drivers included – they’ll likely be unable to travel to the race, even while the series uses multiple extra planes to help spread folks out to allow for social distancing.
Once on the grounds, IndyCar has adopted a handful of guidelines specific to their own one-day event: separating teams into Texas’ two 64-bay garages based on engine manufacturer to better-insulate Honda and Chevy reps, assigning pit positions by 2019 team points (with team entries grouped together) and extending pit boxes to 45 feet from 40 to better promote social distancing across the 24 pit crews.
Additionally, teams will be allowed a maximum of 20 personnel on the track grounds during race day, with drivers and team owners included in that number (and owners only counting against one entry’s cap).
“And we’ve said ‘If you can do it with 14, please only bring 14 – whatever is the minimum amount you can bring,” Frye said. “And all but a couple teams have come back substantially under 20.”
It’s all in service of trying to account for every contingency possible to allow for another near-perfect fan-less American motorsports event – an attitude Miles said NASCAR has adopted plainly, maybe even moreso than before the pandemic. Even with 36 races, he said, IndyCar’s counterpart has never been in the business of thinking “missing the mark” is an option as they rushed back quicker than any other major American sport.
With less than half the planned races, Penske’s series shares the sentiment.
“I feel like for both of us, there’s no margin for error,” Miles said. “We have to do our absolute best and execute well every time we bring people together to race.
“It’s never-ending improvement. They were super-serious about their first event, and we’re taking the same approach.”
The teamwork will all come to a head in just over a month, as both series arrive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first-ever IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader race weekend at the same venue, which, Miles said, has created another shared goal between the two: not only the survival of the sport across 2020, but ensuring the sport’s celebration across one massive weekend that could signal the return of in-person fans in the stands for the first time at a major American sporting event since March.
“Nothing is proprietary in all this,” Miles said.
Added Frye: "Once we leave Texas, we hope there's something we can contribute to their next step."