IndyCar intro: a series without an identity

The Daily Dan for Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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Of all the sports we’ll cover there is probably none more frustrating than IndyCar.  It is what remains of top-flight, open-wheel auto racing this side of Formula 1.  And despite some recent traction and the end of the war with CART that bludgeoned the sport’s popularity, IndyCar continues to be conducted mostly in anonymity, plagued by a series of missteps both self-inflicted and beyond control.

 

The 2014 season gets green flagged on March 30 in St Petersburg and in a new twist, concludes Labor Day weekend in Fontana.  That makes IndyCar the latest fall sport to dodge the mighty NFL (the PGA did not totally avoid the NFL but now sees its season end in September rather than November.)

 

The problem with the IndyCar schedule though is not in when it begins or ends, but in the fact that outside of the Indianapolis 500 there is precious little continuity to the calendar.  In 2014 alone, Sao Paulo was removed from the schedule and Baltimore is off the calendar for 2014 and 2015.  Sao Paulo and Baltimore races have been held a combined seven times.  Meanwhile Milwaukee and Iowa, held on consecutive weekends in mid-June in 2013 have been moved to August and July respectively.  The vacated weekends will be off weeks for the series.

 

Having races come and go or moved around the calendar makes it difficult for both the television audience and the live gate.  IndyCar officials say it is part of a multi-year plan to make the schedule more user-friendly.  If this works then it will have been worth the hassle.  If it doesn’t then whoever implemented it should probably find another job.

 

As for television, IndyCar has found a solid home on NBC Sports Network.  One problem though.  ABC owns the right to the Indianapolis 500 through 2018.  So the channel broadcasting the guts of the schedule including the season opener and championship decider does not have any access to the signature event in all of motorsports.

 

A bigger problem for IndyCar is the lack of star power in the driver seats.  Many of the biggest stars have fled for NASCAR and many of the promising young drivers point that way as well.  The only current driver known outside the inner walls of motorsports is Helio Castroneves.  Unfortunately the most transcendent moment for Castroneves over the last five years was being tried—and acquitted—for tax evasion.

 

IndyCar has also been undone in recent years by the death of Dan Wheldon during a race in Las Vegas and the retirement of Dario Franchitti following a wreck last fall in Houston.

 

So where does IndyCar go from here? It is an organization buried in a crowded landscape throughout sports and within its sport.  Its legion of fans is small and not necessarily growing.  The best thing it can do is put on compelling races and hope that NBC is able to convey the excitement through television screens.  Then maybe IndyCar will warrant a place by the water cooler and pick up some momentum.

 

Unfortunately we won’t help all that much.  IndyCar races tend to slip through the cracks during busy summer weekends.  We’ll try though, and of course welcome outside input.

Other thoughts, news, and happenings

NBA:  LeBron James has a twisted ankle suffered in Monday’s win over the Jazz.  King James did not practice Tuesday and is questionable for the Heat’s Wednesday night showdown against the Pacers.

 

NHL:  The Bruins have become next to unbeatable in Boston.  They beat the Flames 2-0 on Tuesday and now have points in 13 straight at TD Garden, 11 of them wins.

 

NBA:  Damian Lillard had 8 three-pointers Tuesday including the tiebreaker near the buzzer in the Trail Blazers’ 119-116 win in Cleveland.  Two days earlier Lillard hit the game-winning jump shot to beat the Hawks in overtime.  The Blazers have won five in a row and are 22-4.

Stats Corner

NHL:  Joel Quenneville needed only one game to break his tie with Pat Quinn.  The Blackhawks’ 3-1 victory in Nashville was Quenneville’s 685th career win.  He now stands alone in 4th place all-time.  He is seven behind Dick Irvin.

 

NHL:  Tomas Jurco scored his 1st NHL goal for the Red Wings on Tuesday.  The 20-year old gave the Wings a 1-0 lead, but the visiting Ducks scored the next five to win 5-2.  The Red Wings have now lost six games in a row while scoring two goals or fewer in each game.

The Archive
1/27: Wawrinka wins Aussie Open
1/28: Charting older dirt routers
1/29: Media Day overwhelms, underwhelms
1/30: Mickelson will play
1/31: Super Bowl highlights weekend
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