Driving Today

IndyCar Sees Rays of Hope in Cloudy Skies

After all the struggles IndyCar has seen over the past week, there may still be a silver lining.

IndyCar has endeavored mightily to reverse the decline that it experienced over the past decade, but it is hard to get over the feeling that America’s premier open-wheel racing series is settling in to minor-league, minor-sport status. Even its attempts to emulate NASCAR -- which is experiencing its own malaise -- are troubled. For example, as the season began, IndyCar made several attempts to goose up the action it was providing fans, including two-abreast lineups for restarts. But those efforts have had mixed results, and now the series has decided to crack down on drivers who mix it up too much.

While trading paint is OK in NASCAR, it is just not OK in an open-wheel series where the possibility of catastrophic crashes from such actions is much greater. In light of that, drivers Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alex Tagliani have been put on probation by IndyCar officials through December 31 for “multiple instances of initiating avoidable contact during IZOD IndyCar Series events this season.”

“We are disappointed in these actions, which have exhibited a pattern of driving that endangers on-track safety and adversely affects competition,” says Brian Barnhart, series president of competition and operations.

The IndyCar rulebook is crystal-clear on these types of moves. Quoting Rule 9.3: “A competitor must not initiate or attempt to initiate avoidable contact that results in the interruption of another competitor’s lap time or track position.” At the same time, IndyCar would like fans to believe that the drivers have “taken the gloves off,” and are going for it at every opportunity. Fact is, though, the type of contact that is routine in Sprint Cup can be deadly in IndyCar.

Another blow to the open-wheel series is the report that one of its few recognizable stars, Danica Patrick, is strongly considering blowing off the series altogether -- except for a possible run in the Indianapolis 500. Losing Patrick would be a major blow, since she continues to command media attention -- despite a mediocre racing record. But the fact that IndyCar is liable to lose her to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, its minor league, is an equally sizable punch in the gut. It suggests that moving to Nationwide is an upgrade from IndyCar.

Perhaps the only silver lining for IndyCar this past week was the report that Versus, the network that carries IndyCar racing to its television audience, is going to change its name to NBC Sports Network. That move shows that the largely obscure cable net is getting more aggressive, and that could shine a brighter light on IndyCar. We hope so because, despite all its current faults, we still love open-wheel racing.



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