Success of NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheaders rests in fans' hands
The first NASCAR-IndyCar weekend doubleheader experiment was an obvious success by all available measures but there was certainly a missing element.
Due to scheduling changes prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR and the IndyCar Series ended up with a doubleheader event on Saturday that proved to be an entertaining day of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It certainly didn’t hurt that Roger Penske, a successful team owner in both NASCAR and IndyCar, completed purchase of IMS and IndyCar in January. He made a doubleheader between the series one of his first priorities.
COVID-19 race rescheduling helped speed the process this season as IndyCar moved its Indy Grand Prix to the NASCAR July 4 weekend, running early Saturday afternoon prior to the Xfinity Series’ inaugural race on the IMS road course later in the day.
Scott Dixon won his first Indy GP in what turned out to be a runaway but the Xfinity race more than made up for any lack of drama, with stellar racing as Indiana native Chase Briscoe captured his fifth win of the season.
There was near unanimity among drivers and participants from both series in praising the unique motorsports doubleheader but they also all agreed the ultimate beneficiaries of the format – race fans – have yet to weigh in.
“Every week I have talked about when I win how the fans make winning fun. They are the reason you celebrate and the last couple of times I don’t really celebrate because without the fans I don’t get hyped up,” Briscoe said Saturday after his win.
“Here I was obviously excited. I wish there were fans here. I probably said it five or six times in Victory Lane how much I wish the fans and my family and friends could be here. My family is probably crying at home.
“I was thinking about that the last couple of laps. That is tough. I wish they could have been here to experience it. It is something that may not ever happen again.”
Said Saturday’s Indy GP winner Dixon: “I’ve been excited as soon as the NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader was announced. It’s fantastic.
“I was a bit saddened only because I think that would be something great for the fans to see. I hope it’s something that will progress to more in the future.”
It's in the hands of the fans
Yes, there was a TV audience, but it’s all-too-easy for fans of one series to turn the channel when the other comes on. NBC Sports, however, did provide some quality transition programming between the two races.
Still, the future success of shared weekends between the two motorsports series is going to depend greatly on whether fans will show up in person to watch.
A doubleheader day at the track also provides fans in attendance more of an opportunity to experience crossover opportunities which in turn could entice them to attend future races in both series.
“For me as a younger guy in the sport, sort of reaching the middle point, I’ve always wanted to see more crossover from drivers and teams and series,” said reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden. “I think most drivers do, to be honest with you.
“This has provided a really fun push where series can come together and provide more value for the fans, can provide more action for the drivers to really take in or soak in different experiences.
“Maybe that will lead to more crossovers from different drives.”
Nothing that transpired at Indy this past weekend is likely to dissuade NASCAR and IndyCar from trying the doubleheader concept again.
But it’s ultimate success will depend on the fans of both series and whether they will purchase tickets to watch a day or more of both series competing at the same venue.
It’s one thing to say you like something; it’s quite another to make the financial and logistical decisions necessary to attend an event in person.
Until fans can express their opinion with their attendance at the track, NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheaders will remain more concept than reality.
Pagenaud drove GP Indy “with the lion’s spirit”
Five lessons and questions from IndyCar's GP of Indianapolis