IndyCar can be king again

Believe it or not, NASCAR wasn’t always king. In fact, as little as 15 years ago, stock-car racing was a niche, southern sport beloved by hicks and their inbred children.

OK, maybe that’s a little harsh. But it’s not too far off. Back then open-wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500 ruled.

But in 1996, a split (created by Tony George) ruined all that, and 12 years later a unification left both sides miles behind NASCAR. But after this transition season ended Sunday, it’s clear IndyCar can return to its former glory. The competition level improved, and more cars and sponsors can only help.

But unless it’s the Indy 500, or unless Danica Patrick wins, no one cares about the IndyCar Series. The racing surpasses the Car of Tomorrow parades NASCAR has put on lately, but no one’s around to see them. The stands at Chicagoland Speedway were half empty. So, here’s how IndyCar can make a Helio Castroneves-like last-to-first rebound.

The series needs to continue to put on great shows.

Sunday’s race was an example. It was the second closest finish in history — Helio Castroneves, who started Sunday’s race in 28th place, won by 0.0033 seconds or 12-1/8 inches. The closest finish in Nextel Cup was 0.002 seconds in 2003, but IndyCar has five finishes closer than 0.01 seconds at three tracks. NASCAR can’t touch that.

Forget running two-wide. That’s for sissy Nextel Cup boys. The top three cars ran three-wide for about seven laps in the final quarter of the race without incident.

The new cars don’t come for the series until 2011, IndyCar officials say. If they’re not Car of Tomorrow jalopies, the series has a strong future, if it can survive to that point.

All but five races will appear on the Versus channel next season. Unless it gets a really big timeslot bump from bull riding, the former Outdoor Life Network provides a huge challenge for the IndyCar Series. More at Quad City Times

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