Miscellaneous ramblings on NASCAR and IndyCar

Other than the restarts Saturday night's Richmond race was a snoozer
Other than the restarts Saturday night's Richmond race was a snoozer

NASCAR could have used an exciting race Saturday evening at Richmond as a lead-in to The Chase for the Sprint Cup. They sure as heck didn't get it.

For one, other than a non-2015 winner taking the checkered flag in Saturday's Federated Auto Parts 400, there was really no drama entering the evening. Also, while you can't criticize Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota for cleaning everyone's clock, their dominance did make the evening something of a formality.

JGR, of course, has been the dominant team for much of the summer, which can't be all that appealing to NASCAR entering The Chase. While Kyle Busch making a championship run after recovering from a broken leg has the possibility of being a compelling story down the stretch, the story has already had the wind somewhat taken out of its sail to some degree with Busch making The Chase. And is it me or does Busch's 4 victory five-race stretch earlier in the summer, seem like it was forever ago?

Granted, so we all know the upper-hand in racing can be fleeting. Also, with the somewhat random nature of The Chase, it would be foolish to punch anyone's ticket to Homestead yet. Still, after what was from all accounts made a pretty smooth transition to NBC Sports this summer, NASCAR heads into The Chase limping a little and staring at the very real prospect of a Joe Gibbs Racing final-four at Homestead.

Speaking of TV

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Everything, of course, is relative, and many a motorsports series would be ecstatic over a 1.7 rating on cable or network for that matter. And it should be noted that a ratings dip was expected when NASCAR switched its second-half of the season coverage from ESPN to NBC Sports for 2015.

The tradeoff however, came in the form of two things. One, NASCAR was moving to networks that would provide focused coverage of the sport, and not be lost in the over-saturation of stick-and-ball sports coverage on ESPN. Second, NBC was along with FOX willing to do something ESPN was not: pony up cash to the tune of more than $4 billion over the next decade to broadcast NASCAR.

And in all fairness it's worked out so far. NBC's coverage has been by all accounts, excellent. Further, the billions in cash will undoubtedly serve as a more-than-adequate war chest in weathering the inevitable storms that lie ahead for both NASCAR and the sport of racing in the coming years.

Still, Saturday evening's Richmond race, which is supposed to be a ‘circle your calendar' event, was clearly anything but. And the lack of drama preceding the uninspiring show with incredibly soft viewership, has to have quite a few people in Daytona Beach scratching their heads. My guess is we'll see to The Chase, again.

But really, is that the answer?

To the open wheel set

Indy Lights champ Spencer Pigot collected his $1 million prize
Indy Lights champ Spencer Pigot collected his $1 million prize

Unlike NASCAR, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Mazda Road to Indy got a much desired result this weekend, as American Spencer Pigot captured the Lights championship.

While I'm not suggesting that any sponsor or series partner would cheer for one driver over another, you would be hard-pressed to find a series sponsor and/or engine manufacturer more inextricably linked with one driver than Mazda and Pigot. In an era where drivers jump on and off given ladder systems, the 21-year-old Orlando native has risen to the top of the sport by way of the North American grassroots feeder systems, many of which Mazda is actively present. In fact, the scholarship he earned in winning the Lights title is the fourth Mazda scholarship he has earned since 2010.

Also, while we don't have the time here to cover Pigot's journey to the top-level in detail, I can assure you it's not the story of a rich kid, who spent the last decade at the racetrack by virtue of daddy's fortune. Yes, Pigot had help along the way from Mazda and others. But when his rookie stripes come off before next year's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, it will be a story of perseverance, resourcefulness, and talent that landed him in the centennial running of the world's greatest race.

And most of all, it is a story IndyCar and the Mazda Road to Indy, which prides itself on opportunity, will be able to rightfully claim as their own.

X1

I'm going to shift gears here to an entirely different subject.

As you probably know, AutoRacing1 reported two weeks ago that discussions between the X1 Group and INDYCAR took place during the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend. Although the group led by Mike Earle did not, nor to my knowledge does not, plan to make any proposals to purchase the series, there were some rather radical concepts proposed; the most intriguing of which being the idea of gamers from around the world participating in real-time Sim racing alongside the actual race itself.

As you would expect, the concept has been met with mixed reviews, some which have taken on something of a snickering, dismissive tone. For example, some have dismissed the validity of X1 based on monumentally important criteria such as too few Twitter followers, or a website they consider not up to snuff. Of course, such thinking overlooks THE FACT the group was keeping under the radar for incredibly obvious reasons until recently.

Such small-minded thinking or reporting should not be taken seriously. However, the fact the X1 Group has seemingly appeared out of nowhere has certainly fueled whatever skepticism there is surrounding the project.

Now, let me clear that while the story was initially reported by AutoRacing1 President Mark Cipolloni, AR1 has no vested interest, financial or otherwise, in the success or failure of X1. AutoRacing1 likewise has no vested interest in whether you embrace or dismiss the concept.

And nor do I.

X1 plans cars that look exciting like the Red Bull X1
X1 plans cars that look exciting like the Red Bull X1

I do not know Earle or anyone associated with X1. While I have been privy to rumors of potential purchases of IndyCar and in this case a possible change to the operational structure of the series, prior to it being reported, I only heard of the X1 Racing Group specifically two weeks ago reading Mark's article. And like you, I have been following the details of it by reading various articles around the web.

That said, if you look at the X1 proposal with a clear, unbiased view detached from emotional, uninformed reactions and independent of biased, erroneous reporting that have not attempted to fully understand the proposal, I don't see how you cannot embrace the X1 concept.

While this could be an article in and of itself, the biggest challenge IndyCar is facing going forward is not so much that people aren't watching to the level necessary to sustain the sport, rather that people simply don't care. Whatever measures the sport has adopted in recent years, none have been able to engage an audience necessary to assure its long-term survival. The X1 proposal actively seeks to engage a worldwide audience and creates a platform to make them active participants in the event.

Think about that for a moment

Sure, I get it might be hard for traditionalists to get their head around the thought of the Indianapolis 500 not merely being featured in a video, but actually being the video game. And say what you will about the younger generation having a three-second attention span and the like, that doesn't change the fact: the real-time Sim racing deal is a possible game-changer for the sport.

Granted, that does not mean there are not fair questions to be asked, regarding financing and other details, which will at some point have to be addressed. However, at the very least, IndyCar has to listen to what the X1 Group has to offer. Because if they don't embrace this concept, rest assured: someone else will.

Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com

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