The Frontstretch: 8 Reasons NASCAR Fans Should Also Be Watching IndyCar this Weekend by Amy Henderson -- Friday September 14, 2012

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8 Reasons NASCAR Fans Should Also Be Watching IndyCar this Weekend

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday September 14, 2012

 

Love NASCAR? Of course you do, that’s probably why you’re reading a NASCAR column! But this week, I’m going to switch it up and talk another type of racing..Indy cars. Yeah, that’s right, those funny-looking pointy cars that sound more like mosquitoes than monsters..and go really, really fast. The bottom line is, if you love racing but aren’t watching IndyCar, you’re missing a whole lot. As NASCAR revs up its championship Chase this weekend, IndyCar will be deciding theirs once and for all. You say you need some good reasons to try out the season-ending, championship-deciding IZOD IndyCar Series race this weekend? Well, then, try these on for size:

1. There’s no Chase That’s right, there’s no points reset, no gimmickry, and yet the title contenders are separated by just 17 points. The championship will—yet again—come down to the last race of the season. It often comes down to the last lap of the last race.

Why? It’s simple, really: INDYCAR has created a points system that makes sense. It rewards excellence while still keeping the spread close enough for the season title hunt to be close and exciting, often to be decided in the final laps of the season. The winner of an event receives 50 points. Second place gets 40, third 35, fourth 32. Points are meted out in decreasing two-marker increments from fourth to tenth place (tenth is good for 20 points) and then in one-point margin down to the 12 points awarded for 18th position. Everyone who finishes 18th-24th gets 12 points, and everyone from 25th place on back gets 10.

The points system evens the playing field while rewarding winning with a substantial advantage. Nobody is guaranteed a start, though it’s rare for teams to go home. A bad week doesn’t spell total disaster, but mediocrity isn’t rewarded and the only way to get an advantage in the championship is to win races. And best of all, fans are treated to an exciting, down-to-the-wire championship battle without the sanctioning body having to interfere.

INDYCAR also has one other cool element to their championship. In addition to the overall points champion, both an oval and a road course champion are crowned, giving a nod to drivers’ performances on the two major track types, and rewarding the best on each. It’s a nice touch for a series that keeps versatility in the mix with its track selections.

The IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Fontana should be a can’t miss event for any race fan. Credit INDYCAR/LAT USA.

2. Teams have some leeway with the cars In NASCAR, one subject of consternation is the lack of freedom teams have to work on their cars within the rules. INDYCAR also has fairly tight guidelines, but there are more areas where teams can work, meaning that a team has the chance to hit on a setup that will give them an advantage—within the rules. On an Indy car, for example, both the front and rear wing are adjustable. While teams do have to work within a specified range determined for each track by INDYCAR, they are allowed some freedom to change the angles throughout a race. This allows teams to add downforce or reduce drag. At some tracks, there are also optional wicker strips that teams can elect to use (or not) on the wing. Traction control is allowed, which takes away the possibility of a team using it illegally, such as exists in NASCAR (despite actual stock cars having traction control these days).

The other competitive tool that IndyCar teams have that NASCAR teams do not is use of telemetry, during both practice sessions and races. NASCAR teams are only allowed to use telemetry in test sessions. If, for example, an Indy car driver suffers a tire problem, the team and driver know which tire is the problem. Teams don’t have to guess at how much fuel is in an Indy car; they know. They know how the engine is running and how the brakes are working. That lets them make decisions for on-track adjustments.

I’m not advocating that NASCAR make the jump to the use of telemetry during races, but the difference that having it makes in the racing is interesting, and the amount of technology on the cars is sure to please technophiles while keeping the gearheads interested…it’s something unique to open wheel racing that makes it different…and exciting.

3. Tires that force teams to use strategy Tire strategy was once a much bigger part of NASCAR than it is today, where at many tracks, the tires last for a fuel run or even longer. IndyCar teams, though, have to make critical decisions about the rubber that hits the road at every track…and they have to be able to change that strategy on the fly.

Unlike NASCAR, which uses a single tire compound at each track, IndyCar racing has two types of tire at every race. One type, the “black” (tires are marked with a colored stripe on the side wall, making it easy for fans and officials to tell at a glance which type a car is currently running), are designed to last longer, but have less grip. The “red” tires, on the other hand, have better grip but give up sooner. Teams have to use each type at least once in every race, and must build their pit strategies around using each type. And that’s if it doesn’t rain. Indy cars do race in the rain on road or street courses, but not on ovals, and making the switch to rain tires is another choice teams make. Treaded rain tires produce slower speeds, so put them on too early or leave them on too long and a team risks slowing down or tearing up the tires, but hold off too long and they risk spinning on slicks.

All of this adds up to excitement on the track in the form of passing, or of a team trying to stretch a red tire or coax speed out of a black. Tire strategy played a big role in the closeness of the championship battle as Will Power’s team elected to put rain tires on the car in Baltimore, but the rains never really came, and Power’s team was forced to give up track position to pit a second time to put slicks back on the car. Should Ryan Hunter-Reay squeeze past Power to take the title this weekend, one thing he can thank is a missed tire strategy…something that has all but disappeared from NASCAR today.

4. A lot is in the driver’s hands INDYCAR has been more proactive than NASCAR about making cars more difficult to drive (when drivers complained about pack racing at tracks like Texas, for instance, the sanctioning body made changes to the aerodynamic package that made the cars more difficult to drive, effectively putting the race more in the hands of the drivers and breaking up the packs). Drivers can also make several adjustments within the car. Like a NASCAR driver, an IndyCar racer can adjust brakes, but he (or she) can also change the fuel mixture to increase either power or fuel mileage. The driver can also shift the car’s weight from one tire to another on oval track.

One thing that has actually been taken out of the drivers hands is pit road speed. Indy cars are fitted with a limiter that drivers engage when they hit pit road and turn off when they leave. This eliminates speeding penalties, and the danger to crews, who, unlike NASCAR crews, go over the wall before the car enters the pits. If nothing else, this assures that the race will be settled through strategy and on-track prowess, not a speeding penalty.

5. Speaking of drivers—there’s something for everyone This isn’t different from NASCAR. The drivers in IndyCar are a diverse group both in nationality and personality, so any race fan should find someone to feel comfortable cheering for every week. From the outgoing and charming Helio Castroneves to the humorous Tony Kanaan, to the more reserved Scott Dixon. There are drivers from around the world who all bring unique qualities to the sport. Bottom line, if you can’t find someone to root for, you aren’t trying hard enough. Though IndyCar sometimes gets the reputation of being more for and about the “wine and cheese” crowd, in the series today, that is simply not true…there is a driver for every fan, and the fun part is getting to know them all.

6. Rules and consequences for breaking them are clear and consistent The big key here is that while many penalties are still up to the discretion of the sanctioning body (and in many cases they should be), INDYCAR doesn’t keep its rules under lock and key the way NASCAR does. In fact, the rule book is available on INDYCAR’s media site as a download, and any media member can download it and share the information with fans. That transparency is a good thing. One thing NASCAR has been oft criticized for is not making the rule book available, and from there it’s not a long jump for fans to wonder if there are different rules, or at least different interpretations of rules, for different teams. Having the rules out in the open eliminates that question.

Many penalties (or at least the minimum penalties) are listed in the rule book as well. For example, a car that doesn’t meet the minimum weight will receive at least a fine of $100,000. Drivers caught blocking (altering one’s racing line or using the racing groove to impede another driver is forbidden in IndyCar racing because of the danger it poses; open-wheel cars can’t use the chrome horn without causing major problems) will be black flagged for a pass-through penalty. Team orders, loathed by many NASCAR fans, are also forbidden by INDYCAR. Team orders result in a black flag for the offender.

Having the rules published and penalties consistent (though they do leave room for an increase for say, a repeat offender) is good for any sport. INDYCAR clearly recognizes that, while NASCAR fails to grasp the need for transparency.

7. It’s affordable for fans While the cost of attending a NASCAR race has skyrocketed, IndyCar remains a more affordable option. This weekend’s finale at Fontana offers tickets ranging from $30 to $65. Hotel rooms in Fontana can be had for under $100 a night. Contrast that with the Cup finale, where tickets start at $50 and run up to $135 each. And a hotel in Miami? Some of the same hotel chains that can be had in Fontana for the regular rate will run fans double the normal price, per their website. So, an Econo lodge for the IndyCar finale, in Fontana, will cost $101 per night—and that’s one of the more expensive hotels available. In Homestead, on the other hand the Econo Lodge runs at $235 per night. No, that’s not something NASCAR can control, but if race fans want to treat the family to a race weekend, overall, the IndyCar event gives the most bang for the fewest bucks.

8. It’s racing Finally, the cars look different and they surely sound different, but the engines still throb in time with the hearts of drivers and fans alike. It’s racing…and if you’re a race fan, you’re cheating yourself out of a thriller if you aren’t watching. More racing…what race fan wouldn’t want more racing?

The IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Fontana this weekend to decide the championship in what promises to be an exciting race where cars can pass each other and drivers will battle for 500 miles before anything is decided. (That’s right. I said exciting racing. With passing. _At Fontana!_That’s something you don’t see every day.) IndyCar racing isn’t NASCAR racing, nor does it have to be in order to be an exciting, interesting form of racing in its own right. It’s not a case of either, or here…it’s two different series with two vastly different types of racecars and styles…but it’s all racing. It’s not a case of choosing one over the other…why do that when you can watch both? In any case, race fans should be tuning in to the IndyCar finale this weekend…it’s going to be quite a show. And did I mention there’s no Chase?

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Steve K
09/14/2012 01:37 AM
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It wasn’t clear in the section, but the Firestone Reds are only used on road & street courses. They are never used on Ovals. More to your point, they aren’t rocks and actually wear over the course of a run. Need proof? Watch Rahal the last 20 laps at Texas.

I am not a fan of the IndyCar points system. I love how mich the winner amd the podium get, but too many cars are awarded points. Why award points for 20th? What did you the driver really accomplish? How about just the top 15? If you need a seperate system for owner points, so be it. The same goes for NASCAR. How hard would drivers drive of there were no driver points outside of the top 15 or 20?

DeniseW
09/14/2012 07:20 AM
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Great column Amy! This IndyCar fan appreciates your attention to our series today. It’s been a great season & anyone tuning in Saturday evening won’t be disappointed in the quality of the racing. Go RHR!

John Potts
09/14/2012 10:16 AM
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Good column, Amy!

Kevin in SoCal
09/14/2012 12:20 PM
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Sounds like Amy needs to give up on NASCAR and report on Indy Car Racing, only. Also, she’s telling us to actually watch a race at Fontana? Who is this woman?!?!!?

Michael in SoCal
09/14/2012 01:38 PM
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I am very curious to see how the racing at the much-maligned Fontana speedway is with Indycars on it as opposed to stock cars. And at least the field is pretty strong (26 cars). Hopefully they won’t get too spread out.

I hope I can DVR both the Indycar race and the Truck series race at Iowa at the same time. I have plans for Saturday night, but I still need my racing fix, and I don’t think the snoozefest that Chicagoland will likely produce will suffice.

And a hello to my SoCal brethren Kevin.

FS_Amy
09/14/2012 02:13 PM
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Oops, sorry about not making the road course tires clear!

@Steve: I disagree on the no points part for both NASCAR and IndyCar. Especially in NASCAR, some drivers race as hard as they can all day, do not hold back, get every ounce out of their racecars…and still finish 25th. For the smaller teams, that’s reality, and I think it’s unfair to give them nothing for their efforts. I like the idea of the same points for all drivers below a certain point as that might encourage teams with top cars to run as hard as they can, but I just can’t get on board with giving those small teams who work so hard nothing for their efforts.

Steve
09/14/2012 04:11 PM
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Also Amy, it keeps the rolling wrecks off the track towards the end of races since they won’t be gaining anymore points and have no incentive to be out there. Indy’s point system does it right.

Andy D
09/14/2012 10:22 PM
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It’s strange that things like different tires, telemetry and airfoil adjustments are prohibited by NASCAR in the name of keeping costs down. Yet Indycar costs as least half as much to run with all those additional tuning options.

Seems like NASCAR needs new accountants or they’re throwing money away on frivolities.

Indycar has had a tight points race for the last few years, so I think their system works. They have a third fewer entrants, and that makes it more workable. I’m also in favor of zero points for the bottom quarter of the field. The last ten cars in a NASCAR field are not running very hard, nor do they run all day. Maybe we can assign points if they complete at least 25% of the race.

Lee
09/15/2012 06:06 AM
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Among the MANY reasons why NASCAR fans SHOULD NOT also be watching indycar this weekend:
1. Most NASCAR fans ARE NOT fans of indycar! Why should we watch something that we care nothing for?

2. Many indycar fans CLEARLY state that they HATE NASCAR! They insult NASCAR on websites such as trackforum.com, call us STUPID, DUMB, IGNORANT and other such things. Refer to NASCAR racing as “taxicab” racing, call out cars “Cabs”. Claim that NASCAR is not “REAL” racing, that NASCAR fans are not “REAL” racing fans, etc. State that our favored brand of racing is inferior to theirs! Refer to NASCAR as “NASCrap”. Why should we watch/support any racing series, with fans that think of us in that manner?

3. Many indycar fans state that NASCAR (and since NASCAR fans fall under NASCAR, by extention we fall into this classification) is the enemy! Why should we watch/support our enemy’s race! Mixing fans of the two series is akin to mixing oil and water!

4. For much of NASCAR’s existance indycar, by whtever name it has chosen to call itself, USAC, cart, irl, whatever, has tried to hurt NASCAR in anyway possible. One example, their big race was placed in direct competiton with the World 600, in an effort to hurt Charlotte. The two races had been run on seperate days before that move was made. Guess what? IT DIDN’T WORK! HA HA HA!

In conclusion, there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON, WHAT SO EVER, that NASCAR fans should also be watching indycar this weekend!

Fred
09/15/2012 10:05 PM
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Lee, who peed in your cheerios? I and my entire family are and always have been fans of both series. So it is entirely possible for the fans of the two series to mix. I have never heard IndyCar fans or anyone else involved with Indy cars refer to NASCAR as the enemy or call NASCAR fans names. I have heard plenty of people call NASCAR fans names. They weren’t fans of IndyCar. They weren’t fans of racing at all. They probably got that impression however from hate filled narrow minded people such as yourself. the only people I have ever heard use the term NASCRAP have been NASCAR fans who are unhappy with decisions their own sanctioning body made. Your final comment is particularly amusing. The Indy 500 was first run in 1911. With the exception of some periods during early 1900s and most especially during WWII when there was no race, it has been run every Memorial Day weekend on Sunday afternoon. Of course if there is rain it has been moved to Monday because, like NASCAR, Indy cars can’t race ovals in the rain. The World 600, which cannot possibly be older than the Charlotte track that was built in 1959, was always run on Monday until the late 1980s or early 1990s when it was moved to Sunday night when lights were installed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. IndyCar did not move their signature race in order to try to kill NASCAR’s. NASCAR didn’t even move the 600 to try to kill Indy. The two races, while now run on the same day, are not run at the same time. And if you are an open minded fan, or perhaps more correctly a RACING fan instead of just a NASCAR fan, it’s the best racing day of the year as you can watch Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR—a true race fans dream day!

Eugenius
09/16/2012 01:51 AM
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Late ’80s to about ’95 was the heyday of open wheel. Indy tickets had a waiting list and it took years to get a pair, then years more to move up to decent seats.

Now I see a bunch of gimmicks in open wheel just like Nascar. I do like the racing much better than Nascar, but it is nothing like it once was.

Eugene
09/16/2012 11:29 AM
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I enjoy each series. Why? I’m a racing fan. BTW, it was a great race Saturday night at Fontana!

 

Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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