Kevin Rutherford and Matt Stallknecht · Wednesday April 3, 2013
Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!
This Week’s Question: Why should NASCAR fans check out IndyCar racing … and why should IndyCar fans give NASCAR a chance?
Matt Stallknecht, Senior Writer: NASCAR Fans, Get Your IndyCar On!
Let me just be clear here: I love both NASCAR and IndyCar. I grew up watching NASCAR and found IndyCar later in life, but I feel I would be remiss if I did not point out that each discipline of racing has its own unique appeals and drawbacks. One is not “better” than the other. They are simply different.
Having said that, given the number of NASCAR fans I encounter on a semi-regular basis who beat on IndyCar racing like an Everlast bag, I feel it is time to set the record straight once and for all. To all those NASCAR fans who have long held animosity against or simply refused to watch IndyCar racing, I implore you to give it a chance!
Why should you give it this chance, might you ask? There are a multitude of reasons.
For one, IndyCar racing is in the midst of a sort of renaissance in terms of on-track competition. While the traditional powerhouse teams of Ganassi, Penske, and Andretti still rule the race track, tiny teams such as Dale Coyne Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing are extremely competitive. Quite frankly, just about any team that lines up on the grid for an IndyCar race has at least some chance to win the race. The same cannot be said about NASCAR.
Take the aforementioned Ed Carpenter Racing squad with driver Ed Carpenter. Carpenter won the season finale in Fontana last season despite being the 18th-ranked driver in points standings. For a bit of perspective, in terms of relative standing compared to other teams, a team that is 18th in IndyCar points is roughly equivalent to a team that is somewhere between 28th-33rd in NASCAR Sprint Cup points (due to the disparity in field sizes between the two series). Thus, Carpenter’s win was tantamount to a Front Row Motorsports driver winning a Sprint Cup race. And its not like the victory was a total fluke either. This kind of stuff happens often (see Justin Wilson’s 2012 Texas win with underfunded Dale Coyne Racing or Takuma Sato’s near upset with AJ Foyt Racing in the 2012 Indy 500). NASCAR is known for its parity, but NASCAR’s underdogs don’t quite shine like the underdogs in IndyCar.
Oh, and who could forget the speed?! An IndyCar DW12 machine piloted by Ryan Briscoe rocketed around Indianapolis Motor Speedway at a blazing average of 226.484 mph last year to capture the pole for the Indy 500. For comparison’s sake, Denny Hamlin’s pole speed for the NASCAR race at Indianapolis was 182.763 mph, nearly 43 mph slower than that of IndyCar’s DW12 chassis. With all that speed comes an impressive bit of technology as well. Indy cars are outfitted with a system known as push-to-pass, which allows for a video-game-esque speed boost that aids in passing and makes for some hair-raising excitement out on track. IndyCar drivers can even change the fuel mixture and wing settings in the cockpit to alter the speed of their vehicle when necessary to boot. NASCAR fans claim they are speed junkies, and many of those fans dig technology, so its only fitting that they watch a series that is even faster and more technological than the one they love, no?
But what about the tracks? NASCAR is routinely blasted for having a less-than-varied schedule that is overloaded with boring and sanitized cookie cutter tracks and only two road courses. IndyCar, on the other hand, has perhaps the most diverse schedule of any racing series on the planet. You like the high speed intensity of oval races? IndyCar visits six unique oval tracks, including the famed Indianapolis (where they put on a better show than NASCAR), the short track in Iowa, and the high-banked speed monster that is Texas.
What about traditional road racing facilities? IndyCar has you covered there as well, with three races at Barber Motorsports Park, Mid-Ohio, and a track that NASCAR fans know and love: Sonoma. Sticking with the diversity theme, the rest of the IndyCar schedule is comprised of street courses, each with its own unique landscape and character and a fan environment / experience that is practically unmatched in the wider scope of the sporting world. Whether you like high speed oval racing or tactical and twisty road racing, IndyCar has a little something for everyone.
Now, I’m not saying that you NASCAR fans have to sell all your Dale, Jr. merchandise and buy a bunch of Ryan Hunter-Reay gear, but if you are a true racing fan, you would be doing yourself a disservice by continually ignoring what truly is a fine motorsport in IndyCar racing. There’s a race this Sunday from Barber Motorsports Park, perhaps you could tune in and see what all this fuss is about?
Kevin Rutherford, Senior Writer: IndyCar Fans, Have You Checked Out NASCAR Lately?
What’s to like about a series that drives in circles for most of its schedule?
I thought the same thing when I was younger. As I first expressed an interest in auto racing, I wondered if NASCAR, which featured only a small amount of right turns a year, could hold my attention for an entire season, let alone just one race.
Certain races will be boring. A few will be frustrating. You might even fall asleep on the couch for a few. But all in all, watching NASCAR is a rewarding experience for many, and should be given at least a few-race trial before deciding whether or not it’s for you.
As an IndyCar fan coming over to the so-called ‘other side,’ one of the first yellow flags raised will have to do with the series schedule, which is a complaint I see levied at NASCAR more than anything else. In a typical NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the sport heads to two road courses, Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Lower series might get a few more such races, but the bulk still tends toward oval-shaped tracks.
But these tracks can be much more than mere ovals around which 43 cars race. Though IndyCar has a plethora of interesting and exciting circuits on its schedule, it doesn’t boast the array of short tracks one can find in NASCAR. Its shortest track is the 7/8-mile Iowa, while NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series travels to the smaller Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond raceways, regarded by many as some of the best racing of the year. Also take into consideration superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega, which provide high-speed, bumper-to-bumper pack racing in which almost anyone can win.
There’s a wide array of drivers for whom to root, too. The season-opening IndyCar race at St. Petersburg two weekends ago featured 25 cars in its lineup. A typical Cup event holds 43 starters, with some teams going home after failing to qualify. If you prefer having to keep track of fewer drivers throughout a season, smaller fields may be alluring. If you enjoy larger fields with more potential favorites to choose from, NASCAR might be more up your alley. There are certainly a variety of personalities in NASCAR, from the ultra-conservative to the downright goofy.
A typical NASCAR race may appear yawn-inducing, and if you take your view of NASCAR only from a TV standpoint, that’s not an unfair statement. However, what the race broadcasts often fail to notice are a plethora of battles for position happening all over the field, because unlike the IndyCar broadcasts, they don’t utilize stationary cameras much. However, in reality, even if a car is running away with the victory, it’s rare for there to be nothing happening elsewhere on the track.
And the battles on track are only heightened in person. Attending a NASCAR race is arguably the best part about being a fan of the sport because of the vibe and feel one gets at the track. Many arrive days before the green flag even flies on Sunday, camping out in the infield or at nearby campgrounds. There’s a lot to do before the race begins, from shopping through souvenir haulers and stands to simply mingling with fellow fans outside one’s RV. Some weekends, fans even receive a jam-packed roster of entertainment, with multiple NASCAR series competing throughout each day.
It’s the lower series that make NASCAR worthwhile, too. IndyCar has the Firestone Indy Lights Series, which displays up-and-coming talent in a minor-league-style environment. NASCAR has that, and then some. The Nationwide Series is the sport’s second-tier series, often running the day before Sprint Cup and featuring some of the sport’s most promising young guns competing against veterans and Cup regulars. There’s even the Camping World Truck Series, which fields pick-up trucks rather than stock cars and travels to quite a few smaller tracks for its schedule, earning it a reputation for housing a lot of beating and banging. That’s just barely scratching the surface, as NASCAR has plenty of smaller touring series that race at short tracks across North America.
The year 2013 is an exciting time for NASCAR. The sport has enjoyed heightened visibility from big names like former IndyCar star Danica Patrick and X-Gamer Travis Pastrana joining up, mixing in with crafty veterans and talented youngsters. Drivers like Kyle Larson, Jeb Burton, Austin and Ty Dillon and more young guns are poised to become the sport’s next great superstars, creating an intriguing juxtaposition between the old and the new.
Again, I urge racing fans who haven’t given NASCAR a chance to give it a few-week trial. Take in as much of the sport as you can, from the Cup Series to the trucks, perhaps even more than that if you can find a broadcast or a series is traveling near you. Take in a race live, if possible. Arrive early, leave late. If it’s still not for you, no hard feelings. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting invested in that which NASCAR has to offer.
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