More IndyCar/NASCAR Combo Shows Ahead?

Cover Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

More IndyCar/NASCAR
The start of the NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images photo)

From Scott Dixon’s thrilling pass for the lead that led to a decisive victory in the GMR Grand Prix, to Chase Briscoe’s fender-banging triumph in the Pennzoil 150 and Kevin Harvick’s battle with Denny Hamlin to win his third Brickyard 400, the first IndyCar/NASCAR Tripleheader was a rousing success.

It’s extraordinary considering no spectators were allowed to attend the unique combination of racing that came together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the July 4 weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the NTT IndyCar Series race and the NASCAR Xfinity Series contest run on July 4, some wondered how many television viewers would watch. However, the three races generated hefty rating increases.

Viewership of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix on NBC was up seven percent versus the same race in 2019. It was NBC Sports’ best afternoon IndyCar race, excluding the 2019 Indy 500, and the best Indy GMR Grand Prix in six years.

The Pennzoil 150 was the most-watched NASCAR Xfinity Series race from IMS in three years and viewership was up 21 percent over the 2019 Xfinity Series average on NBC.

The Cup Series race was also up 32 percent compared to last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona Int’l Speedway on July 7.

The race was NBC’s most-watched sports program since January’s NFL playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 11.

At least from a television standpoint, the scheduling switch between Daytona’s longtime Fourth of July Coke Zero 400 and the Brickyard 400 later in the summer proved to be very successful, especially with the creation of a tripleheader involving IndyCar and NASCAR.

“If they’re going to make a change and start a new tradition, I couldn’t think of a better place than Indy,” said NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I don’t know that we would be at Daytona if it weren’t for Indy. Indy is where it all started for motorsports in America. It’s fitting for us to be able to celebrate this amazing holiday at such an incredible race track with so much history.”

This year’s crossover was borne out of necessity after the COVID-19 pandemic. NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood would like to see this tripleheader concept used in the future when fans are allowed to return to racing venues.

“I have a strong suspicion this will be the start of a beautiful relationship,” Flood said. “I can see more of this going forward. Clearly, we need spectators at the venue to fulfill the true mission here, to have people together celebrating the two forms of racing.

“This is the future. I’m glad Roger Penske and (NASCAR President) Steve Phelps took advantage of this unique moment in time. This is a reality sooner than it would have happened otherwise.”

The true test of this unique format will be when spectators are allowed to return and the events play out in front of both IndyCar and NASCAR fans.

“It’s great to see the great racing series get together like this in America,” said Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud. “NASCAR is a huge sport and so is IndyCar. Now, we are racing together on the same weekend in the biggest racing location in the world.

“There are so many objectives for this situation. It took the leaders of our series to get together, a lot of effort on both sides, and with NBC being our main channel, it’s a no-brainer. I’m super excited for the fans. It’s a great crossover and it’s great racing for everyone.

“At the end of the day, it’s a historical moment, I think not just for American racing but for worldwide racing.”

Pagenaud is in favor of moving the GMR GP from the month of May to Brickyard 400 weekend.

“I think it would be amazing if you can bring all the stars together in the same place,” Pagenaud noted. “We talked earlier about a party — that would be a huge party for racing. Who knows what the future holds, to me it certainly seems like it could be a huge success.

“That would have been the perfect weekend to have fans,” the Frenchman added. “But the situation is what it is, and IndyCar has done a great job with it. I think we are seeing the Penske organization stamp right now. We are seeing the changes at the track and the speedway; the track is beautiful. We’ve seen the upgrades in the monitors and the way the track looked and the evolution of Georgetown Road. It’s beautiful.

“I think having the tripleheader with IndyCar, Xfinity and Cup together was phenomenal,” he continued. “I didn’t have much time to watch practices or anything, and I wasn’t allowed to stay for the Cup race, unfortunately. It’s phenomenal. It is going to be a big shift for racing in America. It is going to change everything. We are going to attract fans from NASCAR to be interested in IndyCar and vice versa. I think this is phenomenal.”

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