Fourth Turn: A Look Ahead To The 2020 Season

Roger Penske stands at the yard of bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Chris Owens Photo]

Roger Penske stands at the yard of bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Chris Owens Photo]

by Paul Gohde

With snow and cold swirling outside the window, it’s difficult to realize that the NASCAR and IndyCar racing seasons begin at Daytona and later at St. Petersburg in just a few weeks. Let’s look at some stories that may make news as racing returns to the sports pages.

• Fernando Alonso returns to the Indianapolis 500 after two tries there in the past three years. He ran strong for Andretti Autosport Honda in 2017 only to drop out with the lead in sight, and then posted a DNQ for McLaren/Carlin Chevrolet after a month of mechanical problems coupled with a damaging crash. After cutting ties with his former F1 team recently, Alonso is again dealing with Andretti to take another crack at the mythical “Grand Slam”: capturing the F1 championship, winning at Le Mans, and that elusive Indy 500 crown. If a deal can be worked out soon, he could be positioned to complete that Slam before he returns to F1. Will we ever see Alonso and Kyle Busch compete together at Indy? Kyle better hurry up.

• Some off-season race scheduling is difficult to understand and could lead to tough decisions for race fans. Why would the NASCAR Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway be scheduled on the same dates as the Indy Car weekend at Road America? Both events draw from much-the-same Midwest fan base and “Joe Fan” will have a tough time deciding where to spend ticket money on that weekend. RA and Chicagoland are about four hours apart and many events at both facilities are attended by the same ticket buyers; but not on June 20-21. We hope tracks and sanctioning groups get together before this kind of scheduling boondoggle occurs again.

• Pre-season team lineups for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series tell us that as of this writing 24 car/driver combinations are scheduled to compete full-time on the 17-race schedule. A J Foyt Racing recently named Charlie Kimball as a full-timer in its #4 car replacing Matheus Leist, but their iconic #14 entry could be headed for an Indy 500 only run as 15-season supporter ABC Supply will only sponsor (for perhaps Tony Kanaan) that entry for the 500 after previously withdrawing its full-season support for Foyt’s teams. The team continues to search for another sponsor for the remaining 16 races.

• NASCAR has begun some scheduling changes that will continue full speed into the 2021 schedule. Pocono has already been compacted into one weekend with a doubleheader Saturday/Sunday two-race format being tried for this season. Next year could see the return of a Cup race on a dirt track, an additional road course event, and a once sold out track or two having one race dropped if rumors come to fruition. It would be nice, if an additional road course race materializes, that Road America would be considered due to its support of the annual Xfinity series event held there. An often-discussed Indy Car/NASCAR Cup doubleheader weekend would also pump life into both bodies scheduling. The two groups seem to find reasons why it would be difficult for that plan to happen, however. Creative thinking is needed in this case. The “which race would get the Sunday date argument” sounds like kids fighting over who gets to sit in the front seat of mom’s car.

• Perhaps the most interest by fans and competitors alike will result from the unexpected purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT IndyCar Series by the Penske group. The future “stewardship”, as Roger prefers to call it, will involve some needed upgrades at the track itself, some being projects not completed from the 100th race. What is intriguing, however, is the series purchase and what could result in the area of scheduling new tracks, bringing a new engine supplier on board and perhaps further down the road a move back to racing in Australia and Japan. Roger is known to take his time before making major business changes, but you know that his note pad is his constant companion. Perhaps even paved parking at the “Greatest Race in the World” is on his list.

• Next week we’ll look at the new Aeroscreen and check up on the Indy Lights Series.

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