IMS should help to make the 1,100-mile double doable once again
John Andretti is NASCAR's lone representative in this year's Indianapolis 500
Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have both completed the double in their careers
Indy's 1 p.m. start makes getting to Charlotte for the 5:45 p.m. start impossible
1,100 miles. Just the number seems daunting. Driving it all in one day, over nine hours with speeds upwards of 220-mph makes it nearly an impossible feat.
But it can be done.
Since John Andretti -- NASCAR's lone representative at Indy this year -- attempted the feat in 1994, a handful of drivers have driven the IRL's crown jewel and NASCAR's 600-mile marathon in one day. Finishing 10th and 36th, respectively, that year, Andretti's maiden voyage ended in a wreck at Charlotte -- but it still carved a path for others to follow. From 1997 through 2004, Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart occasionally pulled double duty, with Stewart's average finish of 4.5 (6th at Indy, 3rd at Lowe's in 2001) the current record in seven total attempts.
This year, you'd think that with the hubbub surrounding Richard Petty's first trip to Indy, Andretti would be a shoe-in to pull a second trip to both tracks. Instead, he'll spend Sunday night back in his hotel ... the victim of a logistical nightmare created by IMS.
The excitement stopped back in 2005, when Indianapolis changed the start time of its 500-miler from 12:00 to 1:00 p.m. EST. Blaming sagging TV ratings on the switch, the IRL made it all but impossible for stock car faithful to double dip. With a typical Indy race lasting just under three and a half hours -- plus a one-hour helicopter ride to Charlotte -- no one could realistically expect to make the Coca-Cola 600 start time of 5:45 EST.
Considering NASCAR was at its peak back then, the rumor that the IRL didn't like stock car specialists pulling the double and stealing the national spotlight makes sense. But four years later -- in the face of declining interest and ratings for both series -- it's about time to put grudges aside, and change the time back to 12 p.m..
Just think of the possibilities and national publicity at stake for racing. With open-wheel superstars flocking to NASCAR in recent years, the list of drivers capable of pulling off double duty is nearing double digits. A.J. Allmendinger, Scott Speed, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya join NASCAR veterans Gordon and Stewart as drivers who'd not only qualify for the Indy 500, but legitimately contend for the win. Who wouldn't want to see them all battle with Danica Patrick on Sunday -- then dash to the plane in time to duel with Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards in front of the NASCAR crowd in Charlotte?
The extra drivers would also beef up an Indy field lacking the Bubble Day drama of recent years. In 2009, just three drivers missed the 33-car starting lineup. But if you add another half-dozen guys into the mix, it turns the final day of qualifying from a yawner into a full-fledged frenzy. Can you imagine the drama of Stewart flying in from his All-Star Race win to try and slip into the field on Indy's final day? Fans would flock to the rack by the thousands to see it ... and the TV ratings would likely follow suit.
Making this fix would seem to be easy with all the potential upside. Yet with all the criticism leveled at NASCAR this season, fault for this one clearly falls on IMS. Even with a lower number of caution flags, the Coca-Cola 600 doesn't end until well past 10:00 EST -- so making a later start time for NASCAR is near impossible. Over at Indy, a noon start time would be late enough for West Coast viewers to still tune in (9:00 a.m.), while giving the NASCAR crowd the extra hour needed to make the trip.
As if there were any doubt, Stewart, Gordon, and others have made it clear they'd love to have another try at Indy. All they're looking for is a little help from the open-wheel crowd to make it happen.
Let's hope they get that chance in 2010.
NASCAR's 12-race suspension of Carl Long means nothing, as his No. 46 team wasn't even attempting another race until the Fall. But what's really a killer is the record $200,000 fine for a team that doesn't even have $200,000 in the bank. I know big engines are a big violation, but did NASCAR really have to run a small team into the ground?
So much for Silly Season paying off. Besides Stewart-Haas Racing's early season success, the 2008 free agent class has been busy falling flat in their new rides. David Stremme's year is in rough shape, without a top-10 finish driving the same car at Penske that won last year's Daytona 500. With reigning ARCA champ Justin Allgaier nipping at his heels, there's a chance he may not last the year. And over at Richard Childress Racing, Casey Mears is already on his second crew chief, slumping to 22nd in points while driving a No. 07 car that's spent the last two seasons contending for the championship. If things don't improve over the summer, don't expect the next change to come from on top of the pit box.
Boris Said not in Sonoma? The road racer is always a threat to win out West, but he won't be there unless some last-minute funding comes through. RCM Motorsports is moving forward with plans to put Boris Said in 10 to 12 races this season. But in securing sponsorship for races like Watkins Glen in August, the team has run into issues where their sponsors won't be ready to fund them until the second half -- leaving Sonoma out in the cold. "This is the best time of my career in the sport, because we're on the cutting edge," said owner Rick Clark, optimistic despite the hardships. "All we can do is hope a significant sponsor will realize the marketing upside for Sonoma. Of the sponsors that we are talking to, they're trying to do their best to reposition in time ... but we could use the additional help."
Clark is excited, however, about some of the other opportunities that are in place for selected races in the summer and Fall. "The Ford people have been in contact with us weekly and are really excited about the team. We're looking at a Hispanic network and programming opportunities to feature our team, as well as a possible cartoon in the works. We are going to make an announcement about partnering with a major viral TV network that has 35-45 million homes and counting. So, someone is recognizing the value we bring to the table, and before long we will be a major team to be reckoned with."