IndyCar To Open At Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 8 2020

The IndyCar Series will open its racing season at Texas Motor Speedway.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Signature moments in the colorful, controversial open-wheel history of Texas Motor Speedway include a Victory Lane smack down, a cancelled CART race and a winning margin of 0.0080-seconds.

And now this. Site of the first night race in INDYCAR history in June 1997, TMS officially will stage the first NTT IndyCar Series race run without fans when it plays host to the delayed 2020 season-opener on Saturday night, June 6, with one-day version of a shortened Genesys 300.

And in the spirit of “No Limits, Texas,” TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage said the 200-lapper looms as “one of the most important races INDYCAR has ever held.”

Sanctioning body INDYCAR confirmed the date Thursday, as Texas continues to “re-open” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Reacting to ongoing public health concerns, the race originally billed as the Genesys 600 will be run without fans in attendance and shortened from 248 laps to 200.

INDYCAR will run a condensed schedule with practice, qualifying and the race taking place on the same day. Teams are scheduled to take the green flag at 8:45 p.m. (EDT), with broadcast coverage provided by NBC Sports via NBC Sports Network beginning at 8 p.m.

This will mark the 24th consecutive year in which INDYCAR has contested “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval. The season originally was scheduled to start with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) street race on March 15. TMS was penciled into the leadoff spot on April 6, after cancellation of the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader.

“I’m excited about hosting the first live sporting event in Texas, more than anything,” Gossage said Thursday afternoon during a phone interview with RacinToday.com. “I wish they had started the season in St. Pete, but that’s not how it turned out. It’s going to be one of the most important races INDYCAR has ever held because people are starving for sports programming, so there’s an opportunity to have strong TV ratings around the country and around the globe. All of us have been waiting for live sports to hit the airwaves.

“You know, it’s heartbreaking the Indy 500 won’t run on schedule (moved from May 24 to Aug. 23), but we all are having to deal with things we don’t like. I’m pleased and ready to go with the Genesys 300.”

Gossage reiterated the idea of staging a race without ticketed fans in the stands goes against his instincts as promoter and bottom-line businessman.

“Up until a couple days ago I was set that we had to do this with a live crowd in attendance, and in INDYCAR racing that is your largest single revenue stream by far,” Gossage said. “But I realized we didn’t have a choice _ we either do this without a crowd or not at all. It’s a good thing to do it, but I want the fans to know I’m on their team. My team doesn’t come to work every day to put races on in front of empty grandstands.”

Gossage said Marcus Smith, president/CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., and INDYCAR owner Roger Penske reached “a compromise in the business arrangement” to run the race.

“I had said we wouldn’t do it without a crowd,” Gossage repeated. “But Marcus Smith said we needed to be a good partner to INDYCAR. Give Marcus credit and INDYCAR…they’ve been fair and great to deal with. We’re paying INDYCAR to run this race…we’re just not paying them as much. Both of us ‘gave.’ Both of us are going to take a (financial) hit. Neither of us are going to make a penny, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s important to prime the pump. All of us are trying to jump-start American motorsports because none of us are structured in a way we can survive an interruption like this.”

INDYCAR President Jay Frye said the well-being of all race-day participants remains a prime concern. “We’ve worked closely with Eddie Gossage, the entire TMS team and public health officials on a plan of action that will ensure the safety of our event participants,” Frye said, “alongside an exciting return to competition for our drivers, teams and viewers tuning in from around the world.”

Those steps include strict access guidelines limiting the number of personnel on-site; a health screening system administered to all participants; PPE equipment provided to everyone entering the facility, along with guidelines on usage; social distancing protocols in place and carefully maintained and a revised competition layout to increase distancing.

“Everybody is on the same page,” Gossage said. “Bottom line, if you’re not involved in making that car go _ as driver, crewman, series official, network TV (participant) or actively involved with Firestone or Speedway (fuel) _ you’re not going be allowed in. INDYCAR has to submit names in advance for approval and if you’re not on the list they’re not going to screen you.”

Gossage said he expects “fewer than 12” TMS staff to be in attendance. “And we see around 900 people total on the 1,500 acres,” Gossage said.

Josef Newgarden of Team Penske won the DXC Technology 600 last June 8 here by 0.8164-seconds over Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport. Newgarden, who scored his first victory on a superspeedway, went on to win his second series championship.

The remainder of the updated, 15-race INDYCAR calendar for 2020 announced April 6, remains on schedule for competition.

However, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race originally scheduled for Friday night, June 5, remains postponed with a revised date to be announced. Gossage said he has been assured by NASCAR it will run at TMS on two different weekends this season _ a schedule featuring two Cup, two Xfinity and two Truck series races.

“At the end of the season, we will look back and have run every race on our schedule, just not when planned,” Gossage said. “All of it’s going to happen.”

For the open-wheel record, the aforementioned Victory Lane smack down occurred after the True Value 500k night race on June 7, 1997. Billy Boat was celebrating his first Indy Racing League victory with team-owner and Texas open-wheel legend A.J. Foyt Jr. when Arie Luyendyk arrived to inform Foyt and Boat that he had won the event.

An enraged Foyt slapped Luyendyk to the ground before order quickly was restored. A subsequent review of the protest filed by team-owner Fred Treadway to the sanctioning U.S. Auto Club led to discovery of a scoring error and that Luyendyk had won the race.

Gossage and the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), then under the leadership of 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal, reached a legal agreement on Oct. 16, 2001 to stage a FedEx Championship Series event in Fort Worth the following spring. But the event that prompted TMS to be badged as “The Great American Speedway!” was cancelled on the race day morning of April 29, 2002 after several drivers _ led by Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta _ complained of disorientation as the result of lap speeds consistently clocked at well over 230 mph.

Graham Rahal completed a dramatic last-lap pass of leader James Hinchcliffe on Aug. 27, 2016 to win the Firestone 600 by 0.0080-seconds _ the closest finish in TMS history. Verizon IndyCar Series teams were forced to return to TMS in the heat of summer 76 days after two days of rainouts in June. Rahal’s margin of victory replaced the 0.0096-second MOV scored by Sam Hornish Jr. over Helio Castroneves in the Chevy 500k on Sept. 15, 2002.

Here is the full on-track schedule for the Genesys 300: NTT IndyCar Series practice, 1:30-3:30 p.m. (EDT); NTT IndyCar Series qualifications, 5 p.m.; Genesys 300 green flag, 8:45 p.m.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 8 2020
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