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The Wait Is Almost Over For IndyCar Teams, Fans

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 3 2020

Indy cars will be back on the track at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – With an unwelcomed assist from the COVID-19 pandemic, INDYCAR’s traditionally lengthy offseason will have reached 258 consecutive days when the green flag drops on the 2020 season-opening Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Josef Newgarden’s victory in last summer’s night race on TMS’ 1.5-mile oval helped propel the Team Penske ace to his second NTT IndyCar Series championship in three years at the season-finale in Monterey, Calif., on Sept. 22.

Start the clock.

The global pandemic that has marked the end of the innocence for American spectator sports began in early March. Widespread health concerns prompted sanctioning body INDYCAR to revise/reshuffle and reduce its original schedule from 17 to 14 races, move the tradition-rich running of the 104th Indianapolis 500 from the Month of May into the dog days of August and devise a rigid set of social distancing protocols.

As a result of the latter, the Genesys 300 _ billed as “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” since its debut in 1997_ will become the first series event run without fans seated in the grandstands. 

“Yeah, it’s a strange time, right?” said Newgarden, a 29-year-old native of Nashville, Tenn. “I think it’s been tough for everybody right now, regardless of what industry or way of life you’re operating in. A lot of things have been taken away, our passions and our jobs a bit altered. It’s going to be a new world for us racing here.”

Responding to health concerns, the race has been shortened from 248 laps to 200. INDYCAR will operate a condensed schedule with practice, qualifying and the race taking place on the same day. Teams are scheduled to take the green flag at 8:10 p.m. (EDT), with network broadcast coverage on NBC starting at 8 p.m. NBC Sports Network is scheduled to air a half-hour preview at 7:30 p.m.

“We have some tasks at hand, we know what they are,” said Newgarden, who will carry the No. 1 on his Team Penske Chevrolet as reigning champion. “I know the first couple of weeks of this lockdown in the United States, it felt quite hopeless. Now we feel pretty positive that we have something to work towards.”

Indeed, in his role as promoter extraordinaire, TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage recently dubbed the Genesys 300 “one of the most important races INDYCAR has ever held. People are starving for sports programming, so there’s an opportunity to have strong TV ratings around the country and around the globe.”

Newgarden and popular Canadian James Hinchcliffe said they have watched NASCAR’s three major touring series make successful returns at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway since May 17 without fans. Drivers, crewmen and officials have been wearing masks while distancing on pit road and even during TV interviews.

“It’s been actually quite fun to watch the NASCAR guys,” Newgarden said. “We’re going to be looking to do much of the same.”

Similarly to NASCAR, Newgarden and “Hinch” agreed the Genesys 300 is likely to draw curious first-time fans to the open-wheel series.

“Do I think it’s a hallmark day for the series? Yeah, absolutely,” said Hinchcliffe, 33, whose three-race deal in an Andretti Autosport Honda is being sponsored by Genesys.”Do I think it’s a make-or-break day? No, not really. I think INDYCAR racing is going to get back to what we do, and that’s going to continue for years to come regardless. Certainly we want this to be a successful race. We want it to be a good show. We’re on network in primetime. There’s a lot of reasons that we really want this one to go well.

“But you know, Eddie needs to make it sound like it’s the biggest race in history so that way more people tune in…and that’s totally fair.”

Newgarden noted the TMS night race, typically featuring razor-thin finishes, has evolved into must-see TV. “It’s always had a storied place in INDYCAR history,” Newgarden said. “But in these current situations, without a doubt it’s going to be a very important event for us. Is it the most important event in INDYCAR history? I have no idea if it is or not.

“It will be, for sure, an event to get right. A lot of pressure. But I think everyone involved will really be able to rise to the occasion and do a great job.”

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UPDATED 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES SCHEDULE

Saturday, June 6 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth 

Saturday, July 4 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course 1

Saturday, July 11 _ Road America Race 1, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Sunday, July 12 _ Road America Race 2, Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Friday, July 17 _Iowa Speedway Race 1, Newton

Saturday, July 18 _ Iowa Speedway Race 2, Newton 

Sunday, Aug. 9 _Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio 

Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 15-16 _ Indianapolis 500 Qualifying

Sunday, Aug. 23 _ Indianapolis 500 Mile Race

Sunday, Aug. 30 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill.

Sunday, Sept. 13 _Portland (Ore.) International Raceway

Saturday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Race 1, Monterey, Calif. 

Sunday, Sept. 20 _WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Race 2, Monterey, Calif.

Saturday, Oct. 3 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course Race 2

Sunday, Oct. 25 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 3 2020
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