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Spot as NASCAR opening act intrigues IRL
A dual-race weekend appeals to some, but Nextel Cup might not have much to gain.
By BRANT JAMES
Published June 3, 2006
The possibilities seem limitless.
Tony Stewart and Helio Castroneves would have the chance to climb the same catchfence on the same weekend. Casey Mears could finally get back in an IndyCar. Dan Wheldon could finally slide into a Nextel Cup stock car.
All that's needed is a catchy name.
Actually, what's really needed is the acquiescence of NASCAR. And while stock car racing's top series remains the bully on the motorsports block in this country, the possibility of Nextel Cup and the Indy Racing League ever joining together for one mega weekend seems remote, even as interested parties within the sport ask for it.
While executives from all major racing series espouse the need to promote the sport in general and not just their series, NASCAR, in fairness, has no real need for benevolence as it feeds a national appetite for stock car racing. NASCAR chairman Brian France said the topic of a dual date has arisen "from time to time," but his sport has other agendas.
"I don't think it's ever worked out," he said. "We really have a different business plan than they do and we have to do what we need to stay on course and I'm sure they feel the same way."
IRL CEO Tony George, though in agreement that the IRL has its own designs, said he would welcome discussion if it benefited everyone.
The Frances, through NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., and George already have business relationships from their partnership in building Chicagoland Speedway - where Nextel Cup and IRL each compete - and the Nextel Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"We have a good working relationship with both, and if certain tracks or promoters like that combination, that's okay," George said. "If they're fine with that, we're happy to be there with them. I think an IndyCar weekend and a Nextel Cup weekend could be interesting and it certainly would be a novelty. I don't know if it's something you'd want to or could do on a regular basis."
The IRL would seemingly have more to gain as it struggles to recapture the popularity open wheel racing once commanded. Still, George is not actively pursuing the idea.
"I have never talked to Brian about it," George said. "I know some of our people have brought it up from time to time, some of the ISC-owned tracks, maybe as we communicated to them through NASCAR. I don't think the league has really talked to anyone at NASCAR about it, and to some extent, while it could work, it would require modifying the way we do things."
Nextel Cup and the IRL race on nine common tracks but have never shared a weekend at the same venue. The NASCAR Truck series will split a bill with the IRL at Texas Motor Speedway next weekend and at Kansas in early July as they have since the track opened in 2001.
The truck series serves as a support race - running a day earlier - but popularity would seemingly dictate the Nextel Cup race would be the main event on a card with the IRL. That could be tough to swallow for the IRL, but it would provide the series a chance to showcase for NASCAR fans high-speed, two-hour races and a host of personalities.
The concern, George said, is having a product collectively weaker than the separate parts. The main problem, he said, could be mixing NASCAR Goodyear and IRL Firestone tire compounds to create a potentially slick track - "it might be more problem than it's worth, and you wouldn't want to find out on a race weekend."
No problems have been reported from the previous Kansas double bills, however, including last year when ARCA joined the weekend using Hoosier tires.
George noted Nextel Cup's well-publicized spotty attendance at California Speedway in Fontana as an example of how a collaboration might benefit both series.
"They didn't have a full house at California, and we haven't had that," he said of the track, where the IRL raced from 2002-05 but does not this year. "Would that be enough to draw people if we shared a given track on a given weekend? I don't know. Could be interesting."