Why 33 entries is enough for the Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS — On Monday, the NTT IndyCar Series unveiled the entry list for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). On it is eight former winners, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Takuma Sato, to go along with five strong rookies — Oliver Askew, Dalton Kellett, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay.

But, what we won’t have this year is bumping. While I get that may draw some rage out of some fans, I think for this year, 33 is just enough. Yes, the last two years the Last Row Shootout has really overshadowed the Fast Nine, but a Last Row Shootout scared me this year.

In 2018, you got Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe sent home. Last year, you had the dramatic last qualifier in Kyle Kaiser, in his small Juncos team, bumping out the big fish McLaren and Fernando Alonso on the final lap of his four-lap qualifying run. Alonso and two Carlin cars in Max Chilton and Pato O’Ward were bumped and didn’t make the show.

This year, you won’t have the dramatics of Bump Day. While I get the praise for getting back to a standard Bump Day the last couple of years when for several years prior we were lucky to just get to 33 entrants, for this year, I’m happy and content with 33. The reasoning behind that is, this coming Sunday would not only have been a fight for a few teams to make it into the 104th Running, but it would have been a literally fight to survive as an organization.

I can almost guarantee you that if anyone missed the show this year, they wouldn’t be around next. Is that fair? That’s why we have arrived at 33 and it will remain that way for 2020. There’s no risk of getting bumped. There’s financial gain to be had here, or less of a loss I should say, for the 33 here this week, because they know that they will have between now and Aug. 23 to sell that to sponsors. It’s easier to sell to companies to put your logo “here” and it will cost you “x amount of dollars” because I can guarantee you a place in the Indy 500.

There’s a lot of teams that already do this and have contracts in place with companies to be in the Indy 500. If they’re not, money is rebated back to those said companies. There’s already discounts being given from teams to sponsors because Indy is a place those sponsors can bring guests and watch their logo and colors fly at speeds in excess of 230 mph around a 2.5-mile track on any given day. Now, they can only do so only on TV. It’s not what they paid for and some sort of reimbursement for that initial sum would be given back.

Imagine having to give it all back. Then, what do you do with the loss of not making the show? How do you go to a new sponsor for funding next year? That sponsor would point out this year and say why risk it? You would be forced to spend money you don’t have on ways to make your car faster. How can you spend money you don’t have in your account?

That’s why being at 33 this year to me is perfect.

Plus, some may wonder how we went from 35-37 potential entries to just 33. Well, for teams like Top Gun, Juncos or anyone else for that matter, what gain do they have by throwing a car together this month? Why pay the tire bill? Why float gas money for the two weeks for a car? Why hire help, a crew, staffing for engineers, etc, when you know the purse is cut in half? Most people don’t realize this, but teams actually lose money to race at Indy. The purse doesn’t give them much to make money off of. That’s where the sponsorship package comes in to at least give them a paycheck and to then make your car competitive with competitive people.

So, why risk the sponsor, the car you currently have and paying all this overhead when you know you’re not likely to make it back this year? Wouldn’t it be best to just wait until 2021?

Now, I’ve seen people bitching about the purse and saying just call the race? Well, last time I checked $7 million overall is better than $0. The teams need this race for those sponsors, remember? Cancel the race, lose teams. That’s a fact.

So, while the purse is half of what it was supposed to be, just be grateful that there’s still a purse to be had. It minimizes the loss of what’s already been lost, or what could have been lost.

And for those blaming Roger Penske for this, get out of here. That man is losing money everything IndyCar shows up to a race track. The series isn’t NASCAR and just receives hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars per year from a TV network. NBC Sports’ contract with IndyCar is not the same as NASCAR.

NASCAR’s deal is so large, they pay tracks millions to show up. IndyCar needs money from tracks to show up. But, how can a track pay IndyCar their sanctioning fee when they can’t host fans or when they do, they have to host a limited amount?

Texas received a big break in that category in June. IMS hasn’t had fans at either race now. Road America and Iowa reportedly got a break on their ends to move races around, add a race to each weekend and host limited fans.

Think Penske is making any money doing this? No!

He’s losing money every time a car is out there, whether his own car or another teams’. Do you hear him complaining about this? He’s making the best of it. The teams are uniting and doing the same.

That’s why the purse is where it’s at and I think it’s more and generous enough for the purse to be where it is. That’s why we “only” have 33 car and driver combinations this month and why this race is still pushing forward without fans.

I’m okay with all the above. If you want this series to survive in 2021 how it was in 2019, this is all needed.

 

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