My 2022 NTT INDYCAR Series schedule takeaways

The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series schedule is now out. We know the dates on the calendar with the tracks we’re venturing to. In saying that, a few surprises came around with Sunday’s unveiling too. It wasn’t as anticlimactic as we once believed.

With Iowa coming back and becoming a doubleheader, we all figured there would be 18 races now instead of 17 which was initially contracted from NBC Sports’ new deal that was announced back in July. But, there were still 17 races on the new schedule and when scanning it, you’d see that for the first time in nearly a decade, Belle Isle moves back to a one race weekend, not a doubleheader anymore. The last single race weekend in Detroit came back in 2012, so a decade ago.

How much did Roger Penske sanctioning that race and him now owning the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as the series come into play by dropping that doubleheader?

Also, by doing so, you’d see that there’s only one Peacock race and not two like initially planned. See, there were supposed to be 13 races on NBC and two each on USA and Peacock. The schedule shows 14 now on NBC including the first six and six of the final seven with one on Peacock (Toronto) and two on USA (Belle Isle, World Wide Technology Raceway).

That’s a good deal if you ask me.

Another takeaway from me is that the season starts earlier. Much earlier. We’re into February now on the 27th. It’s the first time since 2003 that we started in the second month of the year. We’re also ending earlier though too on Sept. 11. This year, the finale is on Sept. 26 in Long Beach and last year was at the end of October in St. Pete. The normal season finale date would have been this weekend though, so we’re just up one week that normal.

I feel like a lot of that is due to football and I applaud them for that.

Mark Miles has been vocal that the best time for INDYCAR to end is around Labor Day weekend. That’s due to not wanting to go head-to-head against the NFL. While INDYCAR fans undoubtedly would love to go well into the Fall before throwing the checkered flag on any given season, stats say otherwise.

That leads to the other factor that ties this all together and that’s TV. How this relates is, TV is your money maker. They drive a lot of decisions for you. When the NFL and INDYCAR go head-to-head, the ratings take a hit. Miles is 100% right that aspect. So for NBC Sports, why put a race on network NBC or even NBCSN when the ratings are going to be significantly worse in September and October than they’d be in the summer?

Does it serve INDYCAR good to go into the Fall? Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

They signed a long term extension this past July to be the sole TV provider of the series. They’re going to want the best ROI. With NASCAR running their final 10 races of their season from Labor Day weekend on, the space for INDYCAR isn’t as high.

We know NFL has Sunday Night Football from a window of 7 p.m. ET on every Sunday from the second weekend of September on. That means the only Sunday window for INDYCAR would be a day time race. If they want to be on network NBC, they have to hope NASCAR isn’t racing on Sunday.

That’s why the last two weeks work in the sense that NASCAR has raced on Saturday night. That allowed INDYCAR to be on network NBC for Portland and Laguna Seca.

Next year, you get a day race on Sept. 11 at Kansas for NASCAR unless that shifts to a night race on USA. They’ll be at Bristol on Saturday Sept. 17, then Texas on Sunday Sept. 25. From all of October to the end of their season in November, every race is on a Sunday. You can rest assured that NBC Sports is going to want NASCAR on network NBC for their playoff push.

That squeezes INDYCAR to being done in September but how early is too early? Labor Day weekend would give them space on network NBC before the Southern 500, but is that feasible? The week after, they get network NBC for a finale. This seems like a good spot then.

That’s just the logistics, but lets dig deeper. The race at Portland drew 670k viewers on network NBC. It also went head-to-head against the NFL. This was the lowest rated INDYCAR race all year on network NBC. That’s not a fluke.

By comparison, earlier in the year, INDYCAR drew the largest watched Indy 500 since 2016. They were averaging 1.316 million viewers prior to this. It was the best draw since NBC Sports gained the exclusive contract in 2019 and tops since 2017.

Ratings were up.

The fall out occurs when the NFL starts up. Last year, Mid-Ohio 2 went against the NFL’s Week 1 and they only had 638k watching. St. Pete in October of last year had 675k.

So, why would INDYCAR and NBC Sports willingly have big numbers and gains year or year from the start of the season though August but only let them take a nosedive from September on?

This is proving that everything that we’ve known about going against the NFL is true — you don’t. I think the vision and path is clear – INDYCAR is going to always end by the middle of September. That’s a good thing because you get to end on network NBC.

Colton Herta in Laguna Seca this past weekend – Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

This schedule is also vastly different from NASCAR’s in the sense I feel like INDYCAR knows what direction they want to go in where NASCAR is still shaking things up. INDYCAR values date equity where NASCAR is wanting to bring in new events and create some new excitement by new dates.

Other than Texas moving up to March, everywhere else is about where they were on this year’s schedule.

The only thing I don’t like is that we have such long gaps at the beginning of the schedule. You have one race in February, albeit late in the month. You have one race in March and one in April. Out of a 62 day span, we race three times.

Other than that, this is what I expected and it’s what I think we’re going to see with the schedule for a while.

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