INDYCAR Pre Race Media: 5 burning questions for Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (6 p.m. ET, USA, INDYCAR Radio Network)

Does NASCAR Weekend Help Or Dilute INDYCAR Weekend?

For the first time ever, the Cup Series came to the World Wide Technology Raceway in June. It was dubbed as the 1st major motorsports series to come to the St. Louis area. That didn’t come from the track but rather the St. Louis area news outlets. They were ecstatic to have NASCAR coming to the Gateway area. However, they must have forgotten that the Truck Series and the NTT INDYCAR Series and NHRA have been coming to the same track for years too.

Still, this eagerness and anticipation was large and the Cup Series raced in front of a sold out crowd. Now, does this new date help or hurt the INDYCAR weekend?

Since the series has been coming back to WWTR in 2017, they were always the big show. The race was promoted right. It felt like a huge event each August to witness this. From the pyrotechnics to the checkered flag, everything in between was massive.

Clearly though, it wasn’t massive enough as NASCAR came to town and stole the thunder for a weekend. They had even bigger crowds. Now, does this help or hurt this INDYCAR show?

It could hurt in a sense that as the economy is as bad as its been in decades and gas prices have soared to levels we’ve never seen before, it could have forced fans to make a decision on which weekend to go to. It could be an either or dilemma instead of both.

Does the INDYCAR crowd slip because of that?

The other side of the coin is maybe the NASCAR weekend could help. Maybe some of those fans that came in June liked what they saw out of the track so much that they’ll come back to give INDYCAR a try. I mean the staff at WWTR is arguably right there with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the best in the world. They do it right over there. It’s some of the best racing folks in the entire industry located at WWTR so if anyone can bring fans together, it’s them.

Also, NASCAR went to Road America in 2021 and the INDYCAR crowd in 2022 was bigger. That’s even with NASCAR coming back a few weeks later. So I can honestly see a scenario to where NASCAR coming to World Wide Technology Raceway could help INDYCAR instead of hurting it.

Nothing has changed on a promotions standpoint for this INDYCAR weekend than it would have last year. Everything is still in place to succeed.


Scott McLaughlin races with the Gateway arch in the distance at World Wide Technology Raceway. Photo Credit: IndyCar Media Site

Will TV Deal Hurt This Race?

While I say what I said in the point above, I wonder if the TV contract may be the thing that hurts this race. This race was always a great show under the lights. It was a primetime event. However, NBC Sports doesn’t want to give INDYCAR a primetime slot on NBC and they figured doing so on USA would kill the ratings even worse.

Instead?

They put it at 6 p.m. ET which is 5 pm locally. For a race that can run from start to finish in a span of 2 1/2 hours, you get done at 7:30 CT. Sunset for St. Louis at this time of year is at 7:48 p.m. locally which means this event will go from start to finish in daytime conditions.

Also, we saw how having a race on USA killed the ratings for Belle Isle. Nearly 5 million people tuned into the Indy 500 and a week later, only 354k tuned in and that’s on a Sunday afternoon. What about a Saturday evening?

I get it most people aren’t wanting to sit inside and watch TV on a summer night. Racing’s ratings in primetime have dropped which is why we’ve seen a fundamental shift in moving races back to Sunday afternoon’s.

However, Gateway is best run at night. INDYCAR doesn’t have a night show in 2022 and it’s a shame and one I wonder if the rating makes things complicated for the track and series itself for something they really have no control over.

TV dictates a lot these day and they should. They pay millions for it. Does this instance however ruin a good race?


Josef Newgarden celebrates his Bommarito Automotive Group 500 wins last August. Photo Credit: IndyCar Media Site

Why Do Only The Best Win At Gateway?

For some reason, you don’t see many fluke names win at the World Wide Technology Raceway. Josef Newgarden, a two time series champion, is the only driver to ever win on the 1.25-mile track multiple times. I mean, just look at the other drivers to have won on this track.

Names like Paul Tracy (1997), Alex Zanardi (1998), Michael Andretti (1999), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Al Unser Jr. (2001), Gil de Ferran (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Josef Newgarden (2017,2020), Will Power (2018), Takuma Sato (2019) and Scott Dixon (2020) all won on the 1.25-mile oval heading into this weekend.

Why is that?

One of the reasons why is due to the nature of Gateway being towards the end of the season. Normally, the best drivers by time we get to World Wide Technology Raceway are the ones vying for wins on a regular basis.

“I think in my case, from what I’ve seen, couple lucky yellows can make anyone a winner really. So I don’t know,” Conor Daly told me.

“If you start up front there, I feel like, if you’re quick there, no matter what, I don’t know, it seems to be one of those places that if you’re pretty bomb proof up front, you got a quick car, it’s going to be really hard to make that pass.

“I remember watching Josef try to win, door slammed Pagenaud out of the way. Sometimes maybe that’s what is going to have to happen. Josef is a champion. That’s what it’s going to take.”

Alexander Rossi agreed. He went a bit further in saying that the way that they determine the starting lineup is always by qualifying but qualifying lineup is set by entrant points. The best of the standings go towards the end of qualifying while the worst go at the beginning.

“I mean, I think the guys that are winning champions late in the year are qualifying up front,” he said to me. “That’s pretty much everything these days. If you’re in championship contention, you have a draw that goes later, you’re starting in the top five, it’s pretty hard not to kind of stay there unless crazy situations obviously.

“It is a very difficult place to pass. If you have a good car, you can pretty much maintain what you’re doing.”

He’s not wrong in the sense that this is a tough race track to pass on and the faster cars on the season are towards the top of the points. In saying that, they have the best qualifying draw which means they’re starting closer to the front. With fast cars being in the front on a track that’s hard to pass on, the only way by is for them to make a mistake. But, there’s a reason they’re up in the top of the standings and that’s because they’re usually on top of their games and their mistakes are by the minimum.

Hence champions winning here.


Team Penske has won 6 of the last 8 races here at WWTR. Photo Credit: IndyCar Media Site

Can Penske Remain As The Top Team On Short Ovals?

Team Penske has been the top dog on short ovals in the series these days. Penske started off great in this event with going 4-for-4 until Takuma Sato’s win in 2019. Scott Dixon won Race 1 of 2020 but Josef Newgarden won Race 2 and again last year to put Penske 6-for-8.

Newgarden also won this race in 2017 and each of the last 2 tries too. Heading into 2020, Simon Pagenaud had a top five finish in his first three tries at Gateway but just one podium, a third in ’16. He was 19th and 16th in 2020 and 8th last year.

Will Power won this race in 2017 but was only 20th, 22nd and 17th in his next three starts, two of which ending in crashes before a third place run in each of his last 2 tries.

“Winning is absolutely what makes me happy,” Power said. “I’m very moody when I haven’t won for a while. Just ask my wife.”

For Iowa, another short oval, they swept both races in 2020 and four of the last five times they’ve visited there. In saying all of this, is Penske the top team on short ovals in the series today?


Hondas have led a lot of laps, Chevy has taken a lot to wins at WWTR. Photo Credit: IndyCar Media Site

Chevy vs. Honda This Weekend?

This is a legitimate battle this weekend. Chevy has the trophies but Honda drivers have also led a ton of laps here but they’ve scored just 2 wins since the series started coming back in 2017.

In 2018, Scott Dixon, a Honda driver, led 145 laps but finished third. In 2019, Santino Ferrucci, another Honda driver, led 97 laps but finished fourth. In 2020, Pato O’Ward (94 laps in Race 1) and Takuma Sato (66 laps led in Race 2), a Honda driver finished third and ninth respectively.

Chevrolet has just won all but 2 of those races. Does Chevy have a leg up on Honda on short ovals? If so, why?

They dominated both races at Iowa too last month so should factor into this thing again.

In terms of teams, Andretti Autosport, a Honda team, has struggled here and aren’t expecting to be much better after a dismal Iowa weekend. They looked great however in 2021 but bad luck struck in the final laps. In 2020, Colton Herta was their top dog, but the other four drivers in this stable were nonexistent. Zach Veach finished 21st and 22nd respectively. Marco Andretti was 23rd and 15th himself. His best finish is 10th in five Gateway tries. Alexander Rossi limped home 22nd and 14th in 2020 and 17th last year as he’s had one top five and just two top 10 finishes in 6 Gateway starts. Ryan Hunter-Reay was seventh and 11th respectively and had no top five finishes ever there. Three of his five finishes are 11th or worse.

Ganassi, another Honda team, has been feast or famine too. Scott Dixon won Race 1 in 2020 and has four top fives in his last 7 starts including three podiums. Alex Palou was 15th and 12th in 2020 and 20th again in 2021 in his only 3 starts on the track. Marcus Ericsson was 16th, fifth, 23rd and 9th in four tries. Jimmie Johnson is a rookie. They’re after a points weekend just as they did at Iowa. Will they win? Not likely. Can they get in the top 5? Absolutely.

The Chevrolet group may be the ones to watch.

Penske is 6-for-8 here. Newgarden has won each of the last 2 races and should have swept Iowa. Pato O’Ward has been 3rd, 2nd and 2nd himself for AMSP and won Race 2 at Iowa. Rinus VeeKay was 6th and 4th as a rookie in 2020. Ed Carpenter was runner-up in 2019. Conor Daly has a top 11 in all 5 races he’s competed in at Gateway including 2 top 6’s.

I like the Chevy camp again.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s