Team Penske president Tim Cindric says that the Indy 500’s noon start is a major negative for NASCAR drivers who wish to attempt the Indy 500/Coke 600 ‘double’ on Memorial Day Weekend.
Cindric told Motorsport.com: “The race stands for itself, [the 101st running in 2017] doesn’t need another hook, but no matter what you do, there’s only one 100th running of the race so it’s going to be a hard act to follow.
“I think a lot of people went this year because it was an event; it was the most well-attended 500 in recent memory, and it will be difficult to repeat that. I think there will be people who were exposed to it for the first time who will return, but you’ll still have the normal fall-off afterward.”
Cindric believes one obvious way to regularly encourage more fans through the gate for the race, and to boost TV viewership, is to encourage drivers to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C.. He says the idea last attempted by Kurt Busch in 2014 could become more widespread were the Indy 500 to move from 12 noon back to its once-traditional 11a.m. start time.
He commented: “The Indy 500’s heritage was about getting the best drivers in the world racing there, whatever their specialized form of racing. So I’m in favor of anything that can add to the race’s legacy, and someone doing the Indy 500/Coke 600 IndyCar/NASCAR double is an intriguing thing.
“But the start time of the race has continued to hamper the ability of drivers to do that. You know, maybe there are numbers and stats showing why the “500” should be noon instead of 11a.m., but for years and years it was 11 and the double was more doable.
“Would bringing it forward by an hour mean that we’d suddenly have a flood of NASCAR drivers trying to race at Indy that weekend? No, I doubt it… but I think even one would make a difference. And there’s three to five drivers out there who would like to do it one day, and have openly talked about it.”
“With the race at noon, it’s still possible, but it’s that much more difficult. And then there’s the situation that if a guy doing the double does win Indy, what happens then? There are a lot of post-race activities and duties to fulfill so that situation is still a bit of an unknown.”
Busch qualified 12th and finished sixth in 2014, racing for Andretti Autosport, but his chances of completing all 1100 race miles that weekend were ruined by mechanical failure in the evening’s Coke 600.
No Keselowski in the 101st Indy 500
Cindric ruled out the chances of Team Penske’s 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski attempting the Indy/Charlotte double next year.
Roger Penske's squad is already due to run five IndyCars next Memorial Day Weekend – four for full-time drivers Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, plus one for recent team incumbent and two-time Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya. Cindric’s abrupt response to a sixth Penske-Chevrolet at IMS was, “No chance!”
However, Cindric seemed open to the idea – though still doubtful – of Keselowski running a fifth entry on one of the IndyCar Series’ other tracks, following the Michigan native’s test in Pagenaud’s #22 IndyCar at Road America last year.
“It’s not something we’ve discussed,” said Cindric. “Those chances always exist but it’s not something we’ve put on the table as a consideration.
“Having said that, we like cross-pollenating the groups and we’ve done it with AJ Allmendinger in a different way [in 2013]; and while he was an IndyCar driver, we ran Montoya at Michigan and the Brickyard 400 in NASCAR a couple of years ago.
“I don’t see it in the short-term plan for Brad, though,” added Cindric. “I’d say don’t rule it out, but I’d be surprised if it happened next year.”
On the age-old question of whether a Ford NASCAR driver would be allowed to race a Chevrolet-powered IndyCar, Cindric said: “Well, any time you have those manufacturer changes, it’s never a welcome thing. But the fact that Ford don’t compete in IndyCar means it isn’t any different to Scott Dixon driving the Ford GT in IMSA.
“So I’d say that switch would definitely not be Ford’s first choice, but a precedent has already been set.”