Aug 15, 2014, 11:48 AM EST
Traditionally a staple on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar in June, the Milwaukee weekend now shifts to August in 2014, which is crucial on several fronts.
From an event standpoint, Milwaukee is the fifth of six oval races this season. While the Indianapolis 500 is and will always be both IndyCar’s biggest and marquee race from an attendance and interest standpoint, the other oval races this year at Texas, Pocono and Iowa have come under fire for perceived lack of attendance.
“It’s hard to compare a Milwaukee or Pocono to St. Petersburg or Long Beach; they’re different environments,” says Ed Carpenter, owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. “They have done a really good job at Milwaukee. Sometimes the perception of attendance is one event – street courses feel busier than what they are compared to a Pocono or Iowa, good example, or Texas as well.
“The actual attendance you see at Texas or Iowa isn’t all that different… but like St. Pete, Detroit, there’s more going on at the race. It feels more crowded at Detroit because of confined space. It looks more different than what they are. For ovals it’s a different type of excitement; and there is always going to be more passing.”
It’s an important event for IndyCar to look big – Andretti Sports Marketing has more or less “thrown the kitchen sink” at this event for the last three years, although there’s still something of a mystery as to how well it gets through to the locals.
The upside is that this year’s race comes following the Wisconsin State Fair. A record number of patrons passed through the gates there, and a fair number should have been exposed to IndyFest signage and appearances. Drivers have been in the state for appearances and promotions on-and-off since March. Radio ads and billboards have made the rounds; a good Sunday forecast should encourage a good walk-up number.
But the look will be important, because although Milwaukee is overflowing with history and praise from most in the IndyCar paddock, it needs to work business-wise to ensure its long-term survival. For that, I say, if you’re near the area and claim to be an IndyCar oval fan, you need to put your money where your mouth is, show up, and pack the joint. Here’s a rundown of the events occurring this weekend.
From the series standpoint, the championship now enters its final stretch of three races, in three weekends, on three completely different types of circuits.
The ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) is on the legendary, historic one-mile Milwaukee Mile oval. Then it shifts to the flowing road course of Sonoma next week, and the two-mile, bumpy Auto Club Speedway in Fontana the following week.
This is more or less the week Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud, 63 and 64 points behind points leader Will Power (and his Team Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, who lost the lead at Mid-Ohio) need to make headway and get to within roughly the 30-40 point ballpark of the top two.
There’s 200 available points, plus bonus points, for the final three races with Fontana a double-points race. Hunter-Reay, who’s won the last two Milwaukee races and three in total, has his first ever shot at a race three-peat this weekend.
In his 2012 title-winning season, Hunter-Reay kicked off a string of three wins during the season at Milwaukee, which began his championship charge. Wins at Iowa and Toronto added to it.
None of the other three other than “RHR” have won here. Castroneves, in particular, has had a snakebit history at this track. Past Milwaukee winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon have a mathematical, if less realistic shot at the title but could well play themselves into it with another big week themselves. Neither “JPM” nor “Dixie” has anything to lose.
Then there are the spoilers. Any of 13 drivers have the chance to become IndyCar’s 11th different winner this season, which would tie a record set in the 2000 and 2001 CART seasons.
From that baker’s dozen, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe are the two I’m watching closely this weekend. Kanaan’s been fast, leading and unlucky on ovals; Hinchcliffe has traditionally run well at Milwaukee.
Marco Andretti and Josef Newgarden would also be popular winners – Andretti for the name and the fact it’s his father, Michael’s, organization promoting the event, and Newgarden after his Mid-Ohio near miss.
But whoever wins Sunday will have mastered the combination of pace, patience, balance, setup and traffic.
And so long as there’s a good number of folks in the stands here to see it – so it looks like the historic and major event it can be, and to enhance the NBCSN TV coverage – that’ll be a good day at the office for both INDYCAR and Andretti Sports Marketing.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:34 PM EST
NASCAR on NBC’s Jeff Burton reaches out to fans during an impromptu Twitter Q&A.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe raves about the year-on-year improvements by the SpeedSource Mazda program.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
Team Penske’s Tim Cindric discusses the “known quantity” of Brian Barnhart.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:54 PM EST
Richard Childress Racing announced it has added two female drivers to its driver development program, including the daughter of driver-turned-broadcaster Wally Dallenbach Jr.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:15 PM EST
Take a look at a day in the life of Verizon IndyCar Series driver Josef Newgarden during the offseason.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Although he’s looking ahead to the 2015 season, Brad Keselowski did a bit of reminiscing Wednesday.
Jan 28, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
After breakout 2014, Logano looks ahead to an even better third year with Team Penske.
Jan 28, 2015, 4:15 PM EST
IndyCar’s preseason driver meeting just might reveal some clues about who could fill the remaining seats left for 2015.
Jan 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Coming up: Interviews with the drivers of Roush Fenway Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, and Team Penske. Plus, a look back on a shocking upset at the 1990 Daytona 500.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:29 PM EST
After being sidelined in 2014, Johanna Long will drive a number of races for a new race team in both the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series in 2015.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
While a small, one-car team that makes just over half the races of the season, there’s a lot of heart and motivation in the family oriented Leavine Family Racing team.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:06 PM EST
A family release issued Wednesday through NASCAR’s communications department said Pearson suffered the stroke Dec. 9 “but is doing great and well on the road to recovery.”
Jan 28, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
Former IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart will return to his old role for 2015.
Jan 28, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
Six more events “tentatively” added to the Wood Brothers’ 65th anniversary season.
Jan 28, 2015, 2:31 PM EST
Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark said the team set up a meeting for Wallace with Maverick Carter, the agent who oversees much of James’ business empire.
Jan 28, 2015, 1:12 PM EST
Richard Petty Motorsports seeks sponsorship for 26 races for Sam Hornish Jr.’s team this season.
Jan 28, 2015, 1:02 PM EST
Horner also speaks with NBCSN’s Will Buxton about efforts from the team’s engine manufacturer, Renault, to ensure a much smoother start to 2015.
Jan 28, 2015, 12:33 PM EST
Force India opts to concentrate on getting its new 2015 car ready for the second preseason test at Barcelona.
Jan 28, 2015, 12:15 PM EST
Sam Hornish is fitting in quite nicely in his new role with Richard Petty Motorsports.
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