Does An IndyCar Championship Matter?

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If you are coming here expecting an article about Nashville’s own, Josef Newgarden, reportedly going to Team Penske – I’m holding off until it is confirmed. Yesterday, Robin Miller reported that Penske is where Newgarden is headed. Supposedly, Newgarden is under contract until September 28th. Until his deal is done, I’ll stay quiet. When and if it’s confirmed that Penske is in fact his destination, I saw enough pontificating on social media yesterday to give me plenty to talk about. Until then, I’ve got other opinions to talk about.

Unless someone really angers me, I try to not embarrass those who go to the trouble to comment on this site. I’m always flattered that any reader would go to the trouble to comment on what I write about here. With that being the case, why would I try to embarrass the people that support this site and discourage them from ever posting again?

Having said that, I’m going to go back to a comment made on Friday, by a very loyal and longtime reader of this site who goes by the screen-name of “redcar”. He brought up an interesting point that I ultimately disagreed with, but not after giving it some thought. So even though I disagree with “redcar”, I’m not trying to single him out or embarrass him. I just want to present my reasons why I disagreed and open it up for discussion.

I’m paraphrasing, but he essentially said there can’t be too many championships in sports that mean as little to the general public as the IndyCar championship. He compared it to the greater significance of the NASCAR championship, even though he acknowledged that theirs is somewhat artificial. He went on to say that the IndyCar championship suffers from the tree falling down in the forest syndrome – no one is there to hear it. Ouch!

Some of what he said is dead-on accurate. The general public is barely aware that IndyCar even exists, much less that they decided their championship this past weekend. But we all know that brand recognition is part of the main problem and it is up to the series, the sponsors and even the fans to help spread the word. But currently, not many people heard (or cared) that the tree fell in the forest on Sunday.

But here is where I’ll disagree that the championship doesn’t matter. It matters a great deal to those involved – the teams, drivers, manufacturers, sponsors and most importantly; the fans. Does an IndyCar championship carry as much weight as an Indianapolis 500 win? Hardly. In fact, it doesn’t even come close. But to say it doesn’t matter is simply untrue.

Quick! Without looking it up, who won the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship? Think real hard. Some of you living in central Indiana might automatically know the answer, since you are in the heart of basketball country, but I’m wondering how many actually remembered that it was Villanova that won the Final Four just less than six months ago. And that was after a thrilling last-second shot that eliminated North Carolina.

How many outside of the states of Missouri or Kansas remember that the Kansas City Royals took last year’s World Series crown? Closer to home, does every person reading this recall who won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship last year? If you said Kyle Busch, you would be right and better than the small sampling of sports fans that I polled over the last couple of days. In my very unscientific research of asking those three championship questions to average sport fans – no one got all three answer correct. In fact, most got only one correct and a few got none correct.

But to those who won their respective championships and their fans – it was the moment of a lifetime. When Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made the unbelievable shot to defeat North Carolina at the buzzer, he created a memory that will last him a lifetime. He should never have to buy a drink again in suburban Philadelphia. But to causal basketball fans, it was ancient history just two weeks later and completely forgotten by September.

Most know that I am a lifelong football fan of the Tennessee Volunteers. I went to school there all four years (and then some) and got my diploma from there; but I was a fan of the football team since I can remember. When I started there in the fall of 1976, it was the beginning of one of the worst five year periods in school history with a record of 27-28. As luck would have it, the Vols started winning after I graduated. They topped off the long turnaround by winning the National Championship in 1998, going 13-0 and defeating Florida State by a score of 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Most of you reading this probably don’t even remember it, but it was a night I’ll never forget. Following that game, I sat on my couch late that night just thinking of all those games I sat through in the miserable cold and rain, convinced that my Vols had a comeback in them each week when reality said they didn’t. I felt like I could die now and be happy that I lived to see the Vols finally win a National Championship. If it mattered to me as a fan, imagine what it felt like to the players and coaches.

That was what I saw this past Sunday. While we fans bemoaned the fact that the race was boring and we were not entertained, Simon Pagenaud and his family were seeing a lifelong dream fulfilled. Sure Roger Penske, John Menard, HP and Chevy were all happy; but Pagenaud was ecstatic in seeing the culmination of all the years of hard work finally paying off.

So to say that a championship doesn’t matter is painting with a very broad stroke. Perhaps the IndyCar championship doesn’t mean as much to pop-culture America as winning a season on Dancing with the Stars, but to the participants and the fans of the Verizon IndyCar Series; it means everything in the world – except for winning the Indianapolis 500.

George Phillips

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21 Responses to “Does An IndyCar Championship Matter?”

  1. The championships are important. That is why when the chase was born in Nascar, so many fans left. It cheapened the championship in Nascar. I will usually ask who would have won under the old full season rules. That is who I believe the real champion is.

    Baseball and football have done this too in the introduction of so many divisions and levels of playoffs. Too often, the best team does not win in the short season. But at least it does not come across as a gimmick. Like in 1981 when the Cincinnati Reds had the best record in baseball and did not go to the playoffs because of the split-season format.

    In racing, I have always thought winning a race is more important that the seasonal championship. But that does not make the championship unimportant. Just a matter of priorities. And for the drivers, perhaps money?

  2. I would guess that the Indycar Championship is something of varied value depending on to whom you speak.
    Drivers that didn’t win Indy, want to win it.
    Teams that didn’t win Indy, want to win it.
    Fans whose favorites didn’t win Indy, maybe then follow the run to the Astor Cup.
    Do sponsors really care?

    I’m trying to recall the last time I saw a sponsor promote the fact that they won. Target and Firestone did some large print ads last year, but prior to that, I recall almost no recognition. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, just that it wasn’t prevalent.

    Surely everyone’s priority is to win Indy.

    It IS larger than any other race.

    Is Indy larger than the whole of the remaining schedule?
    It seems too close to call.

    Or is this all really just another grand exercise in sports/marketing/entertainment?

    I’ll admit I’ve been questioning the value of professional sports a lot lately – ridiculous sums of money going around the world to what actual end?

    Sports have the ability to illuminate the best in all of us, to inspire us all to be better perhaps.

    Provided what we see is a genuine, awe-inspiring challenge.

    It’s a tough ask in today’s cynical and aggrandized world.

    • Edgar Emmitt Says:

      Best post of the year.
      Sports in general is over hyped and the seasons last so long that in the end you lose interest.
      Plus the money being paid is driving people away.

      I happen to be a Packers fan and that’s the only game I watch each week.But with all the commercial timeouts even these games are getting hard to watch.

  3. As I recall, he did not say that the championship does not matter to those involved. He said it did not matter much to the general public. Hard to argue with that. With all due respect to Simon, he is not likely to show up on a Wheaties box.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    The Indycar championship (frankly, I still like the old “national championship” term) seems appropriately important, given the number of people who regard Indycar as important. It may be fair to say that it doesn’t matter to the general public, but the list of things that do is quite short.

    One thing I would argue is that the Indycar championship carries a weight beyond the immediate aftermath of it being won. It is a major feather in the cap of any driver’s career, especially in the past 30-40 years, when a large number of drivers contesting every race in a lengthy schedule have made championships very competitive.

  5. Good points here, especially on the Vols from a fellow Orange Crush fan, lol.

    People are so short sighted these days, no one really remembers much but it goes down in history, just like sad Cowboys fans arguing every year over 25 year old championships.

    I would rather win an Indy 500 myself, but a title is a big deal also. Matt of fact, the Indycar title is one of the last in the major levels of racing that isn’t diluted with some stupid stick-and-ball gimmick of a Chase or whatever.

  6. Part of the problem with the championship does lie in the emphasis on the 500, though…and IMHO, the NASCAR championship also suffers from the same thing with Daytona, and maybe even to a greater degree.

    The big payday in most sports is at the end of the season, and it requires consistent effort and winning throughout the season to be i the running for that payday.

    Does it make sense, especially to a casual fan, that the winner of a single event wins well more than double what the winner of a season-long championship takes home…considering that the major selling point/differentiation for Indycar as a seasonal sport over the past decade has been the versatility of the drivers on both ovals and twisties?

  7. Chris Lukens Says:

    The old axiom in the newsroom is that when a headline asks a question,
    the answer is usually NO. Winning the Championship is a big deal, but
    winning Indy is bigger. When the teams quit putting the #1 on their car,
    it told me how meaningful it was to them.

  8. One could argue that winning a championship in IndyCar gets ones ones racing resume to the top of the pile. If I were a driver and lost all my sponsorship and found myself in the position of approaching owners, I would feel much better knowing that “W” was there.

  9. Championships matter to the people they matter to. In auto racing, in my opinion, winning the Indycar championship means that driver/team has won the most challenging title available because of the diversity required as a result of the great variety of tracks used. To win this championship takes much better than competency in every type of four-whjeeled racing, including drag racing (getting good speed leaving a pit stop).

  10. Who is the current WBC Heavyweight Champion?
    Who won this past year’s Master’s? PGA?
    I would not be able to give an answer on these three questions as well as a host of others.

  11. Who is the current Indy Lights champion and how did he win? Perhaps he should give the money back.

  12. hello George. id say I agree with you that its a super big deal to those involved in the seris and those who watch it.

    but the big deal is the worlds greatest race the Indianapolis 500. that’s where nascar and f1 would like to have one race that equals it.

    key to the seris is 500s health when its good the seris is heathly and good . I belive that says it all.

    • I’m pretty much just an Indycar fan, but I think a reality check is needed. NASCAR has the Daytona 500, and while DIS doesn’t seat as many folks as IMS, the TV audience is far greater than that for the Indy 500 and has been for years. Likewise, attendance at LeMans is about the same as the Indy 500, but TV viewership throughout the world is far greater…and it features real technical innovation.

  13. Kyle Tapscott Says:

    The value of the championship is what is missing, until it returns not many will care who wins it. This to me is just another example of what is wrong with spec racing, it devalues the driver, teams, and championships. Do away with spec racers, insert ingenuity and determination and value is created.

  14. Edgar Emmitt Says:

    I would put more value on the Championship if Indy Car wasn’t so dominated by a 4 car team that has a boat load of money to work with.Just my personal opinion which in this day and age doesn’t
    mean much.
    See you guys next year.

  15. PHXDavePHXDave Says:

    I didn’t bother reading the great remarks or the dribble on this note. Fans are fans. We know our sport. I was at Fontana the last time they ran. Simon pitted a few laps in. My friend I had brought to their first race, replied he’s done. Why would he continue. I said okay, let’s follow the climb. And it was impressive! Can’t give you the exact finish, but I never doubted the “flying frog”again.

  16. Racing Acid Says:

    So weird to see many feeling the Indycar championship to be lacking in value. The Indy 500 is a prestigious race, but is there any other motorsports championship in the world (apart from maybe the World Rally Championship- gravel, snow, tarmac, mud) which provides so much versatility in the types of tracks? Ovals, streets, car parks, permanent road courses… CART used to even race on airports in Cleveland and Edmonton (!) It’s a shame Indycar suffers from so little promotion and ends its seasons during September with only 16 races. I’m a F1 fan from Britain, but whilst we still have different chassis and engines, all the tracks including Monaco are just vanilla. I think there’s an amazing skill level in driving a high downforce car around an oval, especially with dirty air disrupting following distances and requiring an eye for precise overtaking at 220mph (not like NASCAR’s bump and draft nonsense). I would love it if F1 opened up a three week gap during May to allow F1 drivers to do the Indy 500, like Jim Clark and Graham Hill did in the 60s.

  17. It is the only American option for a F1 super license, correct?

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