June 8, 2013

Hey, America, look at the Americans at the top of IndyCar

The IndyCar Series has a race Saturday night right where it wants it.

The IndyCar Series has a race Saturday night right where it wants it.

On national television.

In prime time.

Bonus: with no NBA Finals in the way.

What a chance to get American eyeballs on an American open-wheel race series with a name even casual American fans could recognize tied for the points lead.

Can you imagine Marco Andretti winning the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, maybe holding off another historic American racing name, Graham Rahal, in an ABC-televised photo finish?

Twitter might buzz. Viewers might think, “That guy drives like his old man. When’s the next race?”

Hey, a series can dream, can’t it?

“America needs to get behind their American drivers,” Australian driver Will Power said. “There’s an American with a famous name leading the championship right now. That should excite the American people. He’s a third-generation driver. His grandfather is one of the most successful drivers ever. The American people should be pretty excited.”

Power is one of the best drivers in the series. The last three years, he was the championship runner-up. He has to fight off the Americans. A U.S. driver caught him for the championship last year.

But not only is he gracious about encouraging American fans about American drivers, he is right to. The IndyCar Series, although it visits Brazil and Canada, is the top U.S. open-wheel series going. It makes sense that it needs U.S. fans. Lots of U.S. fans.

“It’s funny. You can almost say that it’s the American invasion in IndyCar,” Power said.

Americans hold two of the top three spots in the standings. Andretti is tied for the lead with Brazil’s Helio Castroneves. Ryan Hunter-Reay, born in Dallas and the defending series champion, is third.

Charlie Kimball, a 28-year-old Californian, is 10th. Rahal, who almost won this race last year, is 14th, and 22-year-old Tennessean Josef Newgarden is 15th.

“When future drivers see American drivers doing well, they want to do the same thing,” Castroneves said. “You’re going to see that more often, and hopefully that’s what’s going to happen in the future.”

IndyCar can survive without successful Americans. Castroneves built a U.S. fan base by winning Dancing with the Stars. He and Dario Franchitti of Scotland each have won three Indy 500s. Former TMS winner Tony Kanaan of Brazil charmed the talk-show circuit after he won at Indy two weeks ago.

But the moment is here for the American drivers. Hunter-Reay won three races in a row in the heat of summer last year with mistake-free maneuvering. Andretti has been tantalizingly close to ending the “Andretti Curse” at Indianapolis and is at the top of the standings for the first time. Rahal might emerge as the series visits two more ovals after Texas.

“The series needs some of these family names with a strong history to be up there each weekend,” said ABC race analyst Scott Goodyear, a Canadian and former TMS race winner. “What this series needs is the Andrettis going against the Rahals. When you think about their fathers, about the rivalry those guys had, I think our fans would like to see a repeat of that. It exposes their name to new fans.

“And as those guys start to run up front and the media starts to talk about them more, people would get a lesson in the rich history this sport has.”

The first lesson could be tonight. Don’t be late.

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