Chip Ganassi expressed his full support for IndyCar's move to double-file restarts, as well as a move to a “lucky-dog” style move to give lapped cars a chance to get back on the lead lap.
“I was in favor of (double-file restarts). I think it's a good thing,” Ganassi said. “We have to attract some fans and when you visually watch a race on television, it needs to look like other races. Let's face it: most of the people who watch racing on television are watching NASCAR. When they turn on an IndyCar race, they should be able to see what's happening and it should look similar. If you're watching the NFL or a college football game, the rules are pretty much the same and the look is the same and the field is the same. There are small differences, but they are basically the same.”
Regarding the proposed free pass concept for lapped cars, Ganassi said, “I think it's a good thing. It's part and parcel of keeping cars on the lead lap and keeping cars in the race. I've heard the argument that we don't have as many cars [as NASCAR] and don't pass them as early – it's 26 vs. 43. I'd have to say I'm in favor of it. If you're going to do it, go the whole way. If you're more concerned about yellows, there's going to be more guys who are a lap down, so they're going to need help to get a lap back.”
Of Firestone's reversal of its original decision to leave IndyCar racing, Ganassi said: “The thing I took away from it is that it's more than everyone being unanimous in keeping Firestone. I think it was more that Firestone set the bar high for any tire company to come after it.
“They started in Indy Lights and they were in Indy Lights for a year, then they tested for a year at all the circuits with a real team and driver and then they came in the series. You just don't go look for a tire company on short notice. It's a tall order, so we wanted see what we could do to help their decision-making process.”
Ganassi explained that while his new, second team for Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball will share some information with his championship-wining Target squad, the two will function as separate entities.
“We've approached this as if it were two two-car teams. They have separate buildings, separate management,” he said. “About the only thing that crosses over is some engineering that works back and forth. I've said it's like the Hendrick model in NASCAR. For us, I don't see how four cars under one roof would work.”
Ganassi said he won't be in attendance tomorrow at Barber Park and Talladega when two of his IndyCar and NASCAR drivers will “trade paint.”
“They scheduled it on a day that I can't be there, but I'd sure like to be,” he said of the Scott Dixon/Jamie McMurray ride swap. “It was my idea, so I can't believe I'm not going to be there. I'm happy to do it for our guys.
“I always like our drivers to experience other things. They know each other from the 24 Hours of Daytona, so it's nice that they can get into each other's cars. Oftentimes you hear those guys talking about each other's cars. It's kind of interesting and nice that they can get a taste of it first hand. I don't think you need to worry about Jamie coming to IndyCar or Scott switching to NASCAR, but I think it's really going to be fun. And, more importantly, I think it's going to make them both better racecar drivers.”
• Scott Dixon's advice for Jamie McMurray, who will drive Dixon's No. 9 Dallara-Honda on the Barber road course:
“Take it easy, especially being my car! I asked if they could use the 10 car (of teammate Dario Franchitti) and they said no,” joked Dixon, who, in turn, will drive McMurray's stock car at Talladega Superspeedway. “For me, it's a restrictor plate track, it's a massive track, so I think my side of it is going to be a lot easier. It would have been cool to go to some short track like Bristol or Milwaukee.”
• Andretti Autosport's Danica Patrick said she is all in favor of IndyCar's decision, announced last week, to extend its double-wide restart policy to include the nine road/street courses on the schedule.
“Whatever we have to do to get people to watch more and come to the races is what we have to do,” she said. “I know it's a sport and we all want pure, pure, pure, but it's also a business.”
Series champion Dario Franchitti was somewhat more cautious about the rule change from a competition perspective, reckoning more accidents on restarts were now likely, but agreed it would bolster the entertainment aspect.
“Will there be more cars in pieces? Yeah,” he said. “But it will add to the spectacle. Ultimately, it's a sport but it's an entertainment – and those two have to be balanced and that's a difficult thing to do. In a lot of ways, I'm glad I don't make the decisions.”
The rules alteration, which includes moving the restart zone closer to the start-finish line, was implemented following input from drivers and owners as a way to spice up the entertainment factor and intensify the on-track action. Franchitti sees it as part of IndyCar's effort to engage the fans – which he says is above and beyond what he saw during his brief stint in NASCAR.
“The IndyCar Series goes way beyond what I saw in NASCAR as far as how the series brings the drivers and fans together from the open paddock, the autograph sessions,” Franchitti said. “The IndyCar community works hard to engage the fans.”
• IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said a decision regarding implementation of the “free pass” to its restart procedures would be announced this week. The feature would give the first car a lap down a free pass to regain its lap before restarts. He conceded that not all the team owners shared Ganassi's positive view of the concept.
“As much as I want to do everything the team owners want, I want to make sure we first and foremost take care of our fans,” Bernard said. “I've heard from a lot of them who don't want it, that it's too gimmicky.”
• Bernard said that as many as 15 drivers – and , perhaps, riders, counting Supercross star James Stewart, who said Saturday he'd be up for the challenge if he was invited – had inquired about the possibility of contending for the $5 million bonus offered to an “outsider who can win the season finale Oct. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway." Bernard rejected criticism of the bonus from Paul Tracy, who has suggested that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
“I'd say, ‘Paul, if you can sell the tickets I wouldn't have to do this,'” Bernard told AL.com.
Bernard acknowledged he is looking for a significant boost in TV ratings for the race, which will be airing on ABC this year. Last year's season finale at Homestead drew a disappointing 0.3 rating on Versus.
“If we can't do a 1.5 to 2.0 rating on network TV I'd consider it a failure, Bernard told.