27 May 2013

What does Tony Kanaan finally winning the Indianapolis 500 mean for IndyCar?

Tony Kanaan has been known as one of the top drivers in Indycar for the past ten drivers, but he was best known for being so close and yet so far away from winning the series's crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500. Always a threat to win, there was always something that kept him out of victory circle. Until yesterday. With only three laps to go, Kanaan made a dramatic pass of leader Ryan Hunter-Reay moments before Dario Franchiti crashed back in the pack, ending the race under caution.

So now, after a highly competitive race and a storybook victor, can the Izod IndyCar Series gain some much-needed momentum?

Open-wheel racing in the United States was at one point on par, if not bigger, than NASCAR but as a result of the CART-IRL split in 1996, that series really saw a decline in popularity as their stock car rivals soared to new heights. The two came back together in 2008 but it has been a long, slow route for the series to rise back into the mainstream consciousness.

There have been positive steps made. For example, the series is perhaps more competitive than we have ever seen, as shown by yesterday's race which was racey throughout with almost 70 lead changes. It was a riveting race start-to-finish, which it has not been in years. Even as Danica Patrick has left the series to try and tackle NASCAR, IndyCar has seen a small influx of women into the sport, more so than in NASCAR, however most of those women are not that competitive.

But while Kanaan's storyline is a pretty good storyline, the biggest why for IndyCar to rise back into the spotlight is by the development of more American stars. For a series that is based in the United States, there is not that many elite American drivers, let alone American drivers at all. The only top names from the States are Marco Andretti and defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Andretti in particular needs to step up his performance, as he has been very strong this year, because he has the recognizable last name that almost everybody knows. If he wins the title, or if he breaks the Andretti curse at Indianapolis in the future, that will help the sport immensely.

The television contract is not ideal either. ABC, in recent years, has not been a productive partner for the series considering it does very little promotion on both the network and on the ESPN family outside of the 500. NBC Sports Network has been a good partner and puts together a very good production, but there is still an issue of people not knowing where it is on their dial. It will be five years on this current contract until it expires, so that will limit the growth.

Kanaan's victory will not be enough to allow IndyCar to rise again, but I believe that the potential is there. It will take some steps, but it can be done.

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