Looking ahead to 2023 with Nate Ryan of NBC Sports
PIT PASS INDY– SEASON 3, EPISODE 5 – Looking ahead to 2023 with Nate Ryan of NBC Sports
January 31, 2022
Pit Pass Indy Host Bruce Martin heads to the California desert for INDYCAR “Content Days” and Spring Training as the series prepares for the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
This week’s guest is the award-winning journalist Nate Ryan of NBC Sports. In a lively conversation, Martin and Ryan preview this year’s INDYCAR season as well as talk about Jimmie Johnson’s return to the NASCAR Cup Series as a team owner and part-time driver, Michael Andretti’s ongoing bid for a Formula One team and many other topics.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow Bruce Martin at Twitter at @BruceMartin_500
"Penske" means performance ... and winning
For good reason. Since 1966, Team Penske has won 43 national championships, 17 IndyCar alone. Its 18 Indy 500 victories are a record. And last year, Penske was the first team in history to win both the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series championships in the same season. Those are results that are tough to top.
IndyCar fans, it's time to start your engines. Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host, Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar Series.
Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar Series in a fast-paced podcast featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR. Working for such media brands is nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek and Speed Sport.
So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
All of us at Pit Pass Indy are deeply honored and proud to receive The Best Podcast Award of 2022 by the National Motorsports Press Association during its annual convention in Concord, North Carolina on January 22nd.
The episode entitled Mario Andretti and the “American Dream”, won first place in the podcast category from an independent panel of judges. The episode was released on June 21st, 2022, and is available for download on all major podcast platforms. The team here at Evergreen Podcasts is deeply honored, proud, and humbled to receive this award.
We also, want to congratulate IndyCar Series team owners, Michael Shank and Jim Meyer of Meyer Shank Racing for winning the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona IMSA SportsCar race in the return of the famed GTP class. Two of the four winning drivers in the No. 60 Acura are from IndyCar.
They include four-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver Helio Castroneves, who won the Rolex 24 for the third straight year. The late Peter Gregg also won three Rolex 24s in a row, but the famed race was not held in 1974 because of the energy crisis. Simon Pagenaud, the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2016 NTT IndyCar Series Champion was also on the winning team, as well as regular IMSA stars, Scott Bloomquist and Colin Brown.
This week, it's off to the California desert for IndyCar's annual content days, followed by two days of testing known as Spring Training.
Our special guest for this episode is award-winning journalist, Nate Ryan of NBC Sports. Ryan joins me for a lively conversation as we preview this year's IndyCar season, as well as talk about Jimmie Johnson's return to the NASCAR Cup Series as a team owner and part-time driver. Michael Andretti's ongoing bid for a Formula One team, and many other topics.
With so much to cover, here is my exclusive interview with Nate Ryan for Pit Pass Indy.
I have to be extra nice to my next guest here on Pit Pass Indy because he throws some work toward me from time to time. It's Nate Ryan of NBC Sports.
Nate, you're the first fellow journalist that I've had on the podcast as we enter our third season. IndyCar's getting ready to start up. You were just at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which had a large contingent of IndyCar drivers.
Now, we're in Thermal, California getting ready for IndyCar's annual Spring Training, preseason practice. What are some of the storylines you think we should see out here this week?
Well, there are a few, Bruce. But before I get started, I just want to say it's an honor and a privilege to be on the podcast I've been listening to for the last couple years, the award-winning Pit Pass Podcast. And I feel like I have to be on my toes a little bit because this is such a prestigious podcast that you got going here.
Mario Andretti winning your award. That's terrific with that episode last year, one of many good episodes. So, pleasure to be here.
I think the main storyline for me, Bruce, and going in the IndyCar season is even though things have settled from the 2022 season and all the upheaval with Alex Palou and what's going to happen with Felix Rosenqvist, I feel like we go into 2023 with a lot of those things still unsettled.
I mean, we know Palou is going to drive for Ganassi, but I mean, we presume he's still headed to McLaren in 2024. So, it's like did they just kind of kick the can down the road here? What's going to happen to Felix Rosenqvist?
There was still a lot of driver movement in the off season, so I think we're all curious what's going to happen there. You got Takuma Sato now, and a one-year deal at Ganassi to run the ovals. Even though a lot was settled coming out of 2022, it feels like there's a lot of questions for ‘23.
It's kind of like the debt ceiling in the federal government and just keep kicking the can down the road. I would be remiss in saying that the winner of the first place in podcast last year was Nate Ryan and his NASCAR on NBC.
Actually, no, second and third last year. But thanks for the applause.
Second and third. Okay, that's right. It was Rick Houston that won it last year. Competing against Nate Ryan, it's a tough act to follow because Nate has so many awards and Rolexes and things like that. It's really kind of a tough act to follow.
But interesting point you bring about, Alex Palou, he is going to be a Chip Ganassi racing driver. You just kind of wonder what the dynamic's going to be between him and Chip in what should be a lame duck season for him.
Yeah, and it feels as if they ended things on really good terms. Obviously, he won the finale at Laguna Seca and then two days later, or maybe it was even a day later, they're announcing, “Hey, he's back next year.”
And he gave us the indications that was happening when you and I and a group of other writers talked to Zak Brown from McLaren that weekend. It was certainly seemed as if this was the way things were heading and that Chip and Palou had sort of put things to rest.
But it is interesting how it's going to work because it was so much the storyline for the second half of the 2022 season. And fairly unprecedented that you had this situation where a driver and team were somehow managing to ring fairly good results despite the writing being on the wall that the divorce was not imminent, but it was in the cards that was going to happen for this team.
I think it's a testament to Palou that he was able to just be so single-minded and so focused. It seems like he has a real ability, maybe that might be one of his greatest strengths. Obviously, he's a very talented driver, but he seems to be very good at compartmentalizing and just focusing on the things that matters and, “Hey, maybe I can't access my team data from home. Maybe I'm getting frozen out by Chip at the track at least until the finale. But other than that, things are good. I'm going to make this work.”
Not only that, but this upcoming season, he's going to be making a lot of trips to American Legion Halls because he's going to be the American Legion driver. Which is pretty interesting considering he's from Spain, but the American Legion was on Tony Kanaan's car. Tony Kanaan basically considers himself a US citizen these days.
But moving along to another driver, what do you think is going to happen with Alexander Rossi? I actually think he'll have a really good bounce back season.
I mean, it feels like this is a really good fit for him, Bruce. And certainly, things, unfortunately, ran their course at Andretti and I think they had really run their course not long after he started the last contract with them.
He signed that extension in 2019 when he was really top of the market, top of his game, and everybody wanted him. And then he went through just two and a half miserable seasons at Andretti. Didn't get that win until last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
But I think that we did see toward the end of last year, a little bit of a reinvigorated Alexander Rossi. But I'm still curious about how he's going to fit into McLaren. I think it's a good fit in that McLaren has that Formula One background and culture that Rossi obviously, having come up in Europe and having raced in F1, he's familiar with that. I think it's a good fit in terms of his personality and that team culture.
But I am curious and would be curious on your take on this, coming into a team with Rosenqvist now being established there for a few seasons and Pato really being established there as the A driver for so long. I mean, Alexander Rossi I think kind of likes being an alpha driver, so how does he fit in a team with Pato?
I'm not anticipating that there'll be problems there, but I just think that it'll be interesting to see how that dynamic works.
I think in a lot of ways, that's exactly what Zak Brown wants is two drivers on the same team really being alpha drivers and pushing each other because Felix being Felix, he's always kind of sneaky fast and he's very good, he's not out looking to get attention. Pato loves attention. Alexander Rossi's attention, he loves to get it on the racetrack. Sometimes he can be rather unique and interesting off the track.
But I really think that between the three of them it's still, we know Alexander Rossi's going to be there long term, but with the Pato wants to get the Formula One, we don't know yet what's going to happen with Felix in future years, but we know that he definitely deserves to be around on a top-notch IndyCar team.
I want to get your take though, on the fact that Gavin Ward is now, the lead guy over at Arrow McLaren SP and he's very impressive. He comes from Formula One, he was at Team Penske for a few years and now, he's pretty much in charge of everything having replaced Taylor Kiel as the head guy at Arrow. What do you think of that move?
Yeah, I think there have been a lot of interesting management moves in IndyCar, Bruce, that sort of fly under the radar for those who aren't really plugged in and aren't in the industry.
But yeah, Taylor Kiel going to Ganassi and essentially being replaced by Gavin Ward at McLaren is going to be an interesting move. We've seen that McLaren has put Gavin Ward out there a little bit more.
We've seen him out front and a couple of times in media availabilities with Zak Brown or when they announced that Kyle Larson's going to be running the Indy 500 for that team next year. We saw Gavin Ward be a part of that.
And he certainly seems comfortable in his new role. I mean, obviously, as you mentioned, he had tremendous amount of success with Josef Newgarden, his engineer comes up through, again, a Formula One background.
And I think if McLaren continues to be at that championship contention level that we've seen from them with Pato the last couple of years and being able to put themselves in position to win races. If they want to continue that climb and again, make IndyCar more of a big four than a big three, Gavin Ward obviously, is going to be a big part of that. And I think it'll be interesting to see.
Again, like because it kind of falls on him to make this Alexander Rossi transition, bring him in. I think it falls on Ward to make that sort of seamless. But again, I think like his background and his style, what I've seen outwardly is a good fit for a guy like Rossi. So, definitely, a team to watch in McLaren in 2023.
Having gotten to know Gavin up at Team Penske in Mooresville, North Carolina. Very interesting guy, very unique guy, very affable. I think he'll do a lot of great things there.
But I think that the one thing that's really going to benefit that team is Zak Brown wants to have some synergy between the Formula One team and the IndyCar team. And I think that Gavin will be the perfect fit to understand and sift through the information to delineate and get some transfer from each program to the other.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And they obviously, want to rely on that depth and I think they kind of need to, Bruce. I mean, when we think about it, I mean, talk about a heavy lift, like adding a third car in this environment when all we hear about is how strapped IndyCar teams are for personnel and hiring people.
Not just IndyCar, we hear it in IMSA, we hear it in NASCAR. There's a lot of good signs right now in racing with so much manufacturer money pouring, there's a lot of opportunities and job openings, but it makes it really hard to find good people.
So, I think that has been something that I've been impressed by so far with McLaren is it seems as if Gavin Ward and Zak Brown and that whole team have done a good job of staffing up at a time when that's really, really difficult.
But to your point, having across the pond, all that F1 knowhow, technology, that knowledge base to rely on, that's got to be huge too.
And oh, by the way, Tony Kanaan is joining the team for the Indianapolis 500. So, Zak Brown, has shrewdly been able to put together the four drivers that finished positions two through five in last year's Indianapolis 500.
Not bad. Yeah, I mean, King Zak strikes again. I think I texted you the other day something to that effect when we saw the Kyle Larson news. I mean, Zak Brown is just, he's been a mover and a shaker not just as the CEO of McLaren racing for the last several years, but really just since he's been in racing for the last 30 years.
I mean, before he moved into the team ownership side, we know what a power broker he was in terms of lining up sponsorships and now, we've really seen it in IndyCar where he has come in and really thrown his weight around and really made McLaren a very attractive place to go.
I mean, would we have even thought when Rossi signed that extension at Andretti in 2019? I mean, certainly, what was then Schmidt Peterson Motorsports wouldn't have been in really as much in the equation. And now, McLaren having taken over the majority ownership of that team and really established something the last few years, I mean, they've become a real powerhouse.
So, I think it's a huge destination and a lot of that is a testament to Zak Brown's ability to attract and cultivate driving talent, but also sponsors. And you're right, I mean, having that kind of lineup for the Indy 500, I mean, I think you got to — certainly, Ganassi as a team you're going to be looking at for Indy, the way they performed last year, but McLaren will be a force to be reckoned with as well.
In 2017 and 2018 when Zak Brown was sniffing around, considering starting a full-time IndyCar team, we'd go around the paddock and ask guys, “What do you think, chance in IndyCar getting McLaren jump, come over?”
And a lot of people were very positive, but sometimes there would be some of the top teams would say, “Be careful what you wish for because McLaren can really dramatically change things.” Well, they have.
And in a lot of ways, it's only improved IndyCar because it's raised the bar and now, you've got teams like Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport that have to keep their game moving forward because here's Zak Brown and McLaren just nipping away at them. And in a lot of ways, I think they're already one of the three power teams.
I think so too. I mean, with the years that Pato has had the last few seasons.
But that being said, I do think that there is some results-oriented performance here at stake for McLaren. I think they want to have more than one driver winning races and contending consistently. I mean, not to dismiss certainly what Penske and Ganassi did last year, I mean, in having multiple drivers win races and certainly having drivers be in the fight all the way down to the championship.
I mean, look at Penske to have Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin in the hunt all the way down to Laguna Seca and have Will Power win his second championship. I mean, it does seem as if in racing performance is cyclical. And we certainly, saw Penske, with the exception of the Indy 500, have a big bounce back year in 2022.
I mean, I know we've been talking a lot about Andretti, but outside of IndyCar and obviously, they didn't have the type of season they wanted in 2022. Not to dismiss Rossi because he won there last year, but I do think like this could be a case of addition by subtraction in some ways by adding Kirkwood and having Herta be clear cut number one driver. Romain Grosjean comes back after a disappointing, I think first year there and he might have more to prove.
It would not surprise me at all if Andretti moved up the power class a little bit there and is contending for a championship this year the way they didn't last year.
And speaking of Arrow McLaren SP, oh by the way, a driver we’ll probably see a few times this year on the timing stand, this guy named Kyle Larson, 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. The guy drives anything, he wins anything, won a slew of sprint car races, World Outlaw races. The American public has been wanting to see Kyle Larson run the Indy 500 probably since about 2013, 2014.
Well, in 2024 they're going to get their chance. And how big a shock was that when that news came out that he was going to come to the Indianapolis 500 and the fact that Rick Hendrick's going to be part of it?
Yeah, that piece of it, Bruce, I think was the real stunner for me was how much a part of it Rick Hendrick was going to be a co-car owner and bring his sponsor and that he's so supportive of it.
I mean, this is a NASCAR team owner who used to frown upon his drivers running anything but his cup cars. I mean, Kasey Kahne was not allowed to run sprint cars for however many years. I think the last five or six years he was at Hendrick Motorsports because he flipped in a World of Outlaws race and Rick Hendrick said, “No more.”
Well, that changed permanently when Kyle Larson joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, won the championship his first year, won 10 races and did all that while he was allowed a free pass just to go race whatever he wanted. And I think he raced 70 or 80 times that year between cup races and dirt races.
And I think Rick Hendrick really saw the benefits of that. I think that planted the seed as we heard. I know we heard this on your podcast as well, hearing that audio from Kyle Larson and Zak Brown and Rick Hendrick explaining how this all came together.
I mean, Kyle Larson said that the first time he broached this with Rick Hendrick was Christmas 2021, right after his first season. Hendrick wins that championship, runs all these races, says, “Hey, boss, I've always wanted to run the Indy 500. What do you think?” I think he kind of just threw it out there on a lark and Rick Hendrick's like, “Yeah, let's do it.”
And I think we've seen Hendrick get involved in other series. We saw him at Sebring, we saw him at Rolex 24 with the LMDh car that he was running with Jimmie Johnson.
This year, he's going to Le Mans with that Garage 56 project that NASCAR is doing. So, he's going to be racing in all the biggest races in the world over the next 18 months. And I think for Rick Hendrick, that's a real feather in his cap right now.
And as far as him showing up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because of his grassroots background and the fact that he's got so many fans that have watched him race on dirt, watched him race late models, sprint cars, midgets and all that, do you think that'll be a bigger needle mover for the Indy 500 than say when Jimmie Johnson was there?
Man, that's a good way to frame it, Bruce. I hadn't even really thought about that. And my initial reaction would be that Jimmy is in kind of a different class than Kyle Larson in terms of household name value.
But that being said, that they're going to have such a runup for this. And I mean, who knows what Kyle Larson does this year? He might win the Daytona 500, he might win another championship. He’s a generational talent and he might have one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR and take himself up even another notch.
And Rick Hendrick, it goes without saying, is one of the greatest team owners in auto racing history and has a way of, with his Midas touch of when he associates himself with something, it's generally hugely successful. So, I think this could be a real needle mover.
And I think that what's different about this than has been different from any other attempts at the double with Kyle Larson is the amount of lead time. I mean, you know well, having covered John Andretti and Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch and Robby Gordon, the other guys who attempted to do this, I mean, is anybody going to have as much time as Kyle Larson is going to have to prepare for this?
I mean, we heard from Zak Brown, he's definitely going to be in a car I think this year. Maybe he runs an oval race between now and then. I think that's up for debate. Could depend on scheduling and all that.
But he's certainly going to be immersed at McLaren in a way that those other guys who attempted to do both races weren't. And combine that with that team's formidable car reputation and Kyle Larson's talent, I think you got a shot at winning this race.
The other thing about Kyle Larson is he's 30 and he'll be 31 when he runs the Indianapolis 500. And as he said, he's beginning the prime of his career. So, why not do this when you're in the prime of your career?
I think in a lot of ways, we like Jimmie Johnson, Jimmie's great and Jimmie does a lot of things well, but it was at the tail end of his career. Maybe Jimmie would've probably adapted a little bit better had it been sooner in his career, but back then it was completely different set of circumstances.
I doubt that he really would've been that interested back in the original IRL days to take a shot at running the Indy 500. But do you see that as being a factor?
Yeah, and I think you make a really good point on Jimmie, Bruce, because it was, I think, a big ask. I mean, he had to be coaxed into doing this, and he came back to IndyCar initially just to run road and street.
I mean, he always wanted to do the Indy 500 as a kid and growing up, he has an immense amount of respect for that race. But I don't think he looked at this race as even necessarily bucket list when he started running IndyCar.
I mean, it was only when he sat on the Peacock Pit Box with Steve Letarte during the NBC coverage and watched those cars whizzing by on the Brickyard going on the oval much faster than he had gone on the oval when he won four Brickyard 400s. I think that was when the light bulb went on and said, “I want to do this.”
Kyle Larson comes into this, I think in a little bit of a different scenario. He's wanted to do it since he was a kid, but he's never wavered from, “I want to race, I want to win this race, I want to run this race. My dad's always wanted me to run this race.”
I mean, Kyle Larson's been talking about running the Indy 500 since he was with Chip Ganassi Racing seven or eight years ago in his first couple of years in NASCAR. So, I do think that is a little bit of a difference.
And I think that again, like Kyle Larson has shown that he can parachute into any series, any kind of car and win. I mean, he's always been great on dirt, but one of the most impressive things he did on dirt was he put himself in a dirt late model and I think won his second start against some of the nation's best competition, which is a much different car than the open wheel stuff he ran on dirt.
He's a phenomenal talent. There's no other way to say it. And that the fact that this has been his target, his goal for so long (again, I'm probably like going overboard on the hype meter), but I really think that he's got a shot if things fall his way with next year.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
And now, here is more of my interview with Nate Ryan of NBC Sports for Pit Pass Indy.
Speaking of Jimmie Johnson, I spoke with him Sunday night at the NMPA Hall of Fame banquet when he introduced one of the latest members, which was Scott Pruett, very deserving member of the Hall of Fame, by the way.
And I asked Jimmie flat out, “So, you're allowed to run a Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Indianapolis 500.” And he said, “Definitely.” And then I said, “Well, what is the hold up?” He says, “Still waiting to hear on the sponsorship side.”
But two weeks ago, three weeks ago, I would've probably been 90% certain that he wasn't going to get to run the Indy 500 because he's now, a Chevrolet team owner. But he's gotten permission from Chevrolet to honor the Chip Ganassi agreement. How big a surprise is that to you?
It's been crazy to follow this story, Bruce, as you all know just the underleading nature of like this narrative of what will Jimmie Johnson do in 2023? And I think I told you, it was recently I went back and listened to the Jimmie Johnson episode of your podcast from September. I believe it was right after the IndyCar season was over.
He had talked to some media and kind of confirmed that he wasn't going to race full-time anymore in IndyCar, which we pretty much knew. But at that point, I think he had kind of left the door open to, “I might run a few races. I'm probably almost definitely going to run Indy.”
And then the NASCAR deal pops up. He's back now, as a cup co-team owner for the first time. He's running the Daytona 500 and a few selected other races.
And so, if you would've asked me last September, “Is Jimmy running the Indy?” I would've said, “A hundred percent, yes.” If you would've asked me like November, like the weekend of the Phoenix season finale for NASCAR Cup Series, I would've said, “I don't know, maybe not.”
And then now, as you mentioned, I know he's also said it, I think he said to Jenna Fryer a couple weeks ago as well, that Ganassi, he's got permission as you said, to run Honda, even though he is a Chevy driver. It seems like this Ganassi possibility could happen.
I still wonder, he said he wants to run North Wilkesboro, that's the all-star race in NASCAR at North Wilkesboro in 2023 is the weekend of Indy 500 qualifying. So, how does that work if he wants to run the Indy 500? I think that to me, would still be the big question mark.
Well, the way that Jimmie Johnson saga changed so quickly back last September, if you had asked me at Portland, if Jimmie Johnson was coming back full-time in IndyCar in 2023, I would've said yes.
But then when he announced to us in the bullpen the next week at Laguna Seca that he got permission from Carvana to come back for a full deal, but now, he doesn't want to do a full season, that's how quickly that story changed.
Yeah, that was the thing, Bruce, was because we were just going off what Jimmie was saying, and I think he was just reacting to what he was being told, whether it was from Carvana or the teams that he's driving for. I'm sure he had preliminary discussions with Ganassi or whoever about 2023.
And it feels as if we're learning about this almost at the same pace rate that Jimmie is. And it has been a very fluid situation and I suspect it might be for another few weeks or maybe even month before we get clarity on what happens.
And then by the time I interviewed Jimmie Johnson first week of October at a book signing in Concord, North Carolina, and he's talking about living overseas with his family, living abroad for a couple of years. Bucket list, doing this, doing that, trying all these different types of race cars.
And then a month later, he's introduced as the ownership partner at what was then Petty GMS Racing, which is now, known as the Legacy Motor Club. And I did ask him Sunday night if the Legacy Motor Club offers free towing if you're stranded on the side of the road and hotel discounts. He didn't quite get it at first then I explained it to him.
But I mean, how big of a shock was that? Nobody saw Jimmie Johnson becoming a NASCAR Cup Series team owner.
No, definitely not. And I'll join Legacy Motor Club as well if I pay a hundred-dollar deductible in the king and Jimmie Johnson come change on my windshield. I'm in for sure.
No one saw it coming, Bruce, and I don't think Jimmie saw it coming. I think that's what is surprising about all this. We kind of got bits and pieces of it after the NASCAR season was over and during that final weekend about how this all materialized. And indications are, it was very, very quick.
And I think a lot of this happened right after he talked to us at Laguna Seca and told us about like, “Hey, I've got Carvana in tow now.” I think it was after that. That set in motion a chain of events where he was already kind of poking around, I think about NASCAR co-ownership and maybe buying into a team somehow.
And I know he was asking other people about, “What do charters cost? I've got a little bit of money I'd be willing to invest.”
And then I think the Carvana deal came along and put him in a different category. And then when he went out, I think in the marketplace at that point, then suddenly it was like he's got probably more encouraging feelers than he was anticipating. And one of them worked out with Maury Gallagher, the owner of former Petty GMS Racing, now Legacy Motor Club.
So, yeah, I don't think anybody saw this coming including Jimmie Johnson in some ways, Bruce, but again, it's been a wild ride and kind of a rollercoaster story to cover, but it's been interesting and it's going to continue to be that way, especially if he's running both Daytona and Indy this year.
I'd like to know what the discussion was like when he told his wife and family what he was going to do, because that was always first and foremost, after he retired was he was going to do what the family wanted to do before he put together the rest of his racing career.
Now, that he's a NASCAR Cup Series team owner, that takes a lot of time. In fact, Mike Beam up at Legacy Motor Club says, Jimmie's at the shop at 6:00 in the morning up in Statesville. And I ran that by Jimmie the other night and he goes, “Yeah, I'm an early riser, I get at it bright and early.” So, it really shows how committed he is.
Once he's in, he's all in. And we heard that, Bruce, from Chip Ganassi as well the last couple of years. I mean, Chip talked about how Jimmie came in and raised this team up. That even though he was running a part-time schedule in 2021, Chip Ganassi said Jimmie Johnson had an impact and really helped improve our culture.
And they won a championship with Alex Palou in 2021. And we heard Alex Palou say that Jimmie Johnson was a mentor of sorts for him and gave him some advice on how to handle things when he went down the stretch and was having Pato and other people kind of nip at his heels, Alex Palou held firm.
And he said, “Hey, I talked to a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who gave me some pointers. I'm not going to tell you what they were, but Jimmie Johnson helped me.”
And so, yeah, it doesn't surprise me at all that he would be that invested because once Jimmie Johnson is in, he is all in, he is there at 6:00 AM in the morning.
But to your point, Bruce, I mean you're right, he's not all in until he gets approval from Chani and his daughters that, “This is what we're going to be doing.” And I think certainly, there was initial trepidation on Indy because there was from Chani, his wife about like, “I don't know if I'm comfortable with you IndyCar racing on ovals.”
But we've seen that change and yeah, it's going to be interesting to see how it changes in the future now that he's a cup team owner.
The interesting thing on that is they were living out in Aspen, Colorado, beautiful area. Now, they've moved back to North Carolina because that's where he needs to be if he's going to be running a race team.
And the other thing is, at first I thought, “Why do you take the name Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty out of a race team when they're two of the most famous drivers in racing history and NASCAR history anyway, and change it to something like the Legacy Motor Club?” And I was told that this is an indication that this is Jimmie thinking toward the future.
Yeah. I had the same reaction, joking, kidding aside about Legacy Motor Club when I first heard it. I am not a marketer though. I'm not somebody who has like the big vision for these types of ideas.
And to name your team something that is completely foreign to what we normally hear, certainly, in NASCAR, but generally in racing, I mean, yeah, you would think like you've got two seven-time champions involved in Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty. Certainly, you’re going to keep their names in the team moniker.
But it does make sense if you're trying to be thinking outside the box and maybe attracting a new demographic. I mean, it's got a little bit of like an English Premier League type pull to it. I don't know if that's like the idea of Legacy Motor Club.
But I saw an interview recently on 60 Minutes with Rick Rubin, the record producer, and he said something really interesting. He said that when he makes music, when he produces music, part of his creative process is that the audience comes last.
Like you shouldn't necessarily give people what they want because you have to be thinking about what they don't realize they want. And I don't know, maybe that's an example here with Legacy Motor Club.
We're going to date ourselves now, but the 1972 album by Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon would definitely fall into that category because it was so ahead of its time. It was still like one of the top selling albums in the world like 15 years later.
Yeah, I mean, it was on the charts for like, what, 20 consecutive years? It was like on the top, I don't know, a 100 album. And yeah, no one would've anticipated that before that album came out.
Well, that certainly wasn't an audience-
An audience type record, but it was art.
The other thing about Jimmie Johnson I want to point out before we move on to another topic is the fact that yeah, we saw the true Jimmie Johnson at IndyCar races on the ovals. We saw Jimmie struggle on the streets and the road courses, although we also saw him make incremental improvement on the street and road courses throughout his career.
But I tell everybody, the IndyCar Paddock was better off having Jimmie Johnson in it than not.
It was and he set, I think some really good examples. I mean, you and I already knew what a professional he was. And much like Jeff Gordon, his former teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, I mean, one of the most accessible available drivers that you would ever expect for a guy who's sure fire, first ballot, he should be the first unanimous NASCAR hall of famer in history whenever he's eligible.
But Jimmie always makes time for everybody and does a really good job of making sure that his message is communicated through the media and he speaks to the fans through the media.
And I think that that might have been, he didn't have a lot of impact on the track, although certainly, what he did at Iowa was impressive. Texas was too. But I think that double-header weekend at Iowa, I think made a lot of people wonder, “Man, if Jimmie Johnson would've been running ovals at IndyCar from his early 20s, how many races could he have won?”
But beyond all that, I mean, what he did off the track as you know, I mean, being in those media bullpens every week and tirelessly answering some of the same questions always with a smile, Jimmie's a great influence.
The other thing he said it helped make his mind up when him and Cheney went to the Goodwood Festival in England and he reflected upon having beers with Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. And I originally thought, “Well, I could see the two of them probably told him, do what makes you happy.”
And I ran that by him and he goes, “Well, no. Actually, Scott Dixon said, ‘Please don't leave me. You can't leave me here.’ He goes, ‘I need you here so that I can take care of all these other people.’”
Yeah. I would've gone with your theory that they would've been like over a few pints saying, “Hey, just do whatever you want, wherever you feel.” But that's funny.
I always thought like Dixon and Jimmie sort of have this kinship because in a lot of ways they're kind of similar. In a number of championships they've won their demeanors. I think the fact that they don't get near the respect that they deserve from both the racing community. And Jimmie's gotten there a little bit mainstream, but certainly Scott Dixon is underappreciated. I think we can all agree and somewhat underrated. And I think Jimmie's in that category too.
Jimmie said it was the eight-hour flight back from England with him and Cheney when they basically talked it out and that's when he kind of said, “I can't commit to a full season anywhere.” Now, he's committing to a full season in NASCAR not necessarily as a driver, but certainly, as a team owner.
I think it's funny what we hear from Jimmie over and over again, and that he's told us, he's joked about this with Cheney that like now, that he's retired, he's more busy than ever. Like thank God he retired from the grind of the 36-race cup series schedule so that he could work even more hours every week. I think he and Chani have kind of joked about that.
The other thing that was, you and I had traded messages when he made the announcement out in the Phoenix, just how surreal it was that the NASCAR crowd acted like he was coming home and it was like his IndyCar career never even existed. And I wisecracked Jimmie, “We hardly knew you.”
Even this past weekend there would be people from NASCAR that would talk about Jimmie Johnson and he would refer to it as he was driving Formula cars the last couple of years.
For some reason, it's always cracked me up how that series does not like to use the word IndyCar.
No. And unfortunately, like we still see this in that we've got a double-header race weekend now, at Indianapolis with IndyCar and NASCAR racing on the same weekend. But I feel like there's still some work to do to feel like everybody's pulling the rope in the same direction and everybody's on the same page.
We talk about it a lot sort of ad nauseum about the rising tide lifts all boats and motor sports and you certainly want everybody, all the different series not to be competitive with each other, but to work together. But it's easier said than done.
And I do think that you're right that when he was in IndyCar there was probably a little bit of Jimmie Johnson being persona non grata in NASCAR until he came back. But now, that he's back, you're right, he's like he's Mr. Seven Times Champion NASCAR driver. Maybe that'll change if he runs Indy. Maybe it'll be like, “Ah, we got a guy in the Indy 500 this year.”
Only time will tell on that.
Next topic, latest car count for practically every race this year is going to be 27 cars almost up to 28 cars, which in the so-called golden era Glory Days of CART that was a full field, was 28 cars.
From that standpoint, team ownership entries are very impressive. From another angle though, they're not going to get the 2.4-liter engine in 2024, like we had thought. There will still be a hybrid assist used to it. Do you think that matters?
I don't know, Bruce. It's a good question. I don't have, I feel like, great insight on the whole engine side of things. I mean, I tell people this all the time. I've been covering race cars some more than 20 years and there's only so much I actually know about what makes them work and what makes them tick and how important that is to the whole equation.
I did hear Michael Andretti's interview with you, that obviously, made huge headlines what he said about Formula One and such. But he also talked about the fact that — I think didn't he say his show cars? That when they bring his show cars out, I think it still has like the same engine and the people don't even notice.
Like he was very much in favor of the fact that we don't need the new 2.4-liter. Like it's fine. Like it's just window addressing to a certain extent. Obviously, for diehard fans it's a big deal. Like I know that horsepower and engine specs, that kind of stuff matters.
But I think the most important part you just touched on is the hybrid and having been in Daytona covering the Rolex 24 all month of January, I can tell you that there's a lot of manufacturer money pouring into Daytona and the Rolex 24 right now, because of just that hybrid component.
So, even if they don't have the 2.4-liter, that they still have that hybrid side of things, I think is a good thing.
As Michael Andretti said, the fans in the stands aren't going to be able to tell whether it's between 2.2 and a 2.4.
And the other thing that there's a lot of fan reaction about is the car, the fact that it's the same car since 2012 to which IndyCar Series president, Jay Frye loves to tell me, “If you take the 2012 car, put it next to the 2023 car, it's a world of difference between the way those two cars look. The only thing that's the same on those is basically the tub.”
And Roger Penske is adamant against adding additional costs to team ownerships, especially when he is got a 27-car field. Do you agree with that?
Yeah, I mean, you just said, I mean, 28-car field, I mean, that's a good problem to have. That is like the heyday of the CART era and that was when I first started covering racing is right around the mid ‘90s when CART was really about its apex.
And I think that back then it was different. I mean, because you had the diversity of as you know, chassis and engines and two tire suppliers. I think that really contributed to like the appeal of it. So, I think when we look at what makes IndyCar successful now, I don't know if you can really regain a lot of that. And so, I feel like that kind of goes to the point of do you need a new car?
I think ideally, you would want not just a new car, but you'd want multiple chassis manufacturers. But it seems like that ship is sailed forever in IndyCar and isn't coming back. And for understandably, justifiable reasons with cost containment and safety and that sort of thing. I get where Roger is coming from on wanting to hold the line on that.
But we do hear the grumbling from some drivers, I think the last few years with the Arrow screen kind of being retrofitted. I mean, the Jay Frye's point, I mean, it is a much different car because they have done so many things to it. It's almost been Jerry-rigged in some ways.
And that car wasn't built to have the Arrow screen. I think there were some growing pains the last couple years as they figured out how to make that work. That a safety device everybody agrees they need, but that car certainly wasn't optimized to have it.
Well, in fact, Roger Penske has told Jay Frye, “Why don’t we just call this thing a new car and then that'll take care of that issue?”
That would be one way around it. Yeah. Penske branding, I like it, yeah.
Now, Mark Miles at Penske Entertainment said he actually with the additional entry field would actually like to see a day where maybe not everybody makes every race. That you actually have guys that have to fight to get in for the last couple of spots of the race.
The only problem with that is if you have some of the smaller teams at the back end of the field, they're eventually going to lose sponsors.
Yeah. I mean, I can remember sitting in the RP-1 motor home and St. Petersburg with you and some other reporters a few years ago where Roger made some headlines. I think Chip Ganassi did that weekend too, where they were calling for guaranteed spots in the Indy 500 for full-time IndyCar teams. Which-
There was a lot of irony in that-
In that statement.
I mean, that's certainly anathema to what longtime Indy 500 fans love and remember about the glory days of Bump Day when you had a 100,000 people at the Speedway wondering who wasn't going to make the 33-car field. And of course, famously, in 1995, it wasn't Roger Penske's cars.
So, I think there is a fine line there though about as much as it's fun for you and I to cover those storylines, it's not fun for when James Hinchcliffe or whoever misses the Indy 500.
So, I think there is a need for bumping. I do think like Indy 500 IndyCar are healthier when there are more than 33 cars that show up. But with a 28-car field that you want at every race these days, do you want to send any of those cars home? That's the rub.
Well, at some of the venues that they go to, they have pit lane issues such as the length of pit lane, let's say the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Maybe some of the short ovals, maybe having two less cars might help. But I also think the traffic on those short ovals is part of the show too.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah, and I know I've heard those pit lane discussions the last few years, but I mean, they make it work. I mean, seem to work fine the last few years.
And I agree with you. I mean, the short oval racing at Iowa was really good last year for the most part. I thought even though you had some dominance at the front and I thought Gateway was good as well. I think Texas with that finish between Newgarden and McLaughlin that delivered as well.
So, it feels like they're going in the right direction on oval racing. I wouldn't want to do anything to tamper with that.
Plus, we have a new guy in charge of Texas Motor Speedway. Hopefully, he knows how to promote and sell tickets.
Another new guy in charge, after the last guy. Let's certainly, hope that Texas is a little more packed than we've seen when IndyCar goes there in what, early April.
Now, that was certainly, a guy who we hardly knew.
Yeah. I won't put you on the spot and ask you his name.
I'll just let that one go. We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Here is the rest of my interview with Nate Ryan of NBC Sports for Pit Pass Indy.
The other thing I want to get to is, alright, so, you're from Naperville, Illinois and you attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, a very prestigious university. So, how on earth did you get involved in auto world?
I asked myself that question on a regular basis, Bruce.
I mean, the short version is I started at a paper in Southern California in the mid ‘90s. And I was hired as a copy editor and we had our freelancer covering motorsports. That person left and I was the only person who raised my hand and said, “I want to cover motorsports.” Because I wanted to write at the time and that was the easiest path.
And they just gave me the motorsports beat at the San Bernardino Sun. And then I covered the Long Beach Grand Prix a few months later in ‘96, and then they opened California Speedway in ‘97. The rest was history.
So, I certainly never thought that I would end up in this line of work, but I haven't minded. It's been a good run.
I got started probably a decade before you, but the interesting thing about that was most of the general stick and ball sports writers didn't want to have anything to do with auto racing.
I mean, I hate to say it, but that's why I got the job. I mean, it wasn't like it was a beat that was looked down on necessarily, but at Southern California at the time, I mean, you had so many beat writers who were on, not just like Dodgers, Angels, Lakers, Kings or UCLA football, USC football.
I mean, there were so many big name sports and big name teams there and big name beats that I think motorsports got overlooked a little bit, especially given at the time that there was no NASCAR for almost a decade.
But right after I took over that beat, as I said, a year and a half later, a California Speedway in Fontana opened and that was sort of the golden age for motorsports.
And then you would have some anomalies, like our buddy over in Columbus, Ohio, Tim May, who for 35 years was the beat writer of Ohio State Football for the Columbus Dispatch. Now, he works for Letterman Row and he is probably breaking more stories at Letterman Row. In fact, one of the things he loves doing is scooping the Columbus Dispatch.
But I mean, he's a brand name over there. But I asked him how he got involved. He was always interested in auto racing and he said they asked one day in a meeting, “Okay, we need somebody to cover the Indy 500. Who wants to do it?” Tim, he raised his hand and he ended up being the IndyCar writer and he's still doing it from time to time, which is amazing. But he said he did it because he thought it was cool and he wanted to write.
Yeah, that's pretty much why I did it too. I'm really happy that I share something in common with someone I respect so much as Tim May, who's wonderful to have him at Indianapolis every May. Because just like yourself, I mean, he's out there and he asks great questions and he knows the Rayhalls really well, obviously. And thank God we've got guys like him who still kind of cover Indy 500 of his own volition at this point.
Well, the other thing is he's one of the great storytellers, and that's the one thing our profession is missing is storytellers, because we've got so many people out there that are more pundits than storytellers. And in a lot of ways, there's still a lot of great stories to tell in this sport.
Some of the other stops along the way, you went from San Bernardino to Richmond?
I did. I went to Richmond to be what started out as a backup NASCAR beat job. The beat writer left. So, I was the beat writer there for three and a half years on the cup series and then moved from there to USA Today.
One of the things I'm going to bring up, and I'm sure you'll agree on this, but you talked about how Jimmie Johnson didn't really think of the Indy 500 till he sat on the NBC Peacock Pit Box and saw the car zoom around.
Being at the Indy 500 and being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I've always said is an addictive experience. Once you go, you're hooked. Did that happened to you?
It did. And it's interesting, Bruce, because the first race I can ever remember watching, not attending, but watching as a child was the 1985 Indy 500 on tape delay. At the time, I was living in the suburbs of Kansas City.
And I remember seeing it and thinking, “Man, that seems like that would be pretty cool to be there and to see it in person.” But I'd never actually got to go until, oddly enough, the first year I was a racing writer was ‘96.
So, I went the first year of the split when it was a memorable Indy 500, but not for all the right reasons necessarily, and certainly a memorable finish. But there was a lot happening in the IndyCar scene and the world at that time.
But that was my introduction to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And I have spent probably more time in that city than even Daytona, even though I primarily covered NASCAR during my career. I probably spent more time in Indy over the years. And I love it.
I mean, as you know, it's a wonderful town. The track is so much fun. There's something about that place, the aura and mystique. Those words are cliches that could sometimes get overused, but it truly applies to the Brickyard.
And the other thing, it's just being on the starting grid before the start of the race and when they do the moment of silence and they're playing Taps. I mean, it's such an emotional experience. You can't describe what it's like to hear 350,000 people completely silent.
That's what I tell everybody. And Dale Jarrett went to the Indy 500 for the first time in 2022, I believe it was last year. I think last year or 2021. I think this was last year. And that's what I told him. I said, “Just make sure you're out there …” I knew he would be, but I was just, “Make sure you soak in the grid.”
But having never been in the Indy 500, he was kind of looking for feedback on what to see, what to do, where to be. And I was like, “You got to be on the grid.”
And thankfully, I've had you, Bruce, to kind of give me a tour of what that grid is like on race morning and some other places around the speedway as well. I'll never forget when I think we almost got arrested by the FIA during the 2006 F1 US Grand Prix.
I got us a little confused on what the hot pit access actually meant in the FIA. We were actually on hot pit lane, and when the Mercedes-Benz West car came ripping out of the garage, you and I nearly became a hood ornament.
One of many Indianapolis memories that I have and am thankful and grateful and very privileged and very honored, humbled to have had the chances to do those things.
And that was also in the Bernie Ecclestone era Formula One. So, I mean, we could still be sitting in a retention cell somewhere if we had gotten in any further trouble.
But in some ways, Formula One is dramatically different now that Bernie is no longer in charge.
Yeah, I mean, it's almost like more of a media organization. I mean, well, it's owned by a media company, Liberty Media, and it's almost become with Netflix and the Drive to Survive show, I mean, that gets talked about. But it really has been a game changer in terms of how it's perceived and its popularity.
And I mean, you're right, you think about F1 now versus F1 during its 2000 to 2007 run at the Brickyard, and it's not even really like the same series in some ways. I mean, it's the same basic concept, same cars and the same racing, but like it's totally different in some other ways.
One thing that's the same about Formula One is they love the United States when it comes to their markets where they're going to have races, but they don't want Michael Andretti to be involved.
And how big of a shock or not shock, but how surprised are you that there's that much pushback against Michael Andretti bringing Cadillac of all things, to Formula One? I mean, General Motors is one of the largest automakers in the world. You would think Formula One would love to have them in the series.
Yeah, I think it was Nathan Brown at the Indy Star who writes that like the goalposts keep getting moved here. And it's so true. They're making Michael Andretti seemingly jumped through so many hoops. And every time he climbs another one, he vaults through another one and climbs another impossible mountain, it's just like they almost like spit in his face in some ways.
Bruce, I'd like to say I'm surprised. I'm not really surprised, but I'm certainly disappointed because obviously, as an American and somebody like yourself, I mean, I have some national pride in the Andretti brand and the name and I think it's cool.
I mean, say what you will about Michael Andretti but he has ambitions as a team owner that I think should be applauded. And he wants to be everywhere and he wants to go to F1 because he sees it has value and he wants to be at the biggest races in the world. He wants his organization to be there.
So, I don't know how you wouldn't salute that. But I do know because F1, as you know, is a completely different … and it's very European. There's certainly an elitist element to it. It's run differently than racing series are run here in North America.
So, certainly, going to be interesting to watch. I mean, I think we saw some more developments there with the FIA president and Formula One, Liberty Media kind of butting heads again this week. I just hope it works out where Andretti Autosport or Andretti Global is racing an F1 in the future because I think it's good for everybody.
Do you think he'll get there?
Ah, I want him to get there. I almost feel too biased to weigh in. I mean, one, I don't really have the insight. I don't know the inner workings of the FIA and F1 the way a lot of people do. So, I'd be remiss in saying that I could offer some sort of expert opinion.
But I mean, you said it, like I don't understand if you have Mark Reuss and General Motors behind you, if you have, it was once one of the world's biggest automaker and is still firmly in the top 10. If they're saying they want to be a part of your racing series and we're going to take Cadillac, this really well-known renowned brand. Which by the way also is racing in Le Man this year and racing the World Endurance Championship, has the LMDh car there with IMSA.
I don't get like how your Formula One, I mean, you said it, you want to be in American markets, you want to attract an American audience. Cadillac is very much an American brand. Like how could you resist that? I mean, it really does come down to money and clout and power and influence and sway, I feel like Andretti's got all that.
A lot of people kept wanting to see a Drive to Survive type show for IndyCar. Well, they get their wish. It's going to be on The CW, which is the fifth network in the United States. You have NBC of course, CBS, ABC and Fox and The CW.
And really, this is The CW's first foray in the sports programming. And I asked if that might be sign more to come when I spoke with the president of programming at The CW and he said, “Yeah, we are definitely interested in maybe having a sports division at The CW.”
What do you think of the docuseries, 100 Days to Indy and do you think you can recapture some of the same interests that Drive to Survive was able to do with Formula One with this docuseries and IndyCar?
I think that is the danger to me is I don't think they want to be a Formula One, a Drive to Survive carbon copy. I don't think they want to mimic it too much. And especially, now, that we're seeing, I mean, tennis just came out with its reality show on Netflix. There's a golf PGA reality show hitting Netflix in a couple months. So, this is very much the flavor of the month topic du jour.
But I think one area where Indy has an advantage, Bruce, that I think is interesting is they're going to be releasing this as it happens. Whereas Formula One, it's different in that they record the entire season, they do the interviews, they shoot all the footage, but it doesn't come out until what, four or five months after the season ends.
So, the fact that this is going to be ongoing with Indy, if you get something … and last year it'd been perfect if they could have been there like during the Alex Palou, Ganassi contract saga. If they get moments like that in the first couple of months of the season and they're delivering it immediately on The CW to the audience and viewers are seeing that, I think that could be a big boon for IndyCar.
The other thing is it's unscripted and that's the way that they really need to be. And it's going to be a separate production crew. They may use some IMS production footage, they may use some footage from NBC even. But in a lot of ways, this is VICE Media that's doing it all.
And do you think the fact that they're bringing in an independent group that is highly acclaimed is very important when you're dealing with a project like this?
Yeah, and again, like the track record that you just mentioned, Bruce, speaks for itself. I mean, they have done some of the big sports already and certainly, the success that some of this production crew has had and being associated with Drive to Survive, I mean, you definitely would not want to do this in-house.
I mean, IMS production does a great job, but the fact that this is kind of being looked at through a completely separate new external perspective, I think is a good move. And I'm looking forward to see what they produce.
And how excited are you that we're going to see Indy cars on the track tomorrow?
Looking forward to it. Again, like I feel like there were some questions that were answered at the end of 2022, but then as always, going in a new year, there's a lot that's unanswered. There's a lot of things I think we're trying to figure out. And I’m interested to see if we get many clues here at Thermal.
And also, just being here in Thermal, being here in the desert for Indy cars is going to be something in and of itself that, I mean, I don't you kind of wonder like what is this a one-off? Is this a long-term thing? Like what's the ultimate plan here?
I've heard everything from free use of the track to the fact that Roger may want to have a race here. The only thing that I say to people about, if that's a possibility, I go, “Would you have a race closer to population?”
Thermal is a gated community that has some multimillion-dollar houses for motorsports enthusiasts. But of course, it goes around. It's a lot like say Spruce Creek with pilots down in the Daytona Beach area. They can park their planes in their driveway.
In a lot of ways, this is where people who have money get to take their Lamborghinis and their Alfa Romeos and drive performance laps around the race course.
But in a lot of ways, we know that the importance of auto racing on TV is TV, and in some ways, as NASCAR's proven, as IndyCar's proven, sometimes the venue's the backdrop and the show is actually what's on TV.
And maybe that'll be a perfect scenario to where maybe the ticket buying public isn't as important for a race in a Thermal as it might be if you're having a race somewhere where you want to sell tickets like a Texas Motor Speedway.
Yeah, that's what'll be interesting to see what the driver's feedback is. I mean, again, without knowing anything about the track or the venue, if they feel like it produces really good racing … and to your point, I mean we've seen it's sort of the opposite in some ways with street course racing where it's all about the atmosphere and the festival and the racing sometimes I think is secondary.
Like this could be maybe the opposite. Like maybe there are a lot of good reasons to do this, including the racing or maybe what looks good on TV. And the other things you just mentioned about business to business that maybe this makes a lot of sense even though it's not in the middle of a population center.
I just think that certainly, IndyCar doesn't want to be in the habit of doing this on a regular basis. They want to be … we heard Zak Brown tell us at Laguna Seca last year, he feels like there should be more East Coast races. They should be in like a Philadelphia or New York market a little bit more.
Certainly, there's going to be a lot of affluence at Thermal, but I don't think you're going to catch many people coming down from they might be going to visit Gram Parsons’s grave and Joshua Tree Inn. I don't think they’re going to be a lot of people coming down from Joshua Tree to check out an IndyCar tester race in Thermal.
Right, the old military base out there.
Yeah, the Salton Sea.
One of the feelgood stories of last season, I believe was Will Power went in his second championship because I've written several times, especially even at nbcsports.com, that he deserves to be in the conversation as one of the greatest IndyCar drivers ever.
You look at his record, he's got the record for most poles. He's won over 40 races, he's won at Indy 500, now, he's won two championships. That was really a great story.
And now, this month, his wife has a serious health issue. It appears that she's going to be better. But she went through a pretty big health scare. And when you think about that, it just kind of goes to show, I mean, how fragile things are. Race drivers understand the dangers of sports, but when somebody's in their late 30s, you don't expect to develop a major health issue.
So, what were your reactions to that? I mean, it really was kind of a shocking story.
Well, my first reaction, Bruce, certainly, was for Will Power and Liz Power's health. I mean, just knowing that, I mean, I did a story after Laguna Seca last year about how Will had talked all weekend about his wife, Liz, that had this premonition in the preseason while they were just sitting around the kitchen of their home in Troutman, North Carolina. And she says, “You're going to win the championship.”
And Will talked about like he legitimately took that confidence and that faith and belief that his wife, Liz had in him and carried it through the season. And I do believe that contributed to him winning a second championship.
So, certainly, when you think about Liz Power, you think about someone who's huge supporter of her husband and really kind of ubiquitous like in the pits. And she's been a part of the racing industry for a long time, predating her marriage to Will, relationship with Will.
But she's very, very much part of the IndyCar scene. And I think a lot of us were worried because we've gotten to know her and she's … I know you love the Powers. They're delightful people. They're cool people.
Will, I think is again, like another one of those little misunderstood drivers. Like you have to sort of understand the sense of humor and the intelligence. And I love covering the guy. And I'm glad to hear that Liz Power certainly seems to be on the mend.
But terrible that it unfortunately, forced him to withdraw from the Rolex 24 and not be able to make his debut there. I just hope that it doesn't impact his season. But of course, health's the first priority. I mean, that comes first and we saw that with the way he handled the Rolex decision.
In wrapping up here on Pit Pass Indy with Nate Ryan of NBC Sports, one on Will Power's longtime teammates, Helio Castroneves, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner wants to run the Daytona 500. It's not going to happen in 2023, but he's out there looking. He's calling several of us to try to pick our brains. He's talked to Rick Hendrick, he's talked to Justin Marks, he's talked to other people just trying to learn things.
What do you think of that? I mean, he's in his late 40s, but he still wants to try the Daytona 500 one day.
He's been pushing for it for a few years, Bruce. Really ever since he ended the full-time IMSA ride with Penske in 2020 and said, “Hey, I'm open for business. I want to run as many series as I can.” That's when he started running SRX Tony Stewart short track series. And he went part-time with Meyer Shank, now, full-time in IndyCar of course. But he's still got some openings in his schedule.
And he said he is been lobbying Tony Stewart and Don Hawk and all these people to use their NASCAR connections to try to put him in a Daytona 500 ride.
So, certainly, something to keep an eye on for 2024. He talked about it when we had him at Rolex 24 Media Day a couple of weeks ago that he was still working on it and certainly wasn't ruling it out. And I wouldn't rule Helio out for anything, especially when it's a high-speed oval, even with his lack of experience in stock cars. Who knows?
Well, Nate, you and I'll be working side by side in media centers this year once again, and hopefully, there'll be a few where I'll even be doing some work for you.
But the last hour's just flown right on by. I really appreciate you taking time out to talk to us. Good luck this season and thank you for joining us on Pit Pass Indy.
Well, thanks for having me, Bruce. This has been a lot of fun. Always a pleasure talking to you and always appreciate when we can have your work on nbcsports.com. So, hopefully more of that to come as well. And great job as always with the podcast.
Thank you. And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy.
We want to thank our guest, award-winning journalist, Nate Ryan of NBC Sports for joining us on today's podcast. Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests help make Pit Pass Indy your path to victory lane for all things IndyCar.
And because of our guest and listeners, Pit Pass Indy is proud to be the winner of The Best Podcast by the National Motorsports Press Association.
For more IndyCar coverage, follow me at Twitter @BruceMartin (one-word, uppercase B, uppercase M) _500.
This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin and final mixing was done by Dave Douglas.