The split in American open wheel racing may be stitched back together, but it’s a long way from being healed. Some ChampCar fans still harbor resentment over the whole IRL split, and many IRL loyalists don’t care to watch the cars compete on road courses, favoring the oval track action. Last year’s IndyCar season featured some of the best American open wheel racing in years, yet even that wasn’t enough to create an increase in IndyCar’s fan base. For 2011, series CEO Randy Bernard will be borrowing a few tricks from the NASCAR playbook to make the racing even more competitive than in past years.
First, there’s what NASCAR calls the “lucky dog” rule, which allows one lapped car to get back on the lead lap per restart. This won’t help the series backmarkers (Milka Dunno, for example), but it will be a huge benefit to competitive drivers who make minor contact or have a tire go down. The second change will be two-up restarts, at all 17 IndyCar venues, which should make for some interesting turn one battles. Finally, the new rules allow lead lap cars only to enter the pits on the first open lap after a caution; lapped traffic will be allowed to pit on the following lap. The intent here is to keep lead lap cars up front for the restart, which should (in theory, at least) make the two up-restarts both safer and more competitive.
Whether or not these rules will build a fan base remains to be seen. The 2011 IndyCar season kicks off with a street race in St. Petersburg, FL on March 27 and ends in Las Vegas on October 16. One thing is certain: in between will be a lot of drama and (hopefully) some pretty damn entertaining wheel-to-wheel action.