NASCAR and IndyCar drivers hope their series will get a bounce from U.S. growth in Formula 1 interest.
Denny Hamlin attending, on lookout for, among other things, technology he can adapt to NASCAR.
IndyCar’s Colton Herta, however, sees F1 lure as double-edged sword for his series.
Thanks to Netflix’s Drive To Survive documentary series, Americans’ interest in Formula 1 racing has rocketed from virtually zero to fully riveted in five years.
And that’s perfectly fine with NASCAR Cup Series drivers, all of whom say they’re excited that the series and its Las Vegas race in particular likely will bring fresh fans to U.S.-based forms of motorsports.
“It's really good for their sport, motorsports in general. And hopefully we can see a little bit of growth in our own sport because of that,” Cup Series driver Todd Gilliland said. “The more motorsports fans in the world, the better for everyone.”
“I mean, you hope so, right?” NASCAR Cup driver Denny Hamlin said. “Certainly you would think that there's going to be a lot of casual, first-time fans going to a motorsports event, fans going to F1 in Vegas because of how convenient it is, right?
"When I say convenient, I mean it's right here in the States in a heavily populated area. You've got the whole West Coast. And if there's just a handful—10, 12— people that go to that and then say, ‘When the NASCAR race comes to Vegas, I'm going to go to my very first NASCAR race,’ then that's a good thing. I certainly think that there will be some of that that goes on, just because of people experiencing motorsports for the first time.”
And when the F1 nomads move on out of the United States and fans crave their newfound auto racing fix, Hamlin said he thinks NASCAR undoubtedly can fill that void.
“It's a great sport with a lot of access,” Hamlin said of his series. “NASCAR's strongest, biggest asset is the access that fans have, and that's why I always encourage people go to a race, because it's unlike any other sporting event. I've never seen anyone go to [a race] one time and say that they didn't have a great time.”
Ross Chastain said he embraces the F1 craze for the “basking in reflected glory” phenomenon that can benefit NASCAR.
“I love it. I think a rising tide raises all ships,” Chastain said. “I've become a fan. I wasn't a fan 15 years ago, but I was 10 years ago, and I've just slowly kind of just watched from afar. I've never been to anything, been to any events or anything. I'm glad that we've got more events on this side of the pond and love that more people are watching.”
NASCAR Cup driver Austin Cindric said this relatively new fascination with the series that visits Miami, Austin, and now Las Vegas once again “is pretty interesting – I think it'll be interesting to see kind of how it pans out over the next couple of years. Obviously, the Netflix show definitely (showed) the scale of what that sport really is in comparison to maybe what most people would think. Most people would think it is maybe a European sport, but it's very international. So I think that the glitz and glamor of that are very attractive, because I don't think there's any other sport that really hits that untouchable percentage of the world's population.”
If the wine and brie set are drawn to the global glitz and prestige of such venues as the streets of Monaco and perhaps the technology that’s hot in its own quirky way, Cindric said that’s “the opposite from a NASCAR race.”
“You buy a general admission ticket (at NASCAR), and you can come take a selfie with your favorite driver and get an autograph nine times out of 10,” Cindric said, “whereas if I go to Formula 1 race, I'm never seeing Lewis Hamilton. The only time I see him is when he is whizzing by me on the racetrack and then two minutes later when he comes back by again. So I think that's the biggest difference, and I think some people are drawn to the untouchable and being close to it.
“I think what defines star power is different in those scenarios,” Cindric said. “I think star power in this is—and in NASCAR—is purely just dominance, on-track performance-based. But I think there's an automatic star power when the level that you're at is completely unfathomable by the regular person.”
Maybe that’s the allure IndyCar drivers have, aside from the fact their cars are at least similar to those in F1 in comparison to a stock car. But as soon as a IndyCar drivers have some on-track success, the conversation often turns to his Formula 1 prospects.
However, Cindric said, “They're two very different landscapes. It's just as much of a challenge as if I was to go and go run a CARS Tour Late Model race against guys that have been doing it all year, I wouldn't expect to go out there and kick their butts by any means. I mean, you have to respect the challenge, and I think some of that's a bit lost for those guys, unfortunately, in IndyCar until they go out and try and get their butts kicked by about 20 guys that you'd never think of before. So it's just, yeah, a different world, but I think mutual respect is greater than most.”
He said, “Racing at the top level is never easy,” and Michael McDowell agreed.
“I've always been a Formula 1 fan. I grew up an open-wheel guy, so I was the kid, growing up in Phoenix, waking up at 4 a.m. to watch the races,” McDowell said.
McDowell, however, is not looking at an F1 car and daydreaming about getting into to one of those cars. He used Jimmie Johnson’s rather tough transition from NASCAR to IndyCar as an example.“It’s not a realistic transition. There's just no two ways around it: it'd be a hard transition. I've done both IndyCar and this and been on that path, and the paths are so different that doing what Juan Pablo Montoya did was way easier than doing what Jimmie tried to do.”
Toying with the idea of a jump to Formula 1 following an outstanding season just doesn’t happen in NASCAR, which McDowell said “is kind of cool.”
Chastain said NASCAR has no need for F1 talk in the NASCAR paddock: “We're at the top. This is the top of our sandbox. This is where we want to stay for a long time. Nobody's leaving NASCAR to go over there. A few guys are retiring over there coming this way, but nobody's leaving here. It's a good spot.”
Rising IndyCar star Colton Herta has tested the F1 waters, and he said switching from the NTT IndyCar Series “could hurt and help” America’s premier open-wheel sanction “in different ways.
"I think the way that it could hurt IndyCar is that they could be losing drivers that are good. But then the ways that it could be helping IndyCar is when we go over there and do well, it would show everybody in Europe that IndyCar is actually competitive.”
Las Vegas native Kyle Busch said he received an invitation to attend this weekend’s race: “The city of Vegas actually called me and said, ‘Hey, would you like to come’ and we'll give you some passes and whatnot. So I'm like, ‘Yeah, sure. I'll come.’”
Busch said he’s “skeptical of the circuit a little bit, just how long some of the straightaways are, but I think it's going to be cool. It's going to be fun, so looking forward to seeing it. I enjoy all forms of racing, so to see the F1 guys and what they're doing is always really cool. Hopefully they put on a great show.”
So while Busch is watching the course itself, Hamlin said he’ll observe a variety of aspects of the spectacle: “It will be the first one that I've attended, so I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to have a different set of eyes on it, because I'll look at how teams are branding themselves, some of the equipment, some of the technology that they have that anything that I can bring over here that might be a good idea.”
A.J. Almendinger, who said “I've watched Formula 1 my whole life, so I don't think about whether it's gotten more popular here or not,” said he won’t be attending. “That's going to be a mess. I do not want to be a part of that. First of all, I don't have the dollar amount that it takes to be there in Vegas for what it costs to be there. And I've experienced enough racing this year. I'm going to probably try to avoid that as best I can.”