Motor sports insider Nathan Brown discusses the decision not to have fans for the 2020 Indianapolis 500.
The IndyCar series is one step closer to filling the traditional 33-car field for the Indianapolis 500, after an announcement Thursday that James Davison will return for a sixth run on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. It’s the 31st announced team-driver combo for the Aug. 23 race and will be Davison’s fourth appearance at IMS with Dale Coyne Racing, alongside a slew of partners that helped make the last-minute program possible.
After finishing 12th a year ago — his best finish in five runs at the 500 during his IndyCar career — Davison’s entry in the No. 51 Honda is officially made up as Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing/Byrd/Belardi. As David Byrd told IndyStar on Thursday, it’s the culmination of a dream imagined back in December, before the pandemic struck, that only truly had looked possible last Friday after Byrd spoke with team owner Dale Coyne— whom Byrd and Davison partnered with a year ago.
“It’s really just been the last few days,” Byrd said. “We put together a (NASCAR Cup Series) package with Rick for James to do (11 races) with them, and we also talked then about getting them involved in the 500 as we were looking to run across sports cars, stock cars and Indy cars. And then that all fell apart, and with everything going on, Indy wasn’t going to happen for us.”
As recently as July 27, Byrd had told IndyStar that they were still trying to help Davison find a ride in any way they could, but the Byrd name likely wasn’t going to be on it, as it has been each of the past two years.
Days ago, Motorsport.com reported that Davison was among the final three contenders for a third seat at Coyne, along with race veterans Stefan Wilson and Oriol Servia, but it was unclear even then whether such an entry would materialize. matriculate.
“Dale and I talked last Friday, and we worked out an arrangement,” Byrd said. “It’s not quite the Indy 500 (we know), but it’s still the Indy 500, and to have a chance to be part of it and make sure there’s 33 entries, there’s no reason why we can’t pick things right up where we left off last year with a strong, competitive car.
“We’re not a field-filler. Well, we’re filling the field, but we’re not a field filler.”
Getting across the finish line and into the race, Byrd said, came down to Rick Ware’s desire to check off what his new partner called a “bucket list item.” Ware’s racing team has a diverse background, competing in NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and trucks, as well as various motorcycle divisions and endurance racing series, among others. But they’ll be making their IndyCar debut at this year’s 500, along with Team Goh, another Coyne partner, and Citrone/Buhl Autosport, which is linked with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
“After talking with Dale, I got on the phone with Rick and told him ‘Hey, this exists, if we can make some adjustments here to make this work’,” Byrd said. “Rick is a crucial component to all this, and then his sponsor, Jacob Construction, coming on as one of his longtime supporters, it just helped seal the deal. This would not be happening without Rick’s involvement for sure.
Davison and Ware ran together recently in Davison’s third NASCAR Cup series race of the year at New Hampshire. The Australian driver has also been pegged to drive for Rick Ware Racing in two August Cup races at Daytona — the road course race Aug. 16 and the Coke Zero 400 on the oval Aug. 29.
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Despite the overlap between a Cup race during 500 qualifications weekend, Byrd said it shouldn’t pose a problem, as long as the weather cooperates. With the likelihood of the field settling at 33 cars or fewer, there may not be a Last Row Shootout, and if there were some version of it with just 33 total entries, Byrd said Davison would turn down another qualifying run, start 33rd the following weekend in the 500 and race Aug. 16 at Daytona.
Making the Fast Nine qualifying process left for Sunday would be a hurdle to talk through, and if Saturday happened to be scrapped due to rain, Byrd said Davison would skip the Sunday Cup race to qualify the car for the 500.
It’s all part of what’s been a wild last week, but one Byrd said they were satisfied to make ends meet on.
“We’re all making a significant investment in this to make this entry happen, but it’s because we believe we can be competitive. No one is getting rich off this or making money of it. It’s because we’re passionate about what we do, and it takes a little bit from everyone to make this work.”
Now at 31 confirmed and announced entries for this month’s 104th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the series shifts its eyes to a couple of other teams that could possibly help fill the field to prevent the 2020 Indy 500 from becoming just the third iteration of the race since 1933 to start with fewer than 33 cars, along with 1941 and 1947.
With the expectation that Dreyer and Reinbold Racing will announce a driver for their second Indy 500 entry, which they said back in the offseason to expect for 2020, the series needs just one other pursuit to fall into place – likely coming from one of two teams.
DragonSpeed, who ran in last year’s race with Ben Hanley, pledged to return this year, but has yet to announce a driver for the car. On Wednesday, a team representative said things were going “down to the wire” in terms of putting everything in place to try and show up for opening day at the track next Wednesday.
Elsewhere, new team Top Gun Racing, which announced its formation in April with the co-ownership by Gary Trout and Bill Throckmorton, has continued pursuing a hope to enter RC Enerson in the Aug. 23 race for the team’s debut. But Tuesday’s announcement from IMS that this year’s 500 won’t have fans in attendance struck a major blow to their chances from a sponsorship standpoint.
“One of our sponsors said, ‘If there’s no fan interaction, we can’t do it right off the bat. It can’t benefit us, and we can’t put that kind of money into it’,” Throckmorton told IndyStar of Top Gun Racing’s struggles. “We’re in the 10th hour here, still trying to work something out, but I don’t know if it’s worth it.
Had the race been moved back to October, as series and track owner Roger Penske and Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles said publicly months ago was under consideration, Throckmorton said he doesn’t expect his team would have had an issue pulling things together in time. But the latest major change to the format of this year’s race puts him in a tough position — trying to pursue a massive dream while balancing the long-term goal of being a competitive, full-season team in the series once they make their debut.
“It’s looking more bleak all the time,” he said. “It’s just a lot of money while you’re in panic mode, and it’s hard to sell a sponsor when you don’t have any interaction with people. They want to smell it, touch it, feel it, hear it.
“But we’re definitely still trying.”
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.