In 2019 Indycar will finally return to Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca, replacing longtime finale location Sonoma Raceway in the process. But the rest of the calendar still remains in some doubt.
There are still several contracts still to be decided for the 2019, Texas and Detroit to name two, but the series has confirmed that it will no longer head into the desert for the Grand Prix of Phoenix at ISM Raceway in Goodyear, AZ. Following three years of horrendous attendance, the race was announced as dropped before the halfway mark of the season. Mark Miles, CEO of Indycar, however, has assured fans that the series will have 17 races in 2019. The same number it had in 2018.
That means finding a replacement for Phoenix.
Thus far, the general consensus from Indycar management, teams, and drivers has been to find another short oval to replace Phoenix. This seems the likeliest solution. And of the many short ovals around the country, there have been four that have received the most scrutiny.
Homestead-Miami Speedway, located just outside Miami, FL was a set piece for American open wheel racing during the years of The Split. CART was the first series to race there, running the Malboro Grand Prix of Miami around the 1.5 mile, high banked oval from 1996-2000. The Indy Racing League then took over ownership of Homestead in 2001, and continued racing there until after reunification. The series ended their tenure with the track in 2010 and has not returned since.
At 1.5 miles, Homestead stands at the cusp of no longer being able to be called a short oval. Add to that, the 18-20 degree progressive banking around the turns, and you almost have a super speedway. Back in the days of the IRL, drivers were able to push, flat-out, around an entire lap. With high enough banking to create a two groove track, the fear of pack racing obviously emerges when looking at Homestead. However, the elongated nature of the track does help to spread the field out a little bit more. Plus, with the way races have been developing with the 2018 spec universal aerokits, pack racing may all together be a thing of the past for Indycar.
If the racing on the track can prove to be exciting, there still exist a few logistical problems with Homestead. One, crowds never seemed to flock to the Florida track. Yes, Indycar attendance is up across the board, but one of the primary reasons Phoneix was cancelled was due to the lack of butts in seats and judging by years past, the same problem may arise if Indycar was to return to Homestead.
Another key problem with Homestead is its location, Florida. Even if a race at Homestead was put towards the end of the Indycar schedule, it would still mean there would be two races in Florida per season. Indycar is incredibly reluctant to over populate races in a specific market (hence why getting Milwuake back on the schedule is such a problem). While in different cities, the series still may have a hard time justifying diluting the market of an always profitable St. Petersburg race for a race that may turn out to be a flop.
Chances of a race in Homestead: 25/1
The Kentucky Speedway lies just outside of Sparta, KY. Built in 2000, the 1.5 mile oval is a unique blend of corners and straights. Unlike most ovals in the US, Kentucky is asymmetrical, employing both different turning radii and different degrees of banking in each corner of the track.
The track is a challenge, often catching drivers out due to its uneven shape. It is long, yes. But it is unique. The lesser degree of banking around the track (it never rises above 17 degrees) creates a much more short track feel to place. It is a multi-groove track, but the variations in turns limit drivers abilities to push pedal to the floor.
The IRL ran Kentucky from 2000 to 2008 and the then unified Indycar Series ran at Kentucky from 2009 to 2011. Both series and track wanted Indycar to return in 2012, but a deal could not be reached and the race was abandoned.
Kentucky sits right in the heart of Indycar's so called 'sweet spot,' which is to say the neighboring states of Indiana where the series draws the biggest crowds and gets the best TV ratings. Although thought of more as a NASCAR track, Kentucky has a long history with Indycar.
Crowds were decent at Kentucky through the years, even through the roughest years of The Split. But the biggest drawback of Kentucky? It doesn't have that Indycar feel to it. I can't put my finger on it. I wish I could. But there is just something about Kentucky. No matter how unique of a track it is, that doesn't feel right for Indycar.
Chances of a race in Kentucky: 30/1
Check back in next time as we break down Richmond, New Hampshire and a few wild cards.