Too Much Off Season?

In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, teams have barely one month between unpacking their bags from the awards banquet to getting ready for pre-season testing at Daytona — and the grueling 38-weekend schedule that follows.

That’s barely enough time to hit the beach for some R&R, a few days at a ski resort and a trip back home to visit with family for the holidays.

The IndyCar Series, on the other hand, has too much of an off season.

Remember back on September 9, when Scott Dixon ran out of ethanol in the final turn to lose the championship to Dario Franchitti on the final lap of the season at Chicagoland?

Half a year has passed since then, and we’re still a few weeks away from the season-opening Gainsco Auto Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Season.

The off season was so long that Helio Castroneves was able to take up a new hobby and win Dancing With the Stars. Danica Patrick was able to protect her assets at the Super Bowl and then show them off in the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue. Dixon got married. Dan Wheldon got a radical makeover. Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. flew the coop.

And, Tony George finally was able to work out a settlement to unify American open-wheel racing. He’s eager to do more racing.

"A lot of people don’t really relish the thought of running a 20-race season," George said at the Homestead settlement announcement. "I’m one of those guys who feel our off season is way too long. Too much time on your hands is not a good thing. So, we need to stay busy. We need to build the value of this sport. The more exposure we can get for it, the better off we’re all going to be."

IndyCar Series fans will have to wait until 2009 for the longer schedule, though. While the Long Beach Grand Prix will award IRL points, it will be held the same weekend as the IndyCar Series race in Motegi, Japan. The series will race in Australia in late October, although the Chicagoland weekend is contractually listed as the official season finale. Another race at Edmonton, Canada, may be added.

Next year, let’s hope they can work in a few more races — including stops at Michigan, Phoenix and Elkhart Lake.

While the IndyCar Series competitors have had plenty of time on their hands over the past six months, the off-season was way too short for their former Champ Car World Series counterparts.

When the settlement was finally announced on February 27, the teams had only one month before the load-in date at Homestead for the March 29 season opener. In that time, they had to come up with a new chassis and engine package — with barely any time in between to test.

The IndyCar Series newcomers will get two days of testing at Homestead, running 4-10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, March 24-25. Then, they will have only two days to make any changes (or repairs) to their cars before practice opens at 11:30 a.m. that Friday.

So far, it looks like we will have at least 26 cars on the grid when the green flag waves at 8 p.m. March 29. That includes two cars from Newman/Haas/Lanigan for Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson. KV Technologies (Oriel Servia), Conquest (Frank Perera) and Dale Coyne Racing (Bruno Junqueira) will have two cars each, while Walker Racing has yet to announce its driver.

It’s been a long off season for America’s top open-wheel series. This year, it’s been worth it.

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