Not A Great Slate

There was one good thing that came out of the open wheel war and the creation of the Indy Racing League.

Oval tracks once again became center stage for Indy Car racing.

In its infancy, the IRL was an oval-track only circuit with its schedule bringing the series to a variety of different venues. Some worked and some didn't, but the list of circle tracks where the IRL has competed since it began is mighty impressive.

But as the series evolved into more of what the old CART series was, the introduction of road courses and street circuits began to pop up.

Watkins Glen and Infineon started the road racing phase of the series' evolution with street circuit events in St. Petersburg and Detroit next to come.

Now that a merged open wheel world is finally here, as expected more road and street courses have followed.

You can't deny the success and popularity of having Long Beach, Edmonton and Toronto on your calendar.

But while I'm not advocating an ovals-only approach, although as a fan I find those races much more pleasant to watch than street/road racing, I think a better mix could have been part of the 2009 IRL slate released this week.

A mix of road courses, street circuits and a variety of ovals is the perfect formula.

However the 18 races on next year's slate leave me a little flat.

On the road racing side how Cleveland and Road America, two staples of American open wheel racing and a pair of successful venues back in the sports' salad days, are missing.

On the oval side, I'm surprised Nashville is gone, despite the small spectator turnout over the last few years. As the home base for longtime IRL tire supplier Firestone, I thought a stop in the Music City would be a natural for years to come.

I think the IRL dropped the ball but not having at least two more ovals on the schedule - including New Hampshire and a return to Michigan, which was more or less promised when they forced the track to take a bad date last year to make room for the return of Belle Isle - or Las Vegas, which was poised to host the season finale on the newly-refurbished road course.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. seemed to be floored by the exclusion of Loudon and Vegas from the schedule, believing they had a deal in place with the IRL.

While shifting the last race of the year to Homestead in October (on a weekend when Cup runs Saturday night) isn't a bad idea, holding the championship-crowning event in Las Vegas would have been a slam dunk success.

It seems to me that 18 races are too little and that 21-22 events would have been a better fit and helped the series grow.

Hopefully that will come in time. But for now, the 2009 IRL slate looks a little run-of-the-mill to me and a lot like a return to how things were before this whole open wheel mess began.

Ironic isn't it?

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