Jeff Pappone

Six years ago this week, veteran executive and successful businessman Mark Miles took over the reins of Hulman & Company and was charged with leading the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR among other family interests.

Miles joined the INDYCAR family hot off the success of heading Indianapolis' Super Bowl XLVI host efforts, which set a new gold standard for National Football League championship events. Before that, he transformed the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) into an international force in sports.

Although he did have detractors who worried about his lack of racing experience, Miles quelled those fears quickly after taking office. He was responsive to fans, teams, media and sponsors, and more importantly, he delivered results.

One of his first major accomplishments was bringing Verizon on board as the series title sponsor, giving INDYCAR stability as it embarked on a strategic plan for growth. With Miles guiding the way, the Verizon IndyCar Series continues to grow its fan base, increase viewer numbers, add to car and team counts, bring on new sponsors and offer the best racing bang for the buck.

Although Verizon will not be back in 2019, Miles has put the IndyCar Series in a position where finding a new title sponsor should be a much easier proposition than it was when he arrived.

In the paddock, the number of confirmed full-time cars entering all 17 races in 2019 is already 21, with several teams yet to announce their plans. A couple outfits running partial seasons next year have also indicated that a full-season campaign may be in the cards for 2020. One of them is the legendary McLaren team.

Cars and teams aren't the only place where they may be growth, with the possibility of another manufacturer joining Chevrolet and Honda in the near future. Having Chevrolet and Honda in the series has brought an extra element of stability and competition to INDYCAR, and a third would only improve both areas.

There's also little doubt that Miles listens to fans, who have had their desire for great racing and top-notch venues answered in spades.

James Hinchcliffe and Pippa Mann fans notwithstanding, those wanting to see the drama of Bump Day had their wish granted with 35 entries in the 2018 Indy 500. There's little to suggest that the month of May won't see a similar scenario play out in 2019.

Fans craving even closer wheel-to-wheel action with hard-fought battles up and down the field were also rewarded when the universal aero kits introduced in 2018 delivered exactly that. The competitors also can't complain about the format, which ensures that small and big outfits have a good shot at wins and podiums. With a new, more powerful engine on the horizon that will put more horses in the drivers' hands, fans can only look forward to more of the same for years to come.

Miles' time solidifying INDYCAR's foundation and ensuring a bright future also went a long way in helping to protect its valued assets. For example, when Formula One came knocking in Long Beach looking to snatch a jewel from INDYCAR's crown, there's no doubt that the strong relationship Miles built with the promoters and the value for money offered by the series played key roles in keeping the race in the family.

After several years of wondering how an Indy car would race on one of the country's premier permanent road courses, fans will likely be all smiles when the series hits the track at Circuit of the Americas in 2019. The 2019 season also marks Indy car racing's return to the legendary corkscrew to as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca hosts the Sept. 22 finale after a 15-year absence from the schedule. It will be the 23rd Indy car race there.

These new venues join Road America, Portland International Raceway and Gateway Motorsports Park that have returned to the calendar in recent years, much to the delight of fans. All of this is not to say there haven't been some hiccups, with the attempts to get a successful race in the northeastern U.S. standing out here.

Another milestone is the new multiyear media rights agreement with NBC Sports Group that will significantly increase INDYCAR's exposure and help teams as they pursue sponsorship deals. The NBC contract ensures that INDYCAR gets stable, wide-ranging television coverage for fans, teams and sponsors. INDYCAR will air on the main NBC network for eight of its 17 races in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500, with the rest broadcast on NBCSN. NBC Sports Gold will also supply additional exclusive content will be available to U.S. subscribers.

Although many fans may not take much notice of front offices, two key people Miles put in place continue to have a huge impact: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, whose business and marketing acumen is only surpassed by his passion for the sport, and Jay Frye, a crucial hire in 2013 who played a central part in the series growth. Originally hired as chief revenue officer, Frye became INDYCAR’s president of Competition and Operations in 2015 and earlier this week was named INDYCAR’s president of all departments.

Boles and Frye are only two in a huge cast that help deliver Miles’ vision, and he'd be the first to say he certainly doesn't make things happen alone. But ultimately, he is responsible for everything that happens under his watch.

No doubt that there's always more work ahead, as INDYCAR fans reflect on 2018 and look forward to next season, it's a good time to give credit where credit is due on a job well done.