The backbone of the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule is the oval tracks, and that’s by design, Roger Penske said earlier this week.
Any driver with hopes of winning the season championship must be ready to excel at Iowa Speedway, World Wide Technology Raceway and the Milwaukee Mile, which comprise five of the year’s final eight races.
The doubleheader at the Milwaukee Mile – races held on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 -- will offer two races’ worth of points in one weekend during the final sprint to winning the prestigious Astor Challenge Cup.
“If you can come into this race (weekend) leading – (or) if you’re really able to compete here and making a dent in the points (to the series leader) – this is a chance to do that,” Penske said during Monday’s press conference in Milwaukee. “It’s going to be exciting, and I think it’s going to (make) a big difference to win this race.”
The doubleheader at Iowa Speedway, which will be held for the third consecutive year, will see races July 13-14. The single event at World Wide Technology Raceway will be Aug. 17.
All three of those short ovals will host a Saturday race in 2024. Start times haven’t been announced, but those races at Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology will use the lights at the track; the Milwaukee Mile doesn’t have lights, but its Saturday race will begin late enough in the afternoon to give it an evening feel.
Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment, said short-track action “highlights (the sport’s) DNA.”
“Fast oval racing,” he said. “Getting back to six ovals (in the season) is a terrific thing, I think, for INDYCAR and our fans.”
The oval portion of the 2024 schedule is highlighted by the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26.
Miles said the five oval races in the second half of the season will give the stretch run energy.
“Really, there’s a lot to like,” he said. “In going to Milwaukee the penultimate race weekend, (a) doubleheader, effectively it’s double points that weekend, and that’s going to make the crescendo of the finale week (Sept. 15 on the streets of Nashville) even that much more exciting and make that even really, really important.
“We like the night racing at World Wide Technology Raceway, and at Iowa we’re going to be under the lights … which is great on those tracks in any case, but under the lights with the sparks and all, it’ll be that much more exciting.”
INDYCAR President Jay Frye noted how prevalent passing was in 2023, and he expects that to continue next year. This year’s 17 races, he said, realized 7,753 passes for position, a year-over-year increase of 24.2 percent. The oval tracks saw 940 of those passes, an average of 188 per race.
“Just massive amounts of big-time passes, big-time numbers,” Frye said. “Incredible competition, and (we’re) looking forward to more of that in 2024.”
The full NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule has 17 points-paying races, plus the $1 Million Challenge on March 24 at The Thermal Club in Southern California. Ten of those races will air live on NBC.
Penske is particularly excited about a return to the Milwaukee Mile, a historic venue at Wisconsin State Fair Park which first hosted open-wheel racing in 1939 with Babe Stapp winning. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES last staged an event there in 2015, a race won by Sebastien Bourdais. Scott Dixon (2009) and Will Power (2014) are active former race winners.
“This is huge,” Dixon said of a return to the 1-mile oval. “The timing of this event is going to be very special. A doubleheader – it’s big points on the table before we go into the season finale and for the championship fight.
“I think I’m especially really pumped about that and where it’s going to fall on the schedule, (and) it’s so good to be back here in Milwaukee. A lot of great memories from this race and obviously a great area for our fans.”
Dixon called the Milwaukee Mile “one of the toughest tracks possible.” It happens to be the last event he failed to qualify for, in 2004. He is riding a series-record 322 consecutive race starts since that event.
“For me, yeah, these (short ovals are) fun,” Dixon said. “They’re hard, but a lot of it is the history, and I think the more you (see races) you really understand what it’s all about.”