Fisher’s ill-timed comments loom over IndyCar victory

It was a great story for the IndyCar Series at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday.

After 113 tries, lovable Ed Carpenter finally won an open-wheel race, by edging series powerhouse Dario Franchitti.

Better yet, Carpenter won while driving a car owned by another fan favorite, Sarah Fisher.

Then Fisher stepped to the microphone in winner’s circle, and for some inexplicable reason began talking about the departure of the team’s primary sponsor, Dollar General.

Fisher has been a great ambassador for the sport, but someone needs to tell her that victory circle is the place to thank sponsors and extol their virtues, not talk about their abandoning the team.

Fisher said she hoped the win might change the minds of Dollar General executives, who recently told her their company would not be her primary sponsor after the 2011 season. I’m sure they’ll be considering those options as they’re climbing out from under the bus.

Not even in a moment of glory can all be glorious for the IndyCar Series.

Sunday’s race was a great spectacle for motorsports fans, with Carpenter and Franchitti battling side-by-side for the last 14 laps, all the while chased by a closing field behind.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many fans at the track to witness it. Attendance at yesterday’s race was about 30,000. That’s probably a generous estimate. And unless a sponsor with a $250,000 check comes forward, the Kentucky race will be off the schedule next year.

Kentucky isn’t the only troubled spot on next year’s calendar. For various business reasons, ovals in Loudon, N.H.; Milwaukee and Motegi, Japan, also will be nixed.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard is having difficulty finding oval courses these days. By most accounts there will be five, maybe six, oval races on a 16- or 17-race 2012 schedule.

Bernard eventually hopes to expand the schedule to 22 races, and no doubt hopes to add some intriguing ovals to the calendar. But it has proven to be a serious challenge for Bernard to find sponsors for those races.

Some of the new races Bernard is pursuing, including one in China and one in Brazil, also seem to be in some danger for 2012. A street race/oval doubleheader in Las Vegas in on ice until a sponsor or someone with $9 million can be found to pay for it.

The new chassis and engine packages for 2012 are cause for hope that IndyCar can jump-start itself and grow its fan base. But it’s never that easy for the series.

So a day after one of the most exciting races of this IndyCar season, series officials must be left wondering why few sponsors want to pay to be a part of these oval odysseys.

And at a time when open-wheel race fans should be celebrating the dawn of a new era, IndyCar officials have to be wondering where teams will find the money for the new equipment that will propel them into the future—and what that future will look like.

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