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As president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric oversees a three-car IndyCar Series operation and a two-car NASCAR Sprint Cup Series operation. He has been in both sports long enough to see them undergo their respective ups and downs, and he has helped Penske Racing navigate those changes. This week he’ll oversee Penske Racing’s effort to win its 16th Indianapolis 500. He recently spoke with SportsBusiness Journal’s Tripp Mickle about that race, the IndyCar Series and NASCAR.
CINDRIC: The encouraging thing we have is car count. Overall participation level is always important to any sport. The car count’s been stronger than even it was during the heyday of the CART days. When you’re looking at 26 cars, sometimes 28 cars per event, even in the ’80s and ’90s we never saw 30, so it’s at least the highest point it’s been. That’s encouraging. … The sport has a lot of potential. The attendance levels have been good. Obviously, the TV programming on Versus and the overall rating is questioned for good reason.
Tim Cindric said the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 will expose new fans to the IndyCar Series.
CINDRIC: It’s difficult to understand if that’s something the series has much influence over, or if it’s the fact the network isn’t very well-known. The longer the year goes the more that may play out as far as trying to understand that. I was pleasantly surprised with St. Petersburg as an ABC event. It’s not where we want to be, but it was encouraging.
■ Randy Bernard’s been there a year now. How would you grade him to date?
CINDRIC: He’s done a very good job to date. He’s increased the awareness. He’s been able to take a series in which it was decided that new cars were in order, and what looked like would just be a new car introduction in 2012 turned into new cars along with multiple engine manufacturers. Considering the state of the economy when those commitments were made, that’s an encouraging sign and one he put a lot of work into. From a leadership perspective, he’ll be the first to tell you he has more to learn, but in the first year, he’s done a good job of committing himself. He’s always somewhere, he’s always doing something and he’s always reachable.
■ What about the recent history of the Indy 500? They’ve condensed May. Is the event still what it used to be?
CINDRIC: It depends on what you mean by recent history. I’ve been at that race all my life. The feel it had last year was very encouraging. That whole race weekend aspect had a lot of positive momentum around the city of Indianapolis and the racetrack. It felt right, and I think the 100th anniversary will take that to another level and expose people to a sport and that race that wouldn’t otherwise have done so. It’s important IndyCar has a good race there because it could influence others to get involved.
■ How would you characterize the state of the economy in IndyCar and NASCAR?
CINDRIC: IndyCar is still trying to regain its marketability. There are more sponsors involved this year than the year prior. It’s on the up. The way this country is in particular, certain things are popular for a while and then other things come back. It’s a lot like fashion. It doesn’t make any sense that straight leg jeans are in style but they are. NASCAR went through a peak this past decade, there’s a plateau, there’s the economic challenge of the past couple of years and there’s a correction in place. Everybody’s having to deal with that correction because they were used to a certain way of doing things. That particular bubble burst and it affects everybody in different ways.