The switch from stock car racing to open-wheel racing (and vice versa) is not always a smooth transition. The sleek Indy cars are nothing like the beefy NASCAR vehicles, and the styles of racing are polar opposites. NASCAR is full-contact pack-racing; IndyCar is more risk-averse but also faster. NASCAR is exclusively raced on ovals; Indy features both ovals and road races.
Still, a driver is a driver (if you ask a driver) and you’d be hard-pressed to find a driver that doesn’t think (s)he can race any vehicle on any track at any time. (Motorsports’ finest don’t lack for confidence.) That’s led some NASCAR veterans – like Kurt Busch and Cale Yarborough back in the day – to try their hand at Indy, and some open-wheel savants – like Dario Franchitti and Patrick Carpentier – to get behind the wheel of a NASCAR.
Though all are/were supremely talented in their own right, none of those famous names were able to find much success in their crossover careers, not even the Hall of Famer Yarborough. Cale raced the Indy 500 four times and only had one top-ten finish (10th in 1972). He didn’t even finish the race in his first two tries.
Don’t expect the lack of prior success to keep today’s drivers confined to their best sport, though. As I said, drivers tend to think pretty highly of their abilities. They have to, in order to do what they do. Inevitably, more NASCAR studs are going to try their hand at Indy, and more Indy drivers are going to suit up for Daytona and Talladega.
Which drivers are the most likely to make the ever-challenging crossover? That’s the question of the day! Let’s make a bunch of left-hand turns and see if we arrive at some answers.
NASCAR/IndyCar Crossover Odds
Odds to switch from IndyCar to NASCAR
Simon Pagenaud: 1/1
Simon Pagenaud, the current 2016 IndyCar champion, has expressed interest in someday making the switch to NASCAR. The experienced Frenchman is a versatile driver, having raced both sportcars and open-wheel. Before earning his keep in Indycar, he was a successful American Le Mans Series racer, winning the 2010 title.
Will Power: 7/3
Australian Will Power has been a staple in IndyCar since 2008, but before that he was tour car racer in the Australian Supercars Championship, so he’s not just an open-wheel guy. Throw in the fact that he drives for Team Penske, which competes in both IndyCar and NASCAR, and he’s one driver who could potentially make a smooth transition to NASCAR. But is the will there for Will?
Helio Castroneves: 9/1
Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, has already had a successful crossover career. I’m not talking about a crossover into NASCAR, though; I’m talking about a crossover into reality television. The Brazilian won season five of Dancing with the Stars and clearly likes a new challenge. His outgoing personality makes him a great fit for the more entertainment-oriented NASCAR series.
Odds to switch from NASCAR to IndyCar
Danica Patrick: 7/3
Listing Danica Patrick as the favorite is sort of cheating. She’s already made the crossover; Patrick was the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing before making the switch to NASCAR. However, her NASCAR career has not gone well and there’s a good chance she will make the move back to open-wheel. The real question, in my mind, is whether she’ll be content heading back to Indy or will aim for the glitz and glamor of Formula 1.
Scott Speed: 9/1
Scott Speed is another driver who’s already tried his hand at both. While his greatest achievements have come in NASCAR, Speed has raced almost everything with wheels in his time: Formula 1, Rallycross, Formula E, NASCAR. He tried his hand at IndyCar back in 2011 but his salvo was unsuccessful. Speed’s focus is currently on Rallycross. Now that he’s won both the 2015 and 2016 Rallycross championships, it may be time to return to some unfinished IndyCar business.
Joey Logano: 97/3
The winner of the 2015 Daytona 500 has known nothing but stock car racing. He’s the holder of almost every “Youngest driver to …” record in the NASCAR book. He seems to love not only the racing but also the spectacle of NASCAR, which makes him unlikely to switch to IndyCar. That said, when you accomplish so much at such a young age (still just 26), you probably start looking for new challenges. The fraught history of stock car drivers switching to open-wheel could be just the challenge the phenom looks for in the coming years.
Photo credit: “NASCAR Kyle Busch” by Need2CPhotography, CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Flickr.