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A Long Month For Penske At Indianapolis

It is finally May and time to declare this a crummy year to have purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Racing was supposed to begin this weekend at the historic speedway where Roger Penske would have unveiled the initial phase of his renovations after completing the purchase of IMS and its assets in January. Penske, with a demand for perfection and relentless attention to detail, had touted 700-something new bathroom hand dryers and paved parking lots among the immediate capital improvements.

103rd Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MAY 26: A view of the national anthem during the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Then came the coronavirus pandemic and the IndyCar Series was suspended 48 hours before its March 15 season-opening race.

Before sports shut down, IMS was scheduled to open this week for the GMR Grand Prix on the road course. Scott McLaughlin, a two-time V8 Supercars champion, was to make his IndyCar debut. The gates would have officially opened for "The Month of May" and fans would begin trickling into the old gray lady on the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street.

Its new owner was determined to make the 111-year-old landmark "Penske Perfect" in time for the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend.

Instead, everything waits.

Nothing has happened since IndyCar put Penske's first season as the owner on hold. The schedule, changed over and over and still in need of adjustments, is on pace to finally begin June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

103rd Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MAY 26: Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Team Penske Chevrolet in action during the 103rd Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

IndyCar and track promoter Eddie Gossage of Speedway Motorsports will come to a deal neither side can refuse so that Texas can overcome the loss of income from not permitting spectators — and it deserves to be noted that few track operators have been as accommodating as Gossage in IndyCar's sustainability.

But the Indianapolis 500 has already been moved to August, marking the first time since 1945 the race won't be held on Memorial Day weekend. McLaughlin is stuck in Australia, his anticipated series debut on hold as the two-time IndyCar iRacing winner hopes the revised calendars afford him another opportunity to race in America in 2020.

Everything has been pretty awful — nothing close to the way anyone expected for The Captain's first year at the helm of this piece of Americana. In the four-plus months since Indy became his, the 83-year-old billionaire businessman has been stymied at every attempt to showcase his prized new asset.

GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma - Practice
SONOMA, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Team owner Roger Penske looks on during qualifying for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway on September 16, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)

Races have dropped off the calendar and there could be more collateral: Toronto scheduled for July 12 has yet to be canceled but Mark Miles, who heads IMS and IndyCar under Penske, isn't hopeful the street course event will happen under Canada's current regulations.

Much like NASCAR, the IndyCar teams are financially hanging by a thread and desperate for racing to begin for badly needed revenue. The drivers have been good sports with an iRacing league that showcased their personalities, and for the most part, they avoided the controversies that ensnared some of their NASCAR peers.

But everyone is ready for iRacing to go back to its space and for engines to roar again.

NASCAR Driver Rajah Caruth Participates In Online Race During Pause In Action Due To Coronavirus
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: NASCAR Drive For Diversity Driver, Rajah Caruth competes in the eTruck Series Night in America Powered by FilterTime, a live-online NASCAR Truck Series race on the iRacing platform, from his bedroom of his parent's home on March 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. The online race was organized by NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic - benefited multiple charities and included other professional ARCA and NASCAR drivers. Caruth, 17, who is currently racing in the NASCAR Late Model series and was set to make his debut, is back home due to the pause in action due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a NASCAR release, they have suspended the season through the first weekend in May, following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to not hold mass gatherings over the next eight weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Caruth, who represents Rev Racing, is one of the first drivers with an iRacing background to be selected for the aforementioned NASCAR program. He previously came out of the eNASCAR IGNITE Series. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Miles said IndyCar is ready to race and should be at Texas as planned. The series, he said, wasn't waiting for NASCAR to go first — NASCAR plans to restart May 17. IndyCar is simply planning to start with the next event on the schedule that has yet to be canceled or postponed.

Miles also hopes there can be fans socially distanced across the 640 acres at Road America in Wisconsin on June 21. The governor of Indiana is planning to allow fans in July at the speedway when IndyCar and NASCAR hold what could be (the revised schedules are unpredictably changing) an unprecedented doubleheader between the series.

When Penske was forced to reschedule the Indianapolis 500, he used an optimistic view in discussing the opportunities ahead of his staff. He's owned race tracks before, promoted races, and was chair of Detroit's host committee for the Super Bowl in 2005.

103rd Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MAY 26: Fans watch during the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

He didn't once lament the bad timing of a pandemic spoiling his purchase or his plans. Time and again, IndyCar's stakeholders have publicly expressed their gratitude that it is Penske in charge. It's been a bumpy start and the road ahead may still be rough — this month particularly as May, which signifies racing Indy cars at the speedway, drags along and IMS sits idle.

But few doubt Penske and his staff can guide the series through this crisis and ensure "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" goes on one way or another.

© 2020 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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