If IROC Returned in 2023?

By Tony Donohue
June 21, 2022

The International Race of Champions races were always must see TV. 12 equally prepared stock cars with 12 of the best drivers in the world from different racing disciplines would compete in a four race schedule for a massive purse. The IROC Series lasted from 1973 through 2006 with champions such as Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Al Unser Jr., A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. IROC was a staple at Daytona to kick off the season and would usually run on a NASCAR weekend. Tracks like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Watkins Glen, Talladega and Riverside were used. Mark Donohue was the first champion back in 1973 with Tony Stewart being crowned the last champion in 2006. Chevy Cameros, Pontiac Firebirds and Dodge Avengers were most used throughout the tenure of the series.

The closest we have seen to an IROC race may have come via iRacing during the pandemic. Tony Stewart’s SRX Series is similar in style, they just haven’t had the best drivers in the world at that time on the track together. Assuming IROC will never come back, let’s have some fun thinking about what it would be like in 2023 if a big name sponsor like Camping World or Pennzoil put the money into making it what it was in its heyday in the late 80s and early 90s.

First, we pick the six track lineup. Instead of each driver competing for the championship, the drivers will compete for the series they race in. The grand prize of $250,000 goes to the series whose drivers score the most points over the 6 race season. NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA will be the three series represented, with two “wild card” drivers based on past experience racing every week. The six race schedule will kick off at Daytona, followed by Circuit of the Americas in March. Round 3 will see the series run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day prior to the Indy 500. Round 4 would return to the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader weekend. Round 5 would take the series to Eldora with the championship wrapping up in Phoenix on NASCAR weekend. 2 road courses, two big ovals, a dirt track and 1 mile dog leg at Phoenix.

Now the fun part, picking the drivers to compete. Let’s start with Daytona. Representing NASCAR would be Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. The Wildcard spot will go to Austin Cindric as the defending Daytona 500 winner. IndyCar would be represented by Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Jimmie Johnson. IMSA would welcome Andy Lally, Jordan Taylor and Scott Pruett. The other two wildcard spots would go to Austin Hill and Justin Haley, both drivers with Xfinity wins at Daytona.

Round 2 takes us to Circuit of the Americas, a track that allows the wild card spots to be wide open. Representing NASCAR, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Austin Cindric. IndyCar will be headed by Colton Herta, Alex Palou and Will Power. IMSA will field Tom Blomqvist, Oliver Jarvis and Ricky Taylor. The wildcard spots go to Ernie Frances Jr., who owns the track record in Trans-AM at COTA, Joey Hand and Romain Grosjean.

Round 3 would be the most interesting in my opinion. Hardcore fans of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway get an oval race back on Friday before the Indianapolis 500. WIth the party atmosphere of Carb Day, racing fans of all forms will enjoy taking in round 3 of IROC. In the late 1990s when IROC ran at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they ran adjacent with the Brickyard 400 weekend. Your NASCAR team would consist of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, yes scheduling would be tough with the Coke 600 but this a fantasy so don’t be a Debbie Downer.. IndyCar would see it’s last three 500 winners, Marcus Ericsson, Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato. The IMSA nod would go to Katherine Legge, Juan Pablo Montoya and Sebastian Bourdais. Wild Card drivers would be Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch and 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

Moving on to round four of the championship, the series heads right back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this time on the road course at IMS. A fourth race on Friday afternoon heading into the weekend would draw fans to make it a three day weekend at the world's greatest race course. This seems to be the most evenly matched race on the 2023 IROC schedule. Representing Team NASCAR, A.J. Allmendinger leads the charge after his win in Cup at IMS last season. Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. round out the charge for the Cup Series. IndyCar would be represented by Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta. IMSA will be represented by Ricky and Jordan Taylor as well as Felipe Nasr. The wildcard squad would be made up of Romain Grosjean, Austin Cindric and Mike Conway.

Eldora would be wild for an IROC race. The IMSA and IndyCar drivers might have trouble getting used to the car and getting up to speed. The NASCAR starting lineup would see Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson. Team IndyCar would land Tony Kanaan on the dirt. He ran Tony Stewart's Prelude to a Dream race back in 2010. Most IndyCar drivers have little to no dirt experience, but Conor Daly and Marco Andretti with recent dirt races under their belt would represent IndyCar. Daly has raced a midget car on the dirt at IMS, while Marco Andretti has experience on dirt after running SRX last Summer, winning a heat race at Eldora. The IMSA team is hard to put together because most of the drivers have no experience on dirt. Colin Braun, Jarett Andretti and Ricky Taylor come to mind. The wild card team is very intriguing. Tony Stewart would obviously get the nod as owner of the track. Rico Abreu would get the second wildcard seat with Tanner Thorson in the third. Thorson raced a truck at Eldora and has some experience in the ARCA Menards Series.

The season finale would take place in Phoenix during NASCAR championship weekend. The wildcard drivers would consist of one driver from NASCAR, one from IndyCar and one from IMSA. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick would represent Team NASCAR, IndyCar would consist of Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud, IMSA would see Sebastian Bourdais, Ricky Taylor and Felipe Alburquerque. Your three wildcard drivers would be Brad Kesolowski, Helio Castroneves and Kamui Kobayashi.

This is probably never going to happen, but I like the topic and think it would make for great debate on which drivers would get the chance and which tracks the series would race on. Maybe a stock car type body just like we see in the SRX Series would be suitable at every track.