Cue the dramatic music: IndyCar gets ratings bump

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LONG BEACH, CALIF. (AP) - IndyCar wanted attention in this season of high expectations but failed to get very much for its first two races of the year.

A new car, a manufacturer battle and the best competition in 15 years was supposed to re-energize a dwindling fan base. Instead, sagging television ratings showed no immediate impact on IndyCar’s quest to move the dial.

That changed Sunday with some drama in Long Beach. And maybe, just maybe, that might be the trick to attracting the eyeballs the series desperately needs.

The third race of the season was a doozy, reflected by the improved overnight rating for cable channel NBC Sports Network. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach scored a .35, up 21 percent from last year’s race, prompting a sigh of relief after the .25 scored two weeks ago in the network’s season debut.

The number likely was boosted by NASCAR’s elite Sprint Cup Series having the day off, but promotion on NBC’s main network and a controversy leading into the race clearly didn’t hurt.

The controversy began when Chevrolet arrived in Long Beach and promptly pulled all 11 of its engines from its teams. That should have given Honda a shot at its first win of the season, but that seemed doomed the moment eager rookie Josef Newgarden sailed into the tire barrier attempting a bold pass for the lead on four-time champion Dario Franchitti before they even made it to Turn 1.

From there the race was punctuated by a collision between Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal that sent Andretti’s car airborne and led him to complain, “I’m lucky I didn’t get upside down. I could have been killed.”

There was a flurry of penalty calls _ as well as some no calls _ that fueled conversation, championship contender Scott Dixon was stuck on the course inside his disabled car for most of the race, and, in the end, yet another Chevrolet rout.

A penalty against Chevrolet drivers for changing their engines pushed Franchitti, in a slump so far this season, in the top starting spot alongside the 21-year-old rookie.

Newgarden is young and eager and potentially the next American star, and a chance to lead in just his third career race was probably a little too appealing. He seemingly called his shot after Saturday qualifying, when he suggested in a news conference that he might try to pass Franchitti at the start because the veteran wouldn’t expect such a bold move.

Bad move, kid.

Franchitti knew it was coming and was not willing to get beat to the first turn by a rookie.

While Newgarden tried to get past the champ, Franchitti quickly closed the door, and everyone has a different opinion on if there was contact between the two. Franchitti, who called the move “fairly brave,” said there was no contact. But Newgarden ended up in a tire barrier, his race over.

Newgarden, who contended he “got touched on the exit,” stayed above the fray.

“Maybe I should think a little bit better before I go in there,” he said. “You never know. I’ll certainly review myself and see what I want to do differently in the future.”

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