By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – Throughout Sunday’s Verizon 200 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, the curbing in Turn 6 was a point of concern, but when a debris caution set up a late race restart, those concerns took a drastic turn for the worse.
After taking a pounding from the heavy stock cars and undergoing repairs during every caution, it was only a matter of time before the compromised curbing caused a major issue and a restart with five laps remaining in regulation became the tipping point.
As the field stormed through the left-right combination of corners, debris could be seen flying off the curbs in that area of the track as Martin Truex, Jr. went for a spin. The race remained green, but when William Byron went over the curbing the next time by, all hell broke loose.
The front end of Byron’s Chevrolet was torn all to pieces, showering the cars behind with debris and sending cars spinning every which way. By the time the wrecking was done, nine cars had sustained damage in the incident.
Among those involved were Byron, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, James Davison, Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Justin Haley, and Daniel Suarez.
“It was so weird. I’ve never had that experience,” Byron said. “Like, I come through that corner the same every single lap. We were running fourth there behind (Kyle) Larson, and he gets over the curb in the same spot and something, like after he hit with his right rear, it like peeled up. And as soon as I got there I hit something and it just threw me completely off line. It tore the front end right off of it.
“I wasn’t offline at all. I was actually safe because I saw what happened to him and it looked like he jumped in the air with his right rear. And so I was like, man, let me try to get a little bit further left and I obviously nailed something that came up off the track. Just a bummer.”
“Somebody wrecked the lap before,” Suarez added. “I didn’t know who it was. But the lap before, I went through fine. I was on my line. I was making sure I was on the right line because I wanted to keep that car on the right side. I was on the regular race track and I hit something almost like the curb was on the race track. I have no idea. I haven’t seen the replay really, I just know that the curb came apart.”
Logano got the worst of it when his No. 22 Team Penske Ford headed straight for the tire barrier on the outside of Turn 6, making heavy contact and lifting the rear end of his car off the ground in the process. Luckily, Logano would be able to climb from his mangled car under his own power before taking the mandatory ride to the Infield Care Center.
“I am okay. Thank God those tire packs were there,” Logano said. “The hit wasn’t that hard at all. The tires absorbed a lot of it. I don’t believe in luck but that time I feel like it was just bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately it ended our day.
“We had a decent run coming to us and maybe a top-five finish for our Shell Pennzoil Mustang and the next thing I knew I was airborne and headed to the wall. I had a lot of time to think about it. I was just along for the ride as a passenger knowing what the end result was going to be. All the fans were cheering right there. They were happy to see me get out which was good do see. It will be an exciting finish to watch on TV I guess.”
A red flag lasting 19 minutes, 14 seconds saw NASCAR and track officials remove the damaged curbing prior to an overtime restart. However, another section of curbing that ran perpendicular to the racing line and had been the site of other incidents throughout the weekend in both NASCAR and IndyCar was left, creating a launching pad should anyone venture through that area of the track.
“You better stay left of the big curb because that one is a launchpad for sure,” Logano said. “We are wide open through that kink anyway and you can kind of just shoot right through it. Maybe just a single file. Maybe we don’t need it. I don’t know. We will have to go back and look at it and see. It is unfortunate that a lot of cars got tore up.”
Inevitably, following Logano’s words almost verbatim, that’s exactly what happened on the ensuing restart.
Michael McDowell hit the curb square, sending his No. 34 Ford into the air, with all four tires off the ground before coming back down to Earth and spinning back across the track. Seven cars would be involved in that particular incident, causing more carnage and bringing out the red flag once more.
Among those involved were Austin Dillon, Corey Lajoie, Tyler Reddick, Truex, Cole Custer, and Alex Bowman.
“I had nowhere to go and ended up with too much damage to finish the race,” Dillon said. “Honestly, it was frustrating and disappointing. We took a historic race like the Brickyard and turned it into a demo derby. Truthfully it’s not the track’s fault. It’s the drivers’ fault. Everyone wants to just run over curbs. I do hope the fans loved it though.”
Though the remainder of the race didn’t see any other incidents in that section of the track, the Cup Series debut race on the IMS road course will forever be remembered for the chaotic finish courtesy of the curbs in Turn 6.
Scott Miller, NASCAR Sr. Vice President of Competition addressed the issues with the curbing after the race, explaining the sanctioning body’s position on what happened.
“Obviously that thing had deteriorated with that last big wreck quite substantially and there was no way that we could justify leaving it like it was without removing it,” Miller said. “It obviously had to come out if we were going to continue. There was some debate about taking the other piece out, but as we worked through putting the track together for Xfinity before last year’s race, there was a big ask from the drivers to have something back there because that section was just way too fast.
“There was that grass and going into Turn 7, they’d have been running 15 or 20 mph faster, so we weren’t going to sign up for that. That other one had to stay and that was the only way we were going to get back to racing.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Track President, Doug Boles, noted that the curbs had been in place since the road course was reconfigured in 2014 and explained that they were inspected regularly and showed no signs of issues prior to the race on Sunday.
“The curbing that actually delaminated is actually that same style of curbing we’ve had since we re-did the road course in 2014,” Boles said. “Those curbs have been replaced, repaired. We’ve not ever really had an issue with those curbs. The only curbs we’ve had an issue with are driver’s left on exit, which we haven’t seen in a couple of years.
“We looked at the curb between every session. We looked at it at night and in the morning and there was no indication earlier today that there was anything wrong with that curb. So, it was a little bit of a surprise for us when during the race we started to have an issue with it.”