By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not the typical oval weekend for the NASCAR Cup Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the series takes on the track’s infield road course for the first time.
After a mostly incident-free practice session Saturday morning, led by Martin Truex, Jr. with a lap of 1 minute, 29.577 seconds the question was posed to a number of drivers to see what they thought of racing on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile infield road course.
Naturally, Truex had nothing but positive things to say about the road course after leading practice.
“I’m liking it,” Truex said. “Coming to Indianapolis has always been special. It’s been a struggle for us over the year. I’ve not been very lucky, so I’m not opposed to have the road course here. The Auto-Owners Toyota Camry was really fast. We ended up first, and I’m really happy with the car. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and see what it brings.”
However, some of his colleagues don’t share the same feelings for the IMS road course. For Kevin Harvick, he’s firmly on team oval when it comes to Indianapolis.
“I wanted to throw up,” Harvick joked about arriving at the track knowing they wouldn’t be racing on the oval. “It is definitely not the same Indianapolis. This place is built off the history of the oval. For me growing up as a kid, this is where I wanted to race. To come here and race on the road course is a little bit degrading I guess you could say. For us, it is another race that you go out and do the best you can. I don’t own the racetrack, so I don’t make those decisions. We just go race as hard as we can and see where it falls.”
Likewise for Kyle Busch, who has had success on the Indianapolis oval over the years, winning the Brickyard 400 on two separate occasions.
“It’s just disappointing that we are on the road course instead of the oval in my opinion,” Busch said. “I think the history is all built around the oval and the road course was built for Formula1 to come here and take part of the history and now we are all racing on it because it’s here and the oval stinks.”
Meanwhile, Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano are indifferent about racing on the oval versus the road course. One theme was common in both of their comments: they just want to race at Indianapolis, it doesn’t matter which configuration.
“It is what it is,” Blaney said. “I am excited to be here no matter what, whether it is the oval or the road course.
“The road course is neat. Pretty tough to get the hang of. A lot of long straightaways and really heavy braking corners and it is really easy to lock your tires up, especially into 12 there. It is a weird transition. It is cool to be at Indy no matter what it is. There will be a lot of challenges tomorrow for the race, trying to take care of your tires and your car and stuff.
“It was a fun day today getting your bearings on everything. It is a different road course. It is flat. There is no elevation, not like the Glen or Sonoma where you have some dips. This is just flat. It is pretty neat though. Different.”
“I just want to race at Indy,” Logano added. “I don’t care. I do think the road course will put on a better race for everybody. We talked for years about the oval race and how we wanted it to be better. We tried plenty of things to try to make it better and then we watched that Xfinity race and all you had to do was watch that one time to say, ‘Let’s give that a shot.’”
Excitement Abounds for NASCAR, IndyCar Crossover at Indianapolis
With both the NASCAR Cup Series and NTT IndyCar Series on site at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for the first time, some of the stars of both series took the opportunity to walk a mile in each other’s shoes.
William Byron and Rinu VeeKay did so virtually, with each of them taking a spin in the other’s car on the Chevrolet simulator, while Austin Dillon and Felix Rosenqvist had the chance to actually climb into the cockpit on Saturday morning.
Though the two didn’t get the chance to take Dillon’s Cup car or Rosenqvist’s IndyCar around the track, both took full advantage of the opportunity they did get.
First up was Dillon, who climbed into Rosenqvist’s No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, taking in the tight confines of the open-wheel car.
“It was fun to get in an IndyCar,” Dillon said. “I’ve never sat in one. It’s tight in there and cool, but the tires feel like you can touch them. They’re just right there. I had fun doing that this morning…It’s cool to have all three series here. To see IndyCar, Xfinity, and Cup, it’s just a great weekend of racing.”
Rosenqvist then got his turn to see what a NASCAR stock car was all about when the two headed over to the NASCAR garage and Rosenqvist jumped behind the wheel of Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Throughout the weekend, NASCAR drivers were checking out the IndyCar racing as much as possible and vice versa on the IndyCar side, with many taking in the stock car action provided by the Xfinity and Cup Series.
During practice for the IndyCar Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on Friday, Joey Logano took his young son to the top of the pagoda to watch the open wheel cars make laps, trying to take in as much as possible.
“It’s funny, you talk to these IndyCar guys and you hear where they’re braking and what they’re doing and we ain’t even close,” Logano said with a laugh. “It’s just a different game. Our racing is different for that reason. Better or worse, I’ll let you decide. It’s different and I think that’s good because you have something for everybody.”
When it came to race time, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez were seen on pit road watching the Team Penske and Arrow McLaren SP cars circle the storied speedway.
“I love watching no matter what kind of racing it is,” Blaney said. “Obviously with the Penske IndyCar guys, it is nice to go see them on their race weekends and kind of understand what they go through.
“I was in McLaughlin’s pit for qualifying yesterday and that was cool to see how the process goes there a little bit. I think I am going to watch the race in one of their pits today to see what that world is like. It is the same but they do some things differently than us. Some of the fans I have talked to as well, they enjoy having the crossover. I think it is good for motorsports in general.”
Paling around with IndyCar polesitter Pato O’Ward before the race, Suarez was asked whether he’d ever entertain the opportunity to run an IndyCar, he replied with a grin, saying: “Never say never.”
O’Ward noted that he and Suarez have been longtime friends and it was cool to have the opportunity to catch up with both series at the same venue this weekend.
“It’s so great,” said O’Ward. “I haven’t seen him in so long and it was really, really nice to see him. And I hope I can have him at like more races or something because Daniel and I started at the same go-Kart track in Monterrey, Mexico. He was always running older than me because he was quite a bit older. Not much, but I’m assuming he’s probably got five or six years on me. But a great guy. Great family. I’ve always really enjoyed having him around.”
The NASCAR presence also caught the eye of IndyCar runner-up finisher Romain Grosjean, who noted that he’d be game for giving a Cup car a go one day. The former Formula 1 driver has had a chance to experience what a NASCAR stock car feels like after going on a ride-along with Tony Stewart at Circuit of The Americas a few years ago.
“I wouldn’t do it in the same weekend, that’s for sure,” Grosjean said. “I think it’s pushing — it’s hard enough if you want to be competitive in INDYCAR; you need to focus on it. I don’t think you have time to go jumping in another car.
“Obviously they look good on track. I was surprised yesterday, I wanted to watch them — even though it was only — it was Xfinity, but they were good. They sound great and they could be fun, and then I actually drove one in Austin with Tony Stewart back in 2018, and Kevin Magnussen and I, we had a lot of fun. It was cool. It’s heavy. It’s got a little downforce. But it was fun. Again, never say never.
“I’m also tempted by a midget. I want to see the dirt track down there, and who knows, I may give it a go eventually.”