By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – It’s that time of the year again, when NASCAR invades open wheel territory for a weekend at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For the third year in a row, the Cup Series will be joining their counterparts from the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NTT IndyCar Series in running on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile infield road course in what will be an action-filled tripleheader weekend, culminating in Sunday’s Verizon 200.
In the two races on the road course, carnage has ensued, but NASCAR is hoping to temper that come this go around with some rule changes around the restarts. Instead of the restart zone on the frontstretch, which has caused a massive bottleneck into Turn 1, the restart zone has been moved back into the section between Turns 13 and 14 to hopefully have the field more spread out by the time they get to Turn 1.
Another key storyline heading into the weekend is that only three races remain in the regular season, with four Playoff spots still up for grabs. While a good run this weekend might not lock one of those drivers into the postseason, getting caught up in someone else’s mess at some point on Sunday could make it even harder to make it in.
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are among those still not locked in, although they have triple digit points advantages over the cut-off line. Behind them, it’s a mad scramble with drivers on the cusp of making it in, including Bubba Wallace at +58, Ty Gibbs at +3, followed by road course ace Michael McDowell three points back, Daniel Suarez at -3, and AJ Allmendinger at -24.
Last, but not least is the international invasion taking over the Cup Series this weekend.
New Zealander and Chicago winner Shane Van Gisbergen is back with the No. 91 Trackhouse Racing team, along with fellow Supercars driver Brodie Kostecki piloting a No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Those two will be joined by sports car standout Kamui Kobayashi in a third 23XI Racing entry, along with Jenson Button returning for Rick Ware Racing, and Mike Rockenfeller driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Legacy Motor Club in place of Noah Gragson, who left the team this week following his suspension.
By the Numbers
What: Verizon 200 at the Brickyard, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 24 of 36
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – Indianapolis, Indiana (Opened: 1909 – First Cup race: 1994)
When: Sunday, August 13
TV/Radio: NBC, 2:30 pm ET / IMS Radio Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 14-turn, 2.439-mile infield road course
Race Length: 82 laps, 200 miles
Stage Lengths: Stage 1: 15 laps, Stage 2: 20 laps, Final stage: 47 laps
2022 Race Winner: Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Chevrolet – Started on pole, 38 laps led
Track Qualifying Record: William Byron (1 minute, 27.765 seconds, 100.044 mph – 8/15/2021)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings on IMS Road Course:
- Tyler Reddick – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 110.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 103.6
- AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – 100.2
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 97.6
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 95.9
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 95.0
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.0
- Todd Gilliland – No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford – 89.6
- Austin Cindric – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 87.7
- Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 87.0
From the Driver’s Seat
“I would say the challenges at the Indy Road Course are the visuals, especially braking visuals in traffic,” said Kyle Busch. “It’s so flat and a lot of corners are so slow that when the track gets hot and it gets slick it really slows down a lot. Trying to keep the tires on the car under braking and also under acceleration is a challenge. It’s really flat and you’re always trying to make sure that you can go as fast as you can, carry as much speed as you possibly can, but keep the brakes on the car because there’s a lot of heavy braking areas at the Indianapolis Road Course.
“Restarts going into Turn 1 are chaotic. The best way to protect yourself is to stay all the way to the inside to the right-side of the racetrack and not let anybody to your inside. You can be the guy that kind of forces everybody off into Turn 1 and puts them in the grass because if you’re on the outside and get put off in the grass then you’re losing spots. That happened to me last year, but hopefully moving the restart zone a little bit will kind of help that calamity and calm everything down.”
Last Time at Indianapolis
A wild affair at Indianapolis got even wilder in the closing laps of last year’s Verizon 200. For the second year in a row, it would be an overtime restart that would determine the victor.
Tyler Reddick was the dominant force of the day and appeared to be on a Sunday drive to his second win of the season, but as has been the case on road courses in recent memory, a caution in sight of the white flag pushed the race into overtime, providing one last hurdle he would have to overcome to capture the victory.
Lining up next to Ross Chastain on the restart, Reddick was able to make it through Turn 1 clean, but the same could not been said for Chastain, who was forced to take the escape road on the outside of Turn 1 to get away from the chaos.
Chastain reemerged on track door to door with Reddick and gave him a run for his money throughout the penultimate lap before Reddick was eventually able to create some separation between the two and bring home the trophy.
“It feels pretty dang special, I’m not going to lie,” Reddick said. “The last guy that was up here was about as short as me. That’s good. It’s pretty special. Yeah, it was very special. I’m not going to lie.
“I’ve watched a lot of racing at this venue as a kid growing up. A lot of really incredible drivers have won at this racetrack, and it’s really, really cool to be a part of the group of drivers that have won here, and yeah, I’m really happy about it, and hopefully I’ll be racing here again next year — well, I should be, I guess. I should be racing here next year. But hopefully winning again next year, and I’m excited to race here in some other things, too. I’d love to do that.”
While Chastain may have crossed the line in second, NASCAR took umbrage with the shortcut route he took in Turn 1 of the restart, handing him a time penalty that dropped him much further down the leaderboard when all was said and done.
“I was like, uh-oh. But that was a scenario that had been talked about. If you get bottled up, what do you do? Take the access road,” Reddick added of Chastain’s move on the final restart.
“I couldn’t believe he got ahead of me. I was kind of waiting to see if he was going to have a penalty because I didn’t want to move him out of the way and make his race worse than what it was. Yeah, I was really surprised by that; but hey, we made it work. Hats off to Ross (Chastain) for trying to do that, but really glad it didn’t end up working out because I’d have been pretty pissed off.”
With Chastain’s penalty, three rookies (Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton, and Todd Gilliland), would finish the day second, third, and fourth, with Bubba Wallace rounding out the top-five finishers.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, August 12
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (11:30 am to 12:30 pm – USA Network)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (12:30 pm – USA Network)
Sunday, August 13
- NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 pm – 82 laps, 200 miles – NBC)