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 second 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 first race on the road course last year, carnage ensued, leading to flared tempers and a sneak attack win by AJ Allmendinger.
This time around, the stakes are even higher with only two spots left to be claimed in the Playoffs and five races still remaining in the regular season. Add in the unknown of how the Next Gen car will perform on the road course winding throughout the facility at the Racing Capital of the World, and fun is sure to be had.
Another item to keep an eye on will be the fact that the first three road course races of the 2022 Cup Series season has seen the victor be a first-time winner in the series and whether that trend will continue on Sunday.
As has been the case for the majority of the season, drivers and team will only have limited practice time to get their cars dialed in before rolling right into qualifying to set the 38-car field for the 82-lap main event.
By the Numbers
What: Verizon 200 at the Brickyard, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 22 of 36
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – Indianapolis, Indiana (Opened: 1909 – First Cup race: 1994)
When: Sunday, July 31
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
2021 Race Winner: AJ Allmendinger – No. 16 Chevrolet – Started eighth, two laps led
From the Driver’s Seat
“Wow, it’s so flat,” Austin Dillon said of comparing the IMS road course to others on the Cup schedule. “We’ve got elevation change at every track that we’ve gone to. I’d say Daytona has a little less elevation change. So for me, I really don’t know because the asphalt at Indy is so different the way the grooves are cut in it and it’s using a lot of lateral grip there.
“Sonoma, I think braking force-wise, is probably pretty similar; the amount of brake force and stuff like that because it seems like the track falls off a little bit. So, I’m thinking maybe Sonoma and Daytona, in between there.”
“You just have to be aggressive,” Dillon added about his mindset for the weekend. “With the number of winners this season, we’re going to have to win to make it into the NASCAR Playoffs. This Richard Childress Racing team is strong, and I know we can get the job done.
“Things have to line up and we have to have a perfect day in order to get to Victory Lane. That means I have to do my job, the pit crew has to do their job and the strategy has to play out. In the SIM, I’ve been pretty good at the Indianapolis Road Course, and we were strong at this race last year, but it was just so crazy at the end. I’d like to surprise some people at a road course.”
Last Time at Indianapolis
A wild affair at Indianapolis got even wilder in the closing laps of last year’s Verizon 200. First came the issues with the curbing and then a late race duel between Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe that paved the way for AJ Allmendinger to steal the win.
Throughout the race, 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 carnage from the curbing wasn’t over yet, as another multi-car crash broke out on the 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.
Pushed into overtime, Hamlin led the field into Turn 1, with Briscoe challenging to his outside and AJ Allmendinger challenging to the inside. Contact between the three sent Briscoe out into the grass, but he was able to keep it in the throttle and reemerged back on track in front of Hamlin before Hamlin was able to get back by him in the next set of corners.
Briscoe would be penalized by NASCAR for the off-track excursion, but kept on racing like nothing had happened. Later on in the lap, Briscoe put the bumper to Hamlin, spinning him out from the lead and dashing his chances of finally winning a race in 2021 and finally erasing the goose-egg from the win column at Indianapolis.
Hamlin would get his car righted and returned to the track, but the damage had already been done as he finished the day in 23rd.
In the midst of the madness, Allmendinger ascended to the race lead, keeping his Kaulig Racing Chevrolet up front for the final two laps to deliver the team its first NASCAR Cup Series win.
“It was survival of the fittest,” Allmendinger said. “We probably had like an eighth-, tenth-place car, sped on pit road. I thought we were going to finish 12th to 15th, and then those restarts were just insane. It’s great when you have a car owner that just says, Go get me trophies. He doesn’t care if that thing is torn up. Chevy, ECR horsepower, RCR, everybody that allows us to do that, all of our sponsors on the Xfinity side of it.
“We just won at Indy. What’s up! Thank you everybody for coming out. Let’s go!”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, July 30
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (9:35 am to 10:35 am – USA Network)
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (10:35 am – USA Network)
Sunday, July 31
- NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (2:30 pm – 82 laps, 200 miles – NBC)