By David Morgan, Associate Editor
INDIANAPOLIS – The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for its annual trip to the Racing Capital of the World, but this time there’s a twist.
Instead of racing on the iconic 2.5-mile oval for Year No. 28 at the Brickyard, NASCAR’s best will join 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.
It will be uncharted territory for the majority of Sunday’s Cup Series field, as only seven drivers entered have previously raced on the road course. Those drivers include Stewart-Haas Racing rookie Chase Briscoe, who won the Xfinity Series race on the course last year, as well as Justin Haley, AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain, Anthony Alfredo, and Josh Bilicki.
“It’s still hard to believe it happened,” Briscoe said of his win at Indianapolis last season. “I thought I threw it away and then, somehow, we were three-wide. I’m still not sure how that happened, but once we got to the final corner on the final lap, I knew that we had it.
“It was a special moment and I remember heading toward the line and the yard of bricks and just thinking, ‘Man, I wish we had fans here.’ I knew I wanted to climb the fence, I had been telling everyone all week that, if we won, I was doing it and I was kissing the bricks. It didn’t matter to me that it wasn’t the oval, I won at Indy and I may never win again, so I’m not skipping that. I had no idea at the time that it was the first race at Indy with Hoosiers finishing first and second. It was really cool to be able to be a part of that with Justin (Haley).
“The other piece that, of course, added to how special it was, was to get that win with Zippy. Never in a million years did I think I’d win at Indy for Stewart-Haas Racing with Greg Zipadelli as my crew chief.”
With all the unknowns that a new course brings, the regular season points race is heating up, with Kyle Larson tying Denny Hamlin for the points lead after his win at Watkins Glen last weekend. After Sunday’s race in Indianapolis, just two races remain at Michigan and Daytona to settle it and set the field for the Playoffs.
Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott have combined to win all but one of the five road courses this season. Larson scored the victory at the traditional Cup Series road courses at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, while Elliott claimed victory at the two newest road courses on the schedule at Circuit of The Americas and Road America.
The only non-Hendrick driver to win at a road course this season was Christopher Bell, who won in the first road course race of the season at Daytona.
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 15
TV/Radio: NBC, 1:00 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
From the Driver’s Seat
“You know, that road course, to me, is not going to be your average infield road course,” said Chase Elliott. “That place was the host of an F-1 event, many INDYCAR events over the years, and obviously Xfinity last year.
“It was laid out probably more like a traditional road course – a place that was kind of made for it and has a little more flow to it than some of the infield tracks that we see, like the ROVAL. A lot of these tracks have infield tracks. We just might not go to them. But I think it’ll be more like a normal road course, more so than the ROVAL.
“One thing about those types of tracks is they don’t have any elevation really. And that, to me, is kind of what makes them different. Charlotte has a little more elevation and up and down than you might think, but watching that race last year, the thing that stood out to me the most was it is super flat. There is really no up and down to it. So, I think that could be a little different than the norm.”
Despite the Cup Series not running on the oval for the first time in its history at Indianapolis, Elliott noted that he is still excited for what the weekend may bring on the infield road course.
“The oval has always been a place that I wanted to do well at; unfortunately, I just never have,” he said. “I was old enough for Dad’s win at the Brickyard that I was a part of those photos. I always thought it would be really cool to have a win there, just win that race and have my family there.
“I am not sure what the road course will bring. It’s definitely going to bring a different feel for me because it is hard to view it as the same event as what Dad won. I am still excited about it and looking forward to it. I have never run there or run anything on the course. The big thing this weekend will be practice on Saturday. Until you get to a place and you can see it, feel it, and kind of find your rhythm with it, it’s hard to tell especially with a new road course.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, August 14
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – NBC Sports App)
Sunday, August 15
- MENCS Qualifying (9:05 am – CNBC/NBC Sports App)
- NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (1:00 pm – 82 laps, 200 miles – NBC)