After bedlam at Brickyard road course, drivers prefer return to the oval

After bedlam at Brickyard road course, drivers prefer return to the oval
Logan Riely/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS—Roger Penske confirmed on Friday that the NASCAR Cup Series will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in 2023, a concept that’s not overly popular with many of the drivers.

The Captain, who purchased America’s most iconic motorsports facility in January 2020, offered the possibility of returning to the oval in 2024 and then perhaps alternating between the two configurations moving forward.

While there’s no doubt that road course racing organically produces side-by-side racing—or side-by-side-by-side-by-side entering Turn 1 at Indy—the new car has changed the complexion of racing on the larger tracks.  And if the competitive nature of the new car isn’t enough to at least test the new car on the oval, the prestige of running the Brickyard 400 should warrant a second chance tor NASCAR.

“I think the road course is embarrassing for us to run on,” said former Cup champion Kevin Harvick on Saturday. “We’re the biggest series in America at the most popular track in America. So not running on the oval is embarrassing for our series.”

In NASCAR’s second appearance on the road course, Tyler Reddick won the Verizon 200 from the pole. The race featured just five cautions—the first two for stage breaks—and nine lead changes in front of a crowd roughly the same size as the last Cup event on the oval.

Harvick didn’t want to speculate on how the new car would perform on the 2.5-mile oval, but it’s unlikely his opinion changed after being wiped out on Sunday by Alex Bowman and finishing 33rd.

“My common answer is I have no idea,” Harvick said. “Because I have no idea. There's really no rhyme or reason to it. You know a lot of that depends on tire wear and some of the things that that happen with the cars, so it just really you have to run the race to see what happens.”

For Ryan Blaney, the added real estate on the oval would be preferable. Blaney ran in the top five most of the day only to watch a solid finish evaporate on the final restart.

“You just get driven through,” said Blaney, who finished 26th. “I don't know if it was 99 the 2, the 21.  They just drive through you and I knew it was coming too and I tried to even get the 8 but I just get wiped out.

“It's usually how the end of these things go with people who don't give a (crap).”

Denny Hamlin salvaged a 15th-place finish despite struggling to keep the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota on the 2.49-mile Grand Prix course—particularly entering Turn 1.

“It’s just disturbing, disturbing racing, I guess,” Hamlin said. “Guys just pinballing, running into each other. That’s what we’ve got on these kinds of road courses—and even more reason why we should be back on the oval.

“Reddick obviously had the field covered, so at least we had the rightful winner, but other than that, complete pinballs out there.”

Certainly Reddick—who won both road course races in July—doesn’t mind running the road circuit over the oval. He simply appreciates racing and winning at the famed Brickyard.

“I've watched a lot of racing at this venue as a kid growing up,” Reddick said. “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.”

If the consensus among his fellow competitors prevails, however, Reddick eventually will have to do his winning on the oval, where the history and mystique of Indianapolis Motor Speedway really reside.

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