The decision this year by NASCAR to move the Cup Series race to the Indianapolis road course from the world-famous oval sparked a serious debate. Some drivers like Kevin Harvick spoke out against it. Others like Joey Logano embraced the change.
The racing action proved exciting early on Sunday, with what felt like more passes than all the previous Brickyard 400s combined. NASCAR looked good. But then, for the second time in as many days, the organization was embarrassed by its poor judgment and lethargic decision-making that ended up destroying a lot of cars and providing for a disastrous finish.
NASCAR ironically had big red flag waving in its face on Saturday
Last season’s Xfinity Series race on the Indianapolis road course provided the inspiration and template for NASCAR to bring its top series to the track this year. Saturday’s Xfinity race provided the Cup Series with the template on what not to do.
On the first lap of the race, multiple cars swung out wide on Turn 6 beyond the blue and white curb strips and went airborne after hitting a bright orange curb. Harrison Burton was the first to go Dukes of Hazzard-style and was followed by multiple other cars, including Kevin Harvick.
Harvick was one of several cars that sustained serious enough damage to the nose of the car that effectively ended the day before it ever got started. The NBC NASCAR announcing crew began asking questions about the orange curb. Digging through the archives, they later showed a photo of Turn 6 in last year’s race absent the bright orange launch pad.
According to NBC’s Steve Letarte, NASCAR officials said the asphalt outside of the blue and white strips was not considered racing asphalt and is deteriorating. Track officials installed the orange curb to encourage the drivers to stay more on the track. Apparently, the drivers didn’t get the memo.
Not even an hour after the race, NASCAR and track officials unofficially acknowledged they had made a mistake and removed the curb.
NASCAR could have avoided Cup Series disaster
With no ramp on Turn 6 to destroy cars and end days, the Cup Series drivers took the road course for the first time on Sunday. The first few stages provided some entertaining action that featured a lot of aggressive passing, and more importantly, stayed green.
However, there were indications of problems at the halfway point in the race on the Turn 6 blue and white strips on the opposite side of the track when a caution came out and track workers lifted up a portion of the strips and removed a large sheet of metal from underneath. It was later returned to its rightful owner, Austin Dillon.
Fast forward to lap 72 when a caution came out for another piece of debris ripped off by the Turn 6 strips, which resulted in track officials working on the area again, sparks flying from the saw cutting away at the metal curbing. At that point, NASCAR had already seen the curbed area repaired twice.
Instead of waiting until the race was over like the Xfinity event day before, NASCAR could have made the call right then and removed the curb, which had obviously become problematic. It did not.
Misses final warning before disaster strikes
A few laps after the restart, Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe battled for the lead and made it past the Turn 6 strips without issue. The pack of cars directly behind them wasn’t as fortunate. Large splintered pieces of debris exploded in all different directions after the first 10 cars passed the curbed area.
Martin Truex Jr. was in that cluster and spun around, his car smoking while sliding down the track. NASCAR could have thrown out a caution not necessarily for Truex but for the debris field scattered in the area. Once again, it did not. Another opportunity missed.
The next lap around NASCAR finally got the message. Hamlin, Briscoe, and Larson cleared the Turn 6 strips before William Byron hit them and immediately turned sideways in a fashion similar to Truex a lap earlier. Byron was not alone.
Kyle Busch went around along with Joey Logano, who lost control of his car and slammed into the tire wall, ironically enough, right by where the orange curb was located and removed the day before. When it was all said and done, 10 cars were involved in the chaos.
That crash resulted in a red flag. And NASCAR officials finally decided it was time to remove the blue and white strips. But it was too little too late. A substantial amount of damage had been done to the cars, and more significantly, NASCAR’s credibility.
On the subsequent restart, it only got worse when Michael McDowell hit the only remaining curb on Turn 6 and went airborne, which started a chain reaction and another massive multi-car accident and red flag.
When it was over, fans had spent 75 minutes watching three overtime laps on two different channels.
The Indianapolis road course was a divisive topic coming into the weekend’s race. NASCAR had an opportunity to sway those opposing opinions with a quality race.
Instead, its inability to make a quick and sensible decision — just like it did at a rainy Circuit of the Americas — not only cost the organization a chance at swaying fans but turned off a lot of those who were in favor of the race in the first place. For that, NASCAR should be red-flagged.