This Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series will hold its first-ever race on the 2.439-mile road course at famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For the last 27 years, the annual Cup Series race at the “Brickyard” has been contested on the 2.5-mile oval, the circuit IMS is best known for. But as attendance for that particular race has drastically decreased in recent years, Roger Penske, who became the facility’s fourth owner in 2019, decided he wanted to shake things up. And numerous big-name Cup Series drivers aren’t happy about it.
The annual NASCAR Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been contested on the 2.5-mile oval since 1994
From 1919 to 1993, the Indy 500 was the only sanctioned race held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But when Tony George, the grandson of former IMS owner Tony Hulman, took over as President and CEO in 1989, he began an effort to bring more big races to the track. And in August 1994, those efforts came to fruition with the inaugural running of the NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400, which was contested on the 2.5-mile oval and won by Jeff Gordon.
At the time, the event featured the highest attendance and the biggest purse in NASCAR history. And those big crowds of more than 200,000 people remained for more than a decade. And those fans were treated to some fantastic races and some big-name winners. The year after Gordon won the inaugural Cup Series race at the “Brickyard,” Dale Earnhardt Sr. took the checkered flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a sight nobody ever thought would be possible. Then the likes of Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, and Bobby Labonte won at IMS.
But since the infamous tire debacle in the 2008 race in which NASCAR and Goodyear failed to predict tire loads on the Car of Tomorrow, which led to several tire failures and caused cautions every dozen laps or so, things haven’t been the same. Over the next decade, attendance declined to the point where only 50,000 fans were in the stands. And Indianapolis Motor Speedway has always been a difficult place to pass for stock cars, so the entertainment value just hasn’t been there, which is why Penske is moving the annual Cup Series race to the road course.
Several notable NASCAR Cup Series drivers aren’t happy with the move to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Penske ran somewhat of a test in 2020 by contesting a NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and certainly got the results he was looking for as Chase Briscoe survived a wild, four-car battle down the stretch to win his fifth race of the year. And that race was seemingly all Penske needed to confirm his decision to contest a Cup Series on the road course in 2021. But several notable big names still aren’t happy with the move.
Indiana native Ryan Newman, who won the Brickyard 400 in 2013, says he’d first prefer the oval but also said he’d prefer the quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to the road course.
Denny Hamlin says the Cup Series “lost a crown jewel” and doesn’t believe a move to the road course is going to bring people back to the track. He continued by saying the oval track is “what makes Indy so special” and knocked NASCAR for adding yet another road course to the schedule. While the Cup Series used to include just a few road courses, Indianapolis is now one of seven on the schedule. This will also be the second consecutive race on a road course as the Cup Series just competed at Watkins Glen International this past weekend.
Kyle Busch says he doesn’t “view this track as Indianapolis” and doesn’t “see that same allure racing on the road course.”
Kevin Harvick, who’s won the last two Cup Series races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also says he’s “not a huge fan” and that racing on the road course “is going to be a tough pill to swallow.”
But as they do every week, all of these drivers will just have to suck it up and compete. And this week’s race at the “Brickyard” is obviously important as there are only three races remaining in the regular season.
How to watch the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard
The 82-lap, 200-mile race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now known as the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard and will begin at 1:00 p.m. Eastern this Sunday, August 15. The race will be aired on NBC and can also be streamed live using the NBC Sports app.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference