Was this race better than the past Brickyard’s? Why Turn 6 was the topic of NASCAR’s weekend at Indianapolis and what drivers, NASCAR and IMS say about it

INDIANAPOLIS — It had already felt weird coming into this weekend’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard 400 was no more. After years of trying to revive the event, NASCAR had finally decided enough was enough and moved the annual stop to a new date and to incorporate the road course, not the oval this time around.

That drew the ire of the NASCAR garage as most of the drivers were very outspoken against him in the week leading up to the race. It was like they were lobbying for it to go back to the way it was before on the oval.

Well, after how Sunday’s race looked, the criticism only grew louder.

“These cars and curbs don’t go together,” Denny Hamlin said of the curbing around the 2.439-mile road course. “The track was a mess. These cars and curbs and all that stuff just doesn’t go together. We’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans. Although the finish was a crashfest, I’m sure everyone will love it. It’s just stupid. It’s a complete circus at the end of the race. You just roll the dice and hope you don’t get crashed.

“I didn’t see any more people here than what we had at the Brickyard 400. It certainly ain’t the Brickyard 400.”

Other drivers agreed.

But, IMS track President Doug Boles as well as NASCAR’s Scott Miller don’t expect many changes for 2022 despite the drawback of how Sunday’s race unfolded.

“I thought the energy level of today, our fans that came, was unbelievable,” Boles said Sunday after the race. “I was so excited this morning to interact with folks. Obviously, the weather was great today. So there are all kinds of positives.

“Our tickets, if you look at the crowd today, even vs. (Saturday) when you had Cup, IndyCar and Xfinity all running on the same day, our crowd was 20 percent up (Sunday) over (Saturday) and was up over (2019). This is one of those events that we’ve made the right decision for right now. I think we want to have it back again next year on the road course, and we’ll just continue to see where we go. I don’t think (the curbing problem) has any impact on it.”

Miller agreed.

“We had our problems today,” Miller told reporters. “This is one of those deals you take a lot of learnings away and can come back and put on a better event, obviously avoiding the problems we had today. But I think we saw some exciting action out there, and I think that the course itself puts on a really good show, so I don’t think (NASCAR would return to the oval).”

The biggest issue was how Turn 6 was constructed. You had the turtles on the outside of the exit in the corner which plagued the Xfinity Series race, then the inside of the corner cause chaos in Sunday’s Cup race.

They had a caution mid race with the problem on the curb in Turn 6. By Lap 72, it was back. On Lap 77, Matt DiBenedetto ran over that portion and broke it free a bit. That debris from it hit Martin Truex Jr’s car and caused him to spin. No caution was thrown. A lap later, William Byron hit it, destroying not only the curb, but his car too as oil flew all over the track and caused a 10 car pileup.

That then caused a 19-minute, 14-second red flag to remove it. But, Miller mentioned that you can’t not have it there because speeds would have been between 15-20 mph quicker if so.

“When we laid out this track and did Xfinity testing last year before the race, all of the drivers said there absolutely had to be something there because that would have been way too fast of a section,” Miller said.

But, with the damage done, they had to remove it as the only option to get this race run to completion.

“That was the only way we were going to get back to racing today,” he said.

Boles defended the track though in saying that they’ve not had a single problem with the curbing since this layout was constructed in 2014.

“We’ve not ever really had an issue with those curbs at all,” Boles said. “The only curb we ever had an issue with was drivers’ left on exit,  which we haven’t seen in a couple of years. We look at that curb between every session. We look at it at night and in the morning. There was no indication earlier today there was even anything wrong with that curb. So it was a little bit of a surprise for us when during the race we started having an issue.”

Hamlin though says that the writing was on the wall proving that they’d not work. These cars weigh 3,400 pounds. Double that of an INDYCAR. When you have 40 cars weighing 3,400 pounds ramming over those curbs for 77 laps, what do you expect is going to happen?

“Our cars are lower to the ground than the Xfinity cars anyway and those cars got some major ground from the curbs,” he said on why this happened on Sunday and not Saturday. “If this was Formula 1, they’d have an inspection process to the track to say our cars aren’t suited for this. You need to fix this. Fix the curbs. Not have 8 inch turtles on the race track. That’s just janky. It’s shotty work. I think Roger (Penske) and his team can do better than what we did here this weekend and I’m sure they will. They spent a good amount of money already making this place better. We’re going to go to road courses, make sure they’re right. This is just, making people sit through red flags and stuff, it’s bad.”

As to how you fix it?

“There’s curbs you make that are flush with the surface. You cross them, it’s going to make the cars slower. You don’t need turtles to beat on them.”

When asked about Hamlin’s comments, Miller said he didn’t blame him.

“I’m certain he was disappointed with the outcome of the race today. (The curbing changes are) something that we could consider, but these facilities have been proven over time. We didn’t feel that was necessary here or some other new venues.”

As to what to do about the track limits problem?

“That’s something we’ll have to look at; certainly in other racing series they go there,” Miller said. “Stock cars slide around a lot more; they use up a lot of racetrack. We’ve had a tendency at Sonoma and the other road courses to let track limits not really be a penalty thing. It would be very hard from the tower to enforce track limits. It’s something we’ve talked about before, we may have further discussion about that. Really a difficult thing to manage from the tower for sure.”

AJ Allmendinger, the race winner, said that part of this is just due to how the cars are designed.

“We’ve all got to race within the limits of the racetrack, but these cars are so big,” Allmendinger said. “When these things get out of control, like you’re along for the ride at times. In IndyCar you can kind of correct and save sometimes and it’s a little easier. These things, when you get side by side, they’re wide, you’re beating on each other. Like you need room to be able to maneuver, to make a mistake and get away with it.

“I thought today with the curbing out like from the Xfinity race yesterday, that was a good call, and I thought the track limits were fine. The biggest problem obviously was the curbing that was coming up. I was shocked where they were having to fix it because you get shoved over there sometimes or you start using more of it, and that’s when it becomes a problem because I felt like I was hitting the curbing, like I never had an issue with it. Where they were having to fix it was almost like way before where cars were kind of jumping over the top of it. But the thing is with those curbs you pay a price anyway, and we saw it. When you hit them wrong, you pay the price.

“Now, unfortunately today it was a huge price for a lot of cars, and we don’t need that. We don’t need to be tearing up race cars that much. I mean, that’s a lot of money that these team owners have to go through. I was sitting under red like watching it, like holy moley, we’re going through a lot of money right now. But at the same point, it’s our own job to not run over it that way. So there’s a fine line. Like you can’t just drive wherever you want to, but this racetrack doesn’t allow that because it has grass. You get off in the grass, it tears stuff up. I thought the racetrack has the right limitations. It’s just unfortunately the curbing was starting to come up in the wrong spot.”

The other part is at the end of these races, these drivers all drive over their heads. The cars are so close together on restarts and you get slow corners and everyone thinking that in order to win, they have to be overly aggressive and combine all that in a jar and you get what you saw to end this Sunday’s race.

Hamlin says that the racing at the end alters the entire complexity of the race. The final restarts ruin a good finish.

“A late race restart is a total crap shoot,” he continued. “We put a lot of time and a lot of money in these cars to just crash. If you get out run you get out run, but it sucks the way that it’s ended here. Tough racing right now when the results are fabricated by last race restarts.”

So, was this better than the Brickyard? At times, yes. At times, it also wasn’t too.

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