Where does the blame lie for Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, everyone pointing it in all directions

INDIANAPOLIS — Was the Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway better off than the Brickyard 400? The action was certainly better in terms of on track passing and swapping out the lead, but was the overall product better off?

I think the fact that we’re bringing this topic up makes this seem like the longterm future of NASCAR on these hallowed grounds is in question. Not necessarily a divorce, but what and where the racing is here.

“I didn’t see any more people here than what we had at the Brickyard 400. It certainly ain’t the Brickyard 400,” said Denny Hamlin after the race.

All week long the drivers lobbied a case that we should be on the oval, not the road course. Now that the race is in the books and the crowd was similar to the ones that we saw in recent years for the Brickyard, what about Sunday’s race is going to make more, not less, people show up for 2022?

“These cars and curbs don’t go together,” Hamlin said of the curbing around the 2.439-mile road course. “The track was a mess. We’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans.”

Is it better to just call this an experiment and go back to the oval? I mean NASCAR themselves admitted that Sunday’s race while exciting at times, wasn’t the best product they could have offered.

“We had our problems today,” Scott Miller told reporters on Sunday. “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.”

Miller went on to say though that a majority of the race was okay still and that he doesn’t foresee a return to the 2.5-mile oval any time soon.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 15: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Hyperice Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

“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),” Miller continued.

Track president Doug Boles agreed.

“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.”

I do think the curbing will have an impact though moving forward. Miller admitted as much on the Morning Drive on NASCAR’s Radio channel on Monday morning saying that if we do return to the road course in 2022, there’s going to have to be something different in place there.

Which leads me to believe, is this going to create some animosity between IMS and NASCAR. Just look again at what Boles said towards the end.

“This is one of those events that we’ve made the right decision for right now.”

Key wording there, “for right now.”

Then there’s this, “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.”

Key word, “I think.”

So where does the blame land? Is it IMS for not having the track ready for NASCAR or was it suited just fine? Is it NASCAR for not policing track limits? Is it the drivers for exceeding the limits?

Hamlin says it’s on the track.

“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.”

The track says this isn’t on them.

“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.”

NASCAR says that the track has to maybe put some concrete down in that area and something permanent, not temporary because the drivers are always going to find the shortest path through a corner and that shortest path is over, not around, the curbing there.

I mean the rest of the track was just fine. We’re really only talking about one section of a 2.439-mile layout. That one section is going to decide if this continues on because why should IMS pay to redo that part of the track when they’d just prefer to be like the drivers and do this on the oval. NASCAR would prefer to use the road course and I would think make IMS foot the bill to fix that area. Is IMS willing to do so?

I mean the INDYCAR drivers don’t really cut over the curbing. NASCAR drivers do because that’s part of a track they can essentially cut a corner and keep the cars behind them, behind them. The cars behind them want to get around but can’t slow down to go around the curbing because the driver behind would cut the curbing and go faster.

You also can’t just take the curbing out because NASCAR found it to be dangerous if so.

That is the biggest part to fix here. So is the ending. This part is 100% on the drivers. This part is something that needs addressed.

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.

No one has the respect to fight for a win the right way. For some reason, everyone feels like a hero at the end and feels like they, not anyone else, has a car capable of winning. They make moves at the end of the race to go for a win that they wouldn’t make at any other point of the day. If you are fifth place, you’re in fifth place. You can’t just drive like an idiot thinking you deserve fifth. You are where you are in the running order.

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.”

He’s right. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott had the two best cars. They pit on the Lap 72 caution. Denny Hamlin stayed out on a great strategy call that worked in his favor. He had the car to beat at that point forward. Chase Briscoe was there but Briscoe ran off course in Turn 1 and was penalized. Like it or not, you can’t just continue on while holding a penalty.

Do I believe him in saying that he didn’t know he was penalized at the point of contact with Hamlin? I do. But, do I believe him in saying he didn’t purposely get into Hamlin?

No.

I think the way this was set up is that NASCAR rewards playoff berths for race wins. That forced Briscoe to race the way he did in the end. He knew that the only way to a postseason berth was to race Hamlin hard and he accidentally got into him instead of waiting for his time to make a clean pass later.

Hamlin deserved to win that race more so than Briscoe. He was the leader and had a fast race car. He shouldn’t get penalized by someone else thinking they had a better car and could just move him and apologize later. That’s the real story. That’s what happened. Briscoe had a good car but see he saw the carrot out there and took it. Hamlin was unfortunately in the way of the reward for him.

With the playoff system, this has shaped how end the races are run. This it the equivalent of a Week 15 NFL game and you get a 5-8 team battling a team with a first round bye at that point of the year and the 5-8 team saying if we win we get a playoff berth.

No, there’s a reason you’re 5-8 and just because you beat a good team in Week 15 doesn’t mean you’re now in the playoffs. But, that’s how NASCAR does it. That’s why drivers get so aggressive at the end because of what’s at stake.

That’s why you can’t blame Briscoe for racing like he did on that lap. He had to do what he had to do. As far as the rest of the day…

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