MADISON, Illinois — The positive reviews for last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway marked another triumph for the Next Gen car on an intermediate track. That begs the question of whether the car can help the Cup Series return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
This season marks the second year that Cup cars have competed against each other on Indy’s road course, having raced on the oval from 1994-2020. Even before the switch to the road course, some drivers were outspoken about their wish to stay on the oval.
The track has always been difficult for Cup cars to drive side by side because of the narrow groove in the corners. Attendance declined over the years, leading to the move to the roadway, which contains part of the oval.
With the Next Gen car this season, races at Auto Club Speedway (2-mile circuit) and Las Vegas and Charlotte (1.5-mile circuits) received critical acclaim.
But the car has not performed well on all tracks. Racing in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile circuit, was not rated positively. Reigning Cup Champion Kyle Larson said Friday that Texas “isn’t very spicy at all.”
But could it be any different with Indianapolis?
“Indy is just a tough track,” Larson said at World Wide Technology Raceway on Friday. “You can even watch the IndyCar race this year – it wasn’t that exciting and those cars are building really big runs. So I still think it wouldn’t be very good racing for us. And it seems like with these cars and the way the air is flowing out the back, I think it has the potential to be worse than normal just because it’s a flat track.
“As a driver I would really like to win on the oval there. But the road course is more exciting racing for me.”
Larson is not alone in his opinion.
“Honestly I think Indy would be worse in these cars,” Ryan Blaney said. “With the previous car, with a little bit of skew in it, you’d be praying for about six inches or a foot that (the car in front of you) would miss the bottom. If you could get your headlight out (in clean air), you’re in good shape.
“Now there is zero skew in them. You should have half a car down and that’s not going to happen with Indy. I honestly think it would be worse in this car. I like racing big Indy just for nostalgia purposes, (but) I think it would be a worse race than what we had. †
Christopher Bello noted that the racing was good on the intermediate multi-lane tracks. That’s not so likely in Indianapolis.
“All those tracks that you can move around and pick different lanes, we’ve had some great races,” Bell said. “In Texas, we couldn’t move. We had to chase each other and it wasn’t a great race.
“If we went to Indy and ran on the oval, I think it would be a lot like Texas, if not worse.”
Former cup champion Kurt Busch sees opportunities at Indy, but some changes need to be made.
†For me the quickest answer is (after) watching the Indy 500 and racing in it a few years ago, there are downforce options that teams have in other forms of motorsport,” Busch said.
“In NASCAR, we’re actually in a little box of adjustments. Let the teams have more downforce that they can get from the front or put in the front, back or out the back.
“That would create a window for guys who have this pack and guys who have that pack on the same style track. That could open things up for those who have the short-term versus long-term speed in a different way or a different opportunity.”
Whatever the solution, Kevin Harvick — who won the final Cup race at the Indy oval in 2020 — steadfastly says the series should run on the same track as the Indianapolis 500.
“It could be the best race on Earth,” Harvick said. “What is the real ingredient that made Charlotte so much better than Texas? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. You just have to do it. I think that’s the only way to find out.
“It’s kind of a downer to try and figure out what the ingredients are that make a good or a bad race and which tracks are good and which tracks are bad. I wish someone could tell me because I bet a million dollars last week that Charlotte would be terrible. Then we suddenly end up on a part of the track that we haven’t driven in five or six years.”
Even if it didn’t happen in Indianapolis, Harvick said the series belongs on the oval.
“I hate driving into the Brickyard and backing up on the straight and driving on the road,” Harvick said. “I think it’s terrible for our sport and almost humiliating to some extent that you take the best racing series in the country and take it to what most would consider to be one of the greatest race tracks in the world, but racing on the road. †