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Monday, March 4, 2024

Nascar-Indy Car weekend exceeds expectations

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I can just hear the oval racing purists screaming at me. Is he serious? Did he just say the combined Nascar-Indy Car weekend was both highly entertaining and successful?

That’s exactly right, as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted a road course party that had a little something for every race fan out there, proving that sharing the joint spotlight can work as long as the racing is beyond spirited.

Blessed with Chamber of Commerce type weather all weekend, the best that both series could offer came together and delivered three competitive races at extremely reasonable ticket prices. The NTT Indy Car Series kicked things off Aug. 14 with the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix and Team Penske’s Will Power continued his dominance with yet another victory at the IMS road course. Power led 56 of 85 laps outpacing runner-up Romain Grosjean and third place Colton Herta. The race featured 11 lead changes amongst six drivers and benefitted from just five laps of action being curtailed by virtue of caution periods. 

The second feature Aug. 14 was equally stellar, as the cars from Nascar’s Xfinity Series invaded the 14-turn, 2.43 mile road course and when it was all said and done, Austin Cindric outpaced polesitter A.J. Allmendinger to capture the trophy for the inaugural Pennzoil 150. Cindric led 29 of the slated 62 laps, capturing his fifth win of the season in the process.

As any true racing enthusiast will tell you, one day of racing just isn’t enough and no one who came through the turnstiles at IMS the following day went home unsatisfied as the Nascar Cup Series drivers qualified the morning of Aug. 15 then lined up in afternoon for their initial foray on the road course.

Not to be outdone by Saturday’s two competitive events, the Verizon 200 would provide some exhilarating competition despite some difficulties with the racing surface in the late stages.

Having been the bridesmaid the day earlier in the Xfinity Series event, road course aficionado A.J. Allmendinger charged ahead on the final restart and captured his second career Cup Series win, outpacing runner-up Ryan Blaney and third place finisher Kyle Larson in a wild finish. 

Notes from the Paddock:

While official attendance figures were not released, both days clearly enjoyed good numbers. Good ticket prices undoubtedly contributed to the turnout and both Nascar and IMS had to be pleased. 

The much discussed deterioration of curbing in turn six of the course during the final laps of the Cup Series event should not be considered a blemish on what was clearly a great weekend. While it caused a lot of damage to numerous cars when the wreck on lap 78 occurred, the other side of the coin is how durable that curb had been up until that point. Cup cars are heavy and when they do cross a barrier of that nature there is tremendous force, but IMS has been a leader in track safety historically and reacted quickly and competently when responding to the situation. 

Several drivers pushed the envelope with their racing line in that area of the circuit and that too contributed mightily to it as well. Nascar Vice President of Competition Scott Miller and IMS President Doug Boles made the right decision to proceed safely and as a result, the fans enjoyed a thrilling green flag finish. Yes, a nearly 20-minute red flag period was difficult for fans to endure but ultimately, they got it right, both in the name of safety and in the spirit of competition. 

A.J. Allmendinger was clearly moved with emotion after his win in the Verizon 200. He spoke of why IMS is so special to him and paid tribute to those who’ve supported him his entire career. Some cynics will say he is simply a road course specialist but they’re dead wrong. Allmendinger is a complete racer and no matter what the circuit may offer in terms of challenges, he can win on any track period. 

Speaking of challenges, Allmendinger has certainly overcome them in his career.

As l watched him being interviewed by Kyle Petty of NBC afterwards, l thought back to when Petty himself emphatically declared Allmendinger was finished in Nascar after testing positive for amphetamine use in 2013. I noticed they spent some time talking off the air, and l hope Petty who is a class individual and a great analyst took the time to not only congratulate Allmendinger but to also concede he was incorrect about his prediction as well. 

Indy Car continues to build momentum post Nashville, which despite the oppressive Tennessee summer heat, was a big success as an event. Saturday’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix saw six different leaders, just five laps of caution, and 24 cars finishing on the lead lap.

It was fantastic to see Hall of Fame motorsports journalist Robin Miller tooling around in a golf cart at IMS over the weekend. Miller who has been a friend and mentor to countless people (including yours truly) continues to fight numerous health challenges, but his cantankerous spirit was on full display. He’s nothing short of a national treasure and we’re so lucky to have him here in Indianapolis.

The next stop for the Nascar Xfinity Series is Aug. 21 in Michigan. The Cup Series will race also race there Aug. 22. The Indy Car Series will race under the lights Aug. 21 in Madison, Illinois. Tickets for all three of the aforementioned are available.

Finally, thanks to everyone in the IMS Media Center for once again keeping me and everyone else as safe as possible in these challenging environmental health times we continue to live in. Social distancing was again mandated in their world class media center along with the wearing of masks. Kudos to them for maintaining all activities wisely and safely. 

Danny Bridges who hopes the combination of Nascar and Indy Car is here to stay, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com. 

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