Race Weekend Central

Fire on Fridays: Indy Oval or Road Course — Make Up Your Mind

As the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series take to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, rumors are growing that at least the Cup Series will return to the 2.5-mile oval in 2024.

Compounding this rumor is that Aug. 14-15, just after the Cup race, some drivers will conduct a tire test on the oval.

Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports theorized that such a test would be highly unlikely if a return to the oval was not going to happen.

Over the past few years, some have begged and pleaded with NASCAR to return back to the oval and the Brickyard 400 that comes with it. Once considered a crown jewel, the race ran on the big oval from 1994 until 2020. Since then, both series have run the road course.

But is a return to the oval what most fans really want?

Two things contributed to the replacement of the oval with the road course. The first stemmed way back to the 2008 iteration of the race, when the race was a disaster thanks to multiple tire failures. Since that race, attendance steadily decreased, and the on-track racing product didn’t really improve much in the decade following that race.

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Save for an exciting 2017 race that saw Kasey Kahne take home his final Cup win in a battle of attrition, the oval had not produced exciting racing on the Cup or Xfinity sides.

While fans weren’t loudly complaining about the racing at the oval, it was cacophonous enough for NASCAR to do something about it. It was also obvious by the dwindling attendance that the race needed a shakeup when the 2021 season rolled around. But the one thing fans were vocal about entering 2021 was the desire for more road courses.

So when Roger Penske acquired IMS in 2020, the Xfinity race that August was a teaser for what was to come: a Cup race on the Indy road course. It was the best of both worlds; Indy got a much needed shakeup and fans got another road course in the 2021 schedule overhaul. Not to mention, Penske, NASCAR and the NTT IndyCar Series worked it out to where IndyCar and NASCAR would compete at the same track on the same weekend, adding more excitement to the event.

The inaugural race was perhaps one of the most exciting races of the season. The curb came up in the backstretch chicane, leading to a massive accident (in fact, the chicane caused problems for drivers all day regardless of the curb). Chase Briscoe, seeking his first Cup win, was pushed off track by Denny Hamlin on the final restart, and just as he spun Hamlin out in what seemed like retaliation, NASCAR penalized him for shortcutting the course.

The winner? AJ Allmendinger, competing part time in the Cup Series for Kaulig Racing while running full time in the Xfinity Series for the team. It was just his second Cup win (and first since 2014) and the first Cup victory for Kaulig.

However, a tame race in 2022 (compared to 2021, at least) that saw Tyler Reddick dominate has led some to reverse course and ask for the oval to return, which seems likely in 2024.

The biggest case for returning to the oval is the advent of the Next Gen car, and with the exciting racing its produced on the speedways of Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and Pocono Raceway, Indianapolis deserves its chance to see if the Next Gen could improve the oval racing there.

The tire test that will be conducted after racing concludes this weekend will likely also include testing for aero and passing ability to fully determine if there is a chance the oval returns. If the racing remains the same as it did before, why bother going back to the oval?

The big issue in all of this is how quick fans were to give up on the road course. After years of complaining about lackluster racing on the oval, the road course provided one of the greatest races of the still-young decade in its inaugural race. Yet after a calmer 2022 race that saw more domination out of one driver (Reddick), some have now seemingly given up on the road course’s ability to provide some action-packed racing.

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Is it wrecks that people are looking for? These are the same fans who have been upset that Road America was taken off the Cup schedule after just two races in 2021 and 2022 — and rightfully so. Road America was not given a fair shake and didn’t get a chance to prove its worth on the schedule. But at this rate, the Indy road course won’t either.

So which is it? Road course or oval?

Or leave altogether?

At the time the oval’s future was in question, a few fans had suggested that NASCAR leave Indianapolis altogether and head about 30 minutes west to Brownsburg, Ind., home of Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Xfinity Series raced there in the 2000s, and the Truck Series made its return in 2022, leading some to believe that perhaps the Xfinity and Cup series are next.

After all, along with road courses, many want more short tracks, and the 0.686-mile gem that is IRP could be the perfect addition to the schedule instead of Indianapolis; leave IndyCar to continue its legacy in favor of adding another short track.

It’s safe to say that NASCAR’s presence in Central Indiana isn’t going away anytime soon. The biggest question is this: Where do fans want it to go? First it was the Indy road course, but now it’s back to the oval. If the oval doesn’t work out, who knows what’s next, but it would be wise for NASCAR to at least consider IRP at that point, especially with the great racing it puts on.

If fans don’t know what they want at Indianapolis, it may be better to just pack it up and head to IRP to give it a chance.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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4 Comments
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TiminPayson

Oval!

Old Fan

IRP

Mike

Leave altogether and head a few miles west to IRP.

Ronald Thornton

Trade the indy date for another date in Nashville. Indy 500 gets 250,000 plus every year. Nascar gets around 70,000. Go where they want you. What’s better than 3 wide for the lead?

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