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Oval Finale for IndyCar Could Be Great, or Disastrous

An oval is going to be the season finale for the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season.

With Wednesday’s (Feb. 14) news that the Music City Grand Prix in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, won’t be feasible this year, the series made the call, with new chief operation officer and promoter Scott Borchetta to shift the race to the 1.33 mile oval outside the city.

It was welcome news for fans who have craved more ovals, as well as for some drivers, who took to social media expressing various range of excitement over the prospect of wheel-to-wheel action to decide the championship.

There are some aspects to this decision that could be good for the series or end up turning out poorly if stars don’t align by season’s end.

First, the fans can appreciate the fact their voice was heard. There is a consistent call from some of the fandom that the series must have more ovals. Why? The racing is generally closer and more thrilling than other events on road and street courses. IndyCar action on a banked oval is breathtaking; the machines are fast, nimble and the pilots are brave in their moves. It’s racing entertainment at its best. Meanwhile, road courses lend themselves more to strategy and single-file racing.

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However, this event only works if people show up. That has been the demise of every previous oval race IndyCar has run and subsequently abandoned. Somewhere in the internet universe, those who cry out for more ovals should take the effort to go to the races when they are on the calendar. As the season finale, if the Nashville Superspeedway is marginally filled, which at a max seating capacity of approximately 38,000 would be disappointing, then the event will lack the juice to compete with a party in downtown Nashville.

How the promoter handles this shift will be critical to its success, but the series seems to have the guy in Borchetta, who was part of the organization group for the Nashville street race. His recent step up to a leadership role seems to be a major factor in assessing the Tennessee Titans stadium construction and synchronization with local officials on using the Broadway street as a literal ‘bridge too far’ for the event this year. Good on his team working with IndyCar to shift down the road to the oval, but replacing the party atmosphere with the concourse of a permanent facility will be a challenge.

There is a blueprint for this, and Borchetta and the series only must look at Iowa Speedway and the Hy-Vee IndyCar Weekend to see how an oval race can create the event atmosphere more common with street racing. With big-name concerts and heavy promotion by the sponsor Hy-Vee, the IndyCar teams have raced in front of a great atmosphere the last two years. Borchetta’s connection to the music industry – he is the founder of the Big Machine Label who famously discovered Taylor Swift – will be an advantage to build up the Nashville Superspeedway finale into a show.

Then there is the racing itself. All of the above concerns are mute if Alex Palou or someone else in the field decides to repeat a similar performance from 2023. Palou locked up the Astor Cup before the teams filed their haulers into neat lines at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. Sometimes a driver and his squad hit on something good and the results speak for themselves, but odds are that won’t happen consecutive years. If the series hits the concrete banking to decide the championship, then how will a race play out?

The current aerokit has been on the DW12 chassis since 2018, with one major modification two years later with the aero screen. In that time, the cars have only raced on one high-banked tri-oval track, and that’s Texas Motor Speedway, which isn’t a great comparison. Changes to the first two turns and then application of the surface substance PJ1 for NASCAR created single file racing up until last year. In 2023, IndyCar ran a high-line only practice to rubber in the second groove, added aero pieces that created more downforce, and the track did not apply any more of the PJ1. What resulted was the best race of the season.

IndyCar raced at Nashville Superspeedway from it’s opening in 2001 to 2008. But that was with a high-downforce chassis and aspirated engines that were heavier and less sleek than the current car. Testing later in the year is probably forthcoming, so that will provide some answers. There is an element of unknown though because Texas is a unique creature because of the aforementioned factors. That won’t be the case at Nashville, which has not been modified or effected by surface applications. However, it is concrete, which IndyCar hasn’t raced on since 2008. Some of their street circuits are a mix of concrete and asphalt, which presents different handling results for the Firestone tires. In previous races, the track was also known as a groove-and-a-half track, making competitive racing difficult. With the aforementioned high-line practice, a tactic IndyCar has used effectively in their effort to put on a good racing product, there could be a second grove added to entice that wheel-to-wheel racing the fans are certainly craving.

And that is the reason this makes sense for the series. Since 2015, the championship has concluded on a road course, and besides the great race that year when Scott Dixon took the victory and his teammate Tony Kanaan held off Juan Pablo Montoya to ensure a tie-breaker points finish went to the Kiwi, the final stop on the calendar has been less than dramatic. An oval just adds a bit more spice. In 2012, at Fontana Speedway – rest in peace – the title came down to an epic sprint to the finish, as Ryan Hunter-Reay held off Helio Castroneves to secure just enough points to claim the trophy over Team Penske rival Will Power. It was great action and viewers had to tune in to the very last lap to see how things would shake out.

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Unfortunately, the series removed the oval from the finale spot because the primetime race ended well beyond midnight on the east coast. This won’t be a problem for Nashville, which sits in the Central Standard Time zone. As long as NBC gives the race a nice TV slot, not directly competing with the NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, it will be in a good spot to showcase the championship fight.

And that’s all anyone wants to see. A good, hard fight for the Astor Cup, on an oval, to settle the 2024 season.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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Drew

To my mind Indycar hasn’t been racing in Nashville superspeedway in 16 years so I think it might be a good idea for a oval race finale for the music city Grand Prix ntt Indycar series championship race in Nashville Tennessee.

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