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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Heat Races Fail to Add Excitement to XFINITY Battle at the Brickyard

The addition of heats to the late July NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway did as little for the racing product as the blistering summer temperatures did for the race’s attendance.

Running as the fourth and final round of the 2016 XFINITY Dash 4 Cash program, Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250 was the last of a trial run for heat races, following earlier rounds at Bristol Motor Speedway, Richmond International Raceway and Dover International Speedway.

The format for the races went as follows: The 40-car XFINITY field was split into two 20-car heat races, with starting positions in based on Coors Light Pole Qualifying speeds. Odd-numbered qualifiers ran in the first heat, with even-numbered qualifiers following in heat two.

In the event that more than 40 teams were to qualify for the event, the field was set by qualifications, meaning that any extra teams were eliminated after qualifying, not in the heats.

Once the field was set, the heat races were ran. The results of those heats determined the starting grid for the feature, with the top two XFINITY Series regulars from each heat qualifying for the Dash 4 Cash.

The heat races were completed with varying degrees of success in the spring races at Bristol, Richmond and Dover. With little to gain and everything to lose, teams often chose to lean on the cautious side during the short stints. The features, however, saw a noticeable change. With heats lessening the overall duration of the main race, the features were often intense battles, with track position valued above all else.

However, in their final test all the heat races did was exemplify the boring slog that is the XFINITY Series at the Brickyard.

Moved to the 2.5-mile oval from the .686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Brownsburg, IN, back in 2012, the XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis has attained a negative image with the majority of the NASCAR populace. While some argue that the value and prestige of running at IMS exceeds the loss of LOR, it hasn’t stopped many – drivers included – from voicing their desire to return to the short track.

Curious to gauge the overall opinion from the fanbase, I created a poll on Twitter shortly before Friday’s ARCA Racing Series race at LOR asking fans where they would prefer to see the XFINITY Series. 24 hours later the results were clearly in favor of LOR.

https://twitter.com/AaronBearden93/status/756661584370491396

Matt Kenseth, who rarely takes to social media for any sort of interaction, also made his way to Twitter Saturday afternoon to voice his opinion.

The above tweets aren’t shown to make a case for bringing NXS back to LOR or to lambast NASCAR’s decision to move. The move to the Brickyard made financial sense at the time – the inaugural Indy 250 at IMS brought a total purse of $1,153,076, a $477,376 increase over the finale at LOR, and there’s been nothing to indicate that returning to the short track is any more feasible now than it was in 2012.

Still, that fans are continue to remain passionate about LOR and express their disdain for the NXS race at the Brickyard indicates that something needs to change, and heat races – at least in their current form – weren’t the correct answer on Saturday.

The two 20-lap heats to start the Lilly Diabetes 250 were an exercise in boredom. Both heats went caution-free, with Kyle Busch and Erik Jones stretching out to victories of 2.835 seconds and 8.314 seconds, respectively. Neither race offered much passing behind the leaders, either, with less than 10 green-flag passes in the top 10 of each race and a combined four start-and-park teams that failed to complete 10 laps.

Worse than the heats themselves, the feature seemed stripped of all excitement until two late caution flags added the slightest hint of intrigue. With only 60 laps to complete in the event, fuel-mileage racing was effectively eliminated. The lone strategy play teams could make during the opening green-flag run was to short pit, which found little success in a pack stretched out with multiple-second gaps between many of the drivers fighting for position.

Issues for Erik Jones and contact between Daniel Suarez and Brennan Poole on the ensuing restart drummed up a bit of excitement relative to the Dash 4 Cash program, with Justin Allgaier and JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler battling for $100,000 in the closing stint, but the fight up front remained nonexistent despite Busch being at a tire disadvantage as he drove off to a victory in clean air.

In all, the XFINITY Series again delivered arguably their worst race of the season at the most prestigious track on the tour, and in doing so continued a negative trend at the Indianapolis venue.

NASCAR, XFINITY and IMS should be acknowledged for trying something to attempt to add excitement and appeal to the event. Unfortunately, the gimmick simply didn’t work.

So, where do they go from here?

Predicting the next move for the July race at IMS is a difficult prospect. Perhaps a few tweaks to the format – namely not removing the heat laps from the feature – could make heat races viable, or perhaps a rules package change or a decision to run the road course could assist the racing product. There are many options to try. NASCAR simply needs to continue searching for the correct answer.

NASCAR’s top series deserves to race at the Brickyard, and there’s a strong case to be made for the XFINITY Series to continue to run there as well, but something needs to be done to address the poor quality of the racing, and Saturday’s heat races don’t appear to have been a viable answer.

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Ken

The heat races strike me as a desperate attempt by NASCAR to try and save a dying series. I say give it up!

NASCAR needs to get their heads out of their butts and wake up. The Cup drivers have been using this series to pad their already oversized egos, and have killed this series. Except for maybe the two races at Charlotte, the Darlington race, and the February Daytona race, no Xfinity race should be held as a companion race to a Cup race. And schedule the races so that travel between tracks is impossible. Also, I have grown tired of hearing “The Greatest Driver in NASCAR history” getting out of his car after “dominating” an Xfinity race and saying that the Toyota Cup cars and Xfinity cars are so similar that he learns a lot that can be applied to both cars. Really? NASCAR needs to change that! Make the cars so different but not to a point where it causes any financial strain on full time Xfinity teams, and to where running an Xfinity car can cause the Cup driver a serious handicap. That’s another problem, why is Toyota allowed to run “Camrys” in both series? If Toyota doesn’t have a comparable car to the Mustang or Camaro, then sit this series out!

By the way, were there more than a thousand people there yesterday?

DoninAjax

The cars used to be different but another of Brian’s “brilliant” ideas was to make them similar. Now it’s just like a Cup test session.

A while ago I asked the same question about the Camry in both series.

Steve

I agree with you Ken. I get so tired of seeing the same Cup driver win week after week beating the JV teams with his R & D and money from his Cup owner. A few years ago, the Nationwide Series was the best racing of the three, but not now. It’s just a test series for the Cup teams to learn for the next days racing. It’s flawing the points for the regular XFinity teams by taking away the winning points and money from the very teams that really need it. We really need to limit the number of races a Cup driver can run for a season. The argument that Cup drivers draw in the crowds, well, that’s not showing in the stands. People are tired of knowing the winner before the race has even been run…….

The Heat Races work on small tracks but not on the larger ones. The best part of Saturdays race was going for the Dash 4 Cash. No one was even watching the Cup leader, we wanted to see who got the Dash 4 Cash money. That was the only racing I saw on Saturday. Sad….

Duane

The Xfinty series will never leave being companion races with the Cup series because of one very important fact. Nascar is a business owned by the France family and all the Xfinty races are at most of their tracks so they will not give any of the races up. The TV money is to good and since they own the concessions that is to good to give up also. Nascar is a business masquerading as a sport.

salb

If Brian France were capable of admitting a mistake, he would move the races back to IRP. Judging from the size of the ‘crowd’ on hand for most of the Xfinity races, there would be no problem with seating there. Having so many Cup teams with their Cup drivers in the races has taken any joy out of watching them. If Cup drivers want so badly to race, maybe they should drive for only the underfunded teams, giving them the benefit of their expertise? It makes the whole idea of a ‘chase’ even more ridiculous, with Cup teams and drivers winning the majority of the races. And collecting most of the purse money. How many Xfinity only teams could really use that money to improve their cars, not having the resources of most Cup teams? It not only makes a mockery of the idea of an Xfinity ‘champion’, but deprives seriously underfunded teams of the opportunity take home part of the money.

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