Things look a little different this year for the NASCAR Cup Series’ visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Well, a lot different, actually.
Instead of running the 2.5-mile oval at the famed facility, NASCAR’s premier series will instead take to the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Grand Prix course that winds its way through the infield on Sunday (Aug. 15). It’s the third such track on the Cup schedule that falls into the “ROVAL” category, joining the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway configurations. With Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International the only road courses, and traditional layouts at that, on the schedule for years, it marks a sea change for NASCAR over the last several seasons. After race after race at the Indy oval being more or less lackluster in terms of entertainment and competition, IMS’ layout is one of three new road races added to the schedule for 2021.
There’s very little history to go on for this race. Last year marked the first time that any NASCAR touring series took to the Grand Prix layout, that being the Xfinity Series’ Pennzoil 150. Chase Briscoe took fellow competitors AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric three-wide with two laps remaining to take the lead and sail to victory for his fifth win of that season.
Briscoe, now a Cup rookie, didn’t run the sophomore Xfinity race at the layout on Saturday (Aug. 14), but both Cindric and Allmendinger did. The pair swept first and second, respectively, with Cindric – coincidentally – scoring his fifth win of the NXS season.
Those two drivers also make up a class of several road course ringers set to run in Cup on Sunday. They’re also joined by WeatherTech SportsCar driver Andy Lally, who frequents NASCAR road races and came home 10th in the Xfinity race on Saturday. Lally is set to drive Live Fast Motorsports’ No. 78 as Kyle Tilley stepped out due to a shoulder injury.
Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon both ran Saturday’s Xfinity race as well, Elliott subbing for Michael Annett in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 and Austin Dillon in Our Motorsports’ No. 23. Each driver netted a top-10 finish.
After Saturday’s race, NASCAR officials removed an orange rumble strip in turn 6 that caused several cars to fly in the air on the first lap. For Sunday, Briscoe will start alongside polesitter William Byron on the front row. Elliott, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez round out the top five, while Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Allmendinger, Ross Chastain and Cole Custer complete the top 10.
There were no issues in tech inspection yesterday. Byron followed up a strong sixth-place run at Watkins Glen with the pole for Indianapolis, outrunning Briscoe by nearly half a second to claim the top starting spot.
Elsewhere, Formula 1’s summer break rolls on, but the NTT IndyCar Series returned to Indy for the second race this year on Saturday in the first time they’ve ever run on the same track the same weekend as NASCAR. Will Power dominated, leading 56 of the 85 laps and heading up a podium consisting of himself, Romain Grosjean and Colton Herta. Formula 2 driver Christian Lundgaard, making his series debut, finished 12th after leading a pair of laps earlier in the race. Jimmie Johnson finished 19th and tied his best finish of 2021, while Cody Ware, the only driver racing in both IndyCar and Cup competition this weekend, finished 25th.
The Cup Series will take the green flag at the yard of bricks – albeit in the opposite direction – this afternoon at 1 p.m. ET. NBC will provide television coverage.
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