Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Indianapolis: Do You Really Want the Oval Back?

What happened?

Tyler Reddick ended a strong day with a win by pulling away from Austin Cindric after two wild late-race restarts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Sunday, July 31. Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland and Bubba Wallace rounded out the rest of an unusual top five.

Indy marks Reddick’s second career NASCAR Cup Series victory and only his second career NASCAR road course victory as well. It is also both Gilliland and Burton’s first career Cup Series top-five race results.

See also
The Underdog House: Todd Gilliland Grabs First Top Five in Rookie Surge at Indianapolis

How did it happen?

For polesitter Reddick, everything was going according to plan for the entire race.

Or, at least it was until there were five laps to go.

It was a similar sight akin to what we saw when the Cup Series raced at Road America less than a month ago. Reddick led over Chase Elliott, who didn’t quite have the speed the No. 8 did. With 10 laps to go, it appeared it was the Richard Childress Racing driver’s race to lose. Reddick had a full 3.5-second gap over the No. 9 and it wasn’t shrinking. With fresh tires and enough fuel to make it to the end, all Reddick had to do was stay out in front and pray for the race to remain green until the finish.

His prayers this time were not answered.

The entire day had provided some wild restarts when the field entered turn 1 each time, and that was before there were less than five laps to go. So, everybody held their breath as the field slammed their way into the first sharp left-hand turn.

Of course, it ended as everyone expected.

The good news for Reddick at the end of the melee was that he didn’t have to worry about Elliott anymore. However, with RCR teammate Austin Dillon stuck in the gravel, it meant another restart where the No. 8 had to fend off all comers.

On the overtime restart, Reddick cleared the field before entering the fatal funnel of turn 1. However, while the rest of the pack leaned on one another through the first two corners, Ross Chastain used the runoff route NASCAR had provided to drivers while entering turn 1 in case they needed it.

Chastain rejoined the track racing Reddick for the lead. The two wrestled for the top spot, but Reddick was able to keep it for the final lap on his way to his second career win.

Turns out Reddick didn’t even have to pass Chastain to get the victory. We’ll get to that.

Who stood out?

Before Road America, Reddick had never won on a road course in NASCAR. In fact, being a dirt racer, he probably hadn’t his entire life.

However, you certainly wouldn’t have known that watching both Road America and Sunday’s race at Indy.

Reddick led a race-high 38 laps from the pole en route to his second career Cup Series victory. Nobody probably would have guessed the Californian’s first two Cup wins would have been on road courses. Yet here we are.

Reddick’s impressive triumph over this unknown territory is also highlighted by his recent announcement he’ll be leaving the No. 8 after 2023 before moving on to 23XI Racing, a piece of news not met well in the shops of RCR.

However, despite the supposed inter animosity between driver and crew, Sunday’s performance showed that it’s not hindering the team’s performance. With a second win in 2022, Reddick now appears to be mathematically safe in the playoffs.

Usually, this section is reserved for underdog drivers with great finishes as well, but on Sunday, that really could’ve been said for the entire top 10.

Three of the top five drivers are rookies in 2022, and for one of them – Gilliland – it was his first career Cup top 10.

Front Row Motorsports teammate Michael McDowell earned his ninth top 10 of 2022 by finishing in eighth, giving FRM its first double top-10 result since Talladega Superspeedway in 2013.

Meanwhile, when it comes to adversity, nobody in the top 10 met and overcame more on Sunday than Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger.

At one point, Buescher’s Ford was on fire. Literally.

Yet, after the crew put the fire out and Buescher went down two laps, he got one back during green-flag pit cycles, then received a free pass doing a flurry of late cautions where he rallied back to a 10th-place finish.

While Allmendinger didn’t have to deal with the heat of a burning inferno, his type of heat was far more prolonged.

On a very hot day in Indiana, the Californian’s cooling suit wasn’t working in his already sweltering race car. Instead, the extra layer of clothing trapped the heat under his fire suit. By the final restart, Allmendinger was out of drinking water.

He soldiered on to a seventh-place finish but immediately collapsed after exiting the car. He was later released from the infield care center.

Who fell flat?

Frankly, there were plenty of mistakes made on Sunday, but let’s go with the most obvious one.

Reddick was able to hold off Chastain long enough to win at Indy. Although, it turns out he didn’t have to.

The thing about the runoff route is after taking it, the driver must stop and go at a designated area before rejoining the field, similar to the chicane at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. The melon man did not.

Instead, Chastain did what many do when approaching stop signs on empty roads; he slowed down a little bit before continuing on. Your local police deputy might let you get away with that, but NASCAR will not.

Those access roads are meant to be used when there is an incident on the course that would not originally allow a car to pass through or in the case of avoiding an accident. Unfortunately for Chastain, unforeseen accidents don’t count.

While the driver of the No. 1 argued that he had no room entering turn 1, it’s somewhat hard to tell if he truly meant to do so. However, there is also truth that Chastain would’ve undoubtedly ended up in the grass.

But what would you rather have? Driving in the grass and probably hitting another car while entering turn 1 and still walking away with a likely top 10? Or be penalized for obviously cutting the course and finishing 27th?

It’s a matter of risk and reward. Chastain’s decision to skip turns 1 and 2 resulted in the penalty that relegated him back to 27th position, and that was definitely going to happen. However, if he had stayed in that mess and held his ground, who knows where he could’ve ended up?

What did this race prove?

Whether you liked it or not, Sunday’s race was interesting. With that being said, are you really sure you want to go back to the Indianapolis oval?

Hear me out on this one.

Yes, Sunday’s annual visit to the Brickyard was a bit of a mess, but at least it was something. There was a young winner, a high variety of competition in the front of the field, a wild overtime restart and some intense racing for position. Most of those things didn’t happen on the oval Indy track for NASCAR very often.

Sunday’s race was also a bit of a demolition derby, and that really was because of that darn turn 1. Drivers fanning out to three and four-wide before entering a slow narrow corner usually doesn’t end well for most racing series. There have been many arguments that the road course has been too destructive on teams’ equipment, costing them millions in damages.

How soon we forget.

The truth is that Indianapolis is a narrow track made for single-file IndyCar racing, not crazy double-file NASCAR restarts. The wild side-by-side action NASCAR provides is not really meant for the enclosed, high-speed straights of Indy.

Then, there’s the matter of dwindling attendance.

Yes, the broadcast cameras showed some empty stands on the outskirts of the 2.5-mile-long facility. It’s obvious NASCAR’s annual visit to the Brickyard is still a far cry from the glory days of the first Brickyard 400s which boasted attendance of 300,000.

But it’s not the worst it’s ever been.

However, there is one big factor that has changed since we left the oval: the car.

The Next Gen chassis has provided an improved racing product year over year with almost every track visited in 2022. With that, there certainly is some intrigue with how the car would perform on the 2.5-mile oval.

Really, going back to the oval isn’t a bad idea, but let’s not act like it’s going to be the savior of the Brickyard for NASCAR. The allure of NASCAR going to IMS isn’t all there anymore, at least for the non-racing fan. Before, it had a novelty factor to it, but that’s somewhat worn off.

However, if you really want a sure good time in Indianapolis for the Cup Series, apparently there’s this small short track right down the road from IMS. They did this truck race on Friday night that was really fun. Maybe the Cup Series guys would have some fun there, too?

It may have to accommodate for a larger crowd, though.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: Grant Enfinger Emerges from Chaotic Overtime Ending With IRP Win

Better than last time?

Well, for one, the track didn’t literally come apart. So, that’s an improvement already.

However, there was a drop in competition. At least for the lead.

Sunday saw nine lead changes among seven different drivers. In 2021, there were 14 lead changes between 11 leaders. Another downside to road course racing is certainly the long strewn-out green-flag runs that can see a leader stretching out to a four-second advantage, leaving pit stop strategies barren. We saw something similar at Road America.

It was a dynamic that paralleled what we saw one year ago, complete with a penalty for a driver fighting for the lead, another driver earning their second career win, and even almost the same number of cautions throughout the race.

All in all, it appeared as though the Next Gen car didn’t change much in the racing product at the IMS road course, which is a similar pattern we have seen for all road courses this year.

But hey, at least the crowd looked better in some places.

Paint scheme of the race

Anytime a sponsor displays a charity campaign on a racecar, it usually means a special paint scheme is coming.

In this case, Craftsman’s $100,000 donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals was enough to create a new livery for Christopher Bell‘s Toyota Camry.

While having a huge donation is usually a good reason to enjoy a certain paint scheme design, it also helps that it actually looks good. Even more reason to enjoy it, the red-orange coloring is reminiscent of another orange paint scheme the No. 20 once had. One that became iconic for NASCAR fans.

What’s next?

NASCAR heads to the Irish Hills.

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Michigan International Raceway for its annual visit to the 2-mile banked oval. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 1:20 p.m. ET with the FireKeepers Casino 400 being televised live on USA Network on Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

NASCAR RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: INDIANAPOLIS

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Sally Baker

I will NEVER miss ‘racing’ on the big track, but am not sure that cars just driving over each other takes much skill. If we can’t go back to IRP, then the road course is at least entertaining.

Mike

Was just fixin to say they need to abandon the big track altogether & head west a few miles to IRP.

Bill B

Do we want to go back to the oval? That’s a tough question. Do we want some semblance of a race or do we want a pseudo demolition derby? As a rule I am not a big fan of crap shoot races, and given the finishing order it is obvious this was a crap shoot race. I have to admit though it was a spectacle on those restarts going into the “funnel turn”. Of course if that’s what you want then bring on the figure eight track.

Reddick won the pole, led the most laps, and won the race, so at least that part wasn’t a crap shoot. I am sure Truex and Blaney were happy there wasn’t a new winner when there easily could have been, given the crap shoot nature of the race.

Chastain had to know he was going to be penalized for that blatant cut of the track. I am glad he didn’t do anything stupid trying to win, like wreck Reddick. There were a lot of guys that are usually contenders that were barely mentioned (Truex, Harvick, Busch, etc.).

One more race left in the summer doldrums portion of the schedule (New Hampshire, Pocono, Indy, Michigan) and then we get back to more interesting tracks.

Jeremy

Totally agree. Look, I like pushing, shoving, and hard door to door beating and banging (not wrecking!) as much as the next guy, but taking 6 wide into a 2 lane corner is ridiculous! As much as I generally despise open wheel “avoidable contact” rules/penalties, NASCAR may need to look into that at some point for road course starts/restarts. For example, maybe 3 wide is OK, but the guy or guys who makes it 4+ get a stop n go penalty. Either that, or restarts on road/street courses are single file. Bombing 30 cars into a corner where half of them wind up driving through the grass isn’t racing.

Bill B

If I know NASCAR, their answer will be the latter, single file restarts. It is the easiest to enforce, and while there will still be aggressiveness on restarts, at least it should be down to 2 or 3 wide for any given position.

I have to say, it was like watching amateurs yesterday. No one was using any common sense.

janice

what’s sad is cup drivers are supposedly “the best of the best”. the funnel turn was ridiculous. i never thought indy was designed and built for full body stock cars. i remember benny parsons describing the cup cars as taxicabs on the track. i didn’t make it to the end of the first stage. i found something else to do cause every time i looked at the tv someone was spinning. i do think nascar needs to do something about the “pay back” list of drivers getting longer and longer. apparently harvick is making his own list and checing it twice. will all the pay backs happen at the big tracks on the schedule in the next few weeks? i think seeing how kurt busch is doing after his wreck that “didn’t look too bad”, people need to think twice about taking someone out.

RCFX1

Maybe over the winter, IMS needs to work on turn 1 and make it wider or less abrupt of a turn. Maybe one for Open Wheel cars and one for stock bodies? Then just close the one for whichever race they’re having.

Kurt Smith

The road course racing is becoming like pack racing, wreckfests with finishes determined almost entirely by luck.

This race sucked almost as bad as the tire debacle of 2008. Put some damn walls in the first couple of turns and lose these eight-wide restarts or yes, go back to the oval where effort putting together a racecar and driving it matters a little bit.

1911_Bandit

Race on the road course all that you want – just don’t call it The Brickyard ’cause that it definitely ain’t.

Charlie

Racing on the oval: tire issues and a fuel-mileage race. Dull and boring. Run it again, Mr. Penske, and listen to the folks complain. Maybe the new car will be different.

Chris

Can see opt for not racing at Indy at all? I don’t care for either layout and I feel the heavier stock cars just don’t work well on the oval as well as running a flat track road race.

RCFX1

The oval is terrible. The cars are too heavy and too big to really ‘race’ there. Seemed like it took forever for them to get down the front and back stretches. I’d prefer the road course. If your driver wants to try and make it 8 wide into turn one, that’s your problem.

If you cut the bus stop at Watkins Glen, you need to get in line and not gain any spots. At Indy, they needed to do tire walls in the runoff, so the driver had to slow and wind his way around the barriers. Then he would be slowed enough to join the group. He kept it at full speed into the runoff and there was nothing to slow him down in the entry. Use enough walls to make it a disadvantage

The best thing to come out of this new car is that no one has ‘notes’ to refer to when they get to a track. It’s all relatively new to the crew and driver. That’s why these young guys are upfront. The older folks are still trying to drive the tracks like they used to.

As far as the 20 paint scheme, I didn’t know what it was. I thought it might be Manny and Mo. Maybe Jack died.

RCFX1

Does anyone besides Nascar commentators call Michigan ‘The Irish Hills”?

Kevin in SoCal

Move the rumble strips in turn one BACK to where that other curved white line is, to widen and open the area, and that should help tremendously.
And/or put tire barriers there like the Charlotte Roval does, so if you miss the corner, it hurts.
I vote keep the Indy road course. Fans complained about how slow and boring the oval is, and they complain about the road course. Fans like to complain.

Jeremy

I do think for NASCAR the road course is a better show than the oval at Indy. I like the idea of adding tire barriers in the runoff area to eliminate that route being used to pick up spots.

Last edited 10 days ago by Jeremy
TiminPayson

YES. But at least run the road course the other direction.

TiminPayson

Wait till NA$CAR gets to Chicago

Kicks

There is a simple solution for the turn 1 fiasco. Run the road course counterclockwise. What is now turn 14 (the last turn) coming onto the frontstretch becomes turn 1 with a much gentler arc into the corner. Turn 1 becomes turn 14 so the hard 90 coming onto the straight is approached at a lower speed coming out the the other corners at the north end of the track. This would also help the pit stops as the cars would now have the left side against the pit wall similar to what happens on the ovals. Then again, long straights followed by hard 90 degree narrow corners is what NA$CAR is planning for Chicago.

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