Indianapolis Motor Speedway

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: Indiana

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We’re F14 states into the NASCAR America’s “50 States in 50 Shows” and that brings us to one of the most important states in the history of auto racing.

Today’s state is Indiana, home of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 and Winchester Speedway.

Winchester Speedway is located in Winchester, almost 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The high-banked track, which used to be the site of NASCAR test sessions, is the host of the Winchester 400, a famous super-late model race that has been won by NASCAR Hall of Famers Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace.

Other drivers who have braved the track’s 37-degree banking include A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Ryan Reed, Blake Koch gives positive review of restrictor-plate test at Indianapolis

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Last October, three Xfinity Series teams journeyed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help figure out how to make NASCAR racing at the historic track better and more enticing.

The teams of Blake Koch, Ryan Reed and Brandon Jones spent Oct. 11 trying eight different car setups – with various splitter heights and gear ratios – for a 2017 rules test.

Koch, who drives for Kaulig Racing, remembers three of those setups which were used in mock races as an evaluation for potential implementation of restrictor plates to the 2.5-mile track.

One package, which Koch “didn’t like at all,” was ineffective as all three cars couldn’t keep together.

Another saw the trailing cars able to “really suck up to the car in front of you and try to make that pass, but you kind of stalled out when you got next to them.”

The third package inspired NASCAR’s announcement last week that restrictor plates would be used for the July 22 race at IMS. Koch said it may lead to “a wild race” at the track known for hosting the “Great Spectacle in Racing” in May.

During a series of five-lap races between the three cars, Koch told NBC Sports he, Jones and Reed were “bumper-to-bumper” the entire time, with the lead changing as much as twice a lap.

“It just opened up a bigger air pocket to where you could get a run on the car in front of you and just keep that run going and clear them,” Koch said. “Once two of you cleared the first-place car, that first-place car could actually get back behind you and suck up back to you and pass you back.”

This is the type of action NASCAR is seeking to replace what fans have become accustomed to at the track that also hosts the Indianapolis 500 (which has produced at least 30 lead changes for five consecutive years, including a record 68 in 2013 and 54 in 2016)

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman share thoughts on plate racing at Brickyard

Last year, Kyle Busch led 62 of 63 laps in the Xfinity Series’ main event at IMS. The next day, Busch led 149 of 170 laps before winning the Brickyard 400. Reed says that such dominance will be a thing of the past.

“It’s less of an advantage (where) one car’s going to hit it and they’re just going to dominate the race. You’re not going to have that,” Reed told NBC Sports. “You’re going to have at least the top 10 be able to win the race.”

In the July 22 Xfinity race, in addition to the restrictor plates, cars will have the spoiler and splitter measurements from 2016 along with the first use of aero ducts, or “drag ducts.” The ducts work in concert with the existing brake ducts (for brake cooling) on the car. The aero ducts help direct more air into the car and shoot it out the side through the wheel wells. By kicking air out the side, it helps punch a bigger hole in the air, allowing the trailing car to get more momentum.

“You’re not going to be able to break away,” Koch said. “There’s no way the lead car will be able to break away from anybody.”

Koch predicts racing packs of about five cars, while Reed sees groups ranging from 10 to 15 with gaps between them.

Koch cautioned the final result won’t look exactly like what fans are used to with one pack of cars at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

“You’re not going to be able to run around that place wide open in a pack, you’re just not,” Koch said. “You’re going to have to make methodical passes and spit someone out and they’re probably going to go from first or second to 25th in one lap. Then they’re going to get help and they’re going to shoot to the front.”

Reed, who captured his second Daytona win last month, disagrees with the last part of Koch’s assessment.

“When we go back there with 39 other guys, it’s going to be a lot different,” Reed said. “When you get in 20th place and you’re in the middle of the pack in dirty air it’s not going to be easy. That place isn’t easy to run around in dirty air if there’s one car in front of you. You get 20 cars in front of you it’s going to be really tough.”

And if the race that is delivered in four months doesn’t live up to expectation and hopes?

“If the fans want to see something different, then we need to do something different,” Koch said. “I think it’s just proof NASCAR’s always trying to please the fans, which is a big deal I think. They are important to us. If they don’t like this package, I’m sure we’ll change it again.”

But Reed sees nothing in the October test to make him believe fan’s expectations should be tempered for the July 22 race.

“It’s going to make the racing a lot better,” Reed said. “Fans are going to have a lot more fun with it. It’s going to be a lot more competitive race. I believe that with 100 percent confidence.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman share thoughts on restrictor plates at Brickyard

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The upcoming Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will serve as a testing ground for the future use of restrictor plates at the historic 2.5-mile track.

NASCAR announced earlier this week the July 22 race would be raced with plates, which reduce horsepower by sapping airflow to the engine, that have previously were used only at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and a September 2000 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Depending on the effectiveness of the plates, they could be used in future Cup Series races at the track.

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was “up for whatever” in hopes of improving the racing at a track that seen drastic declines in attendance in the last decade.

“That race is really suffering as far as the show and how entertaining I think it is to watch,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t really know what the answer is to make it more exciting, but I think this is a great opportunity to find out if this is the direction to go.  I am all for it. And I like the idea of trying it in the Xfinity Series or the (Camping World) Truck Series or what have you whatever track it is at to try it in that feeder series.

“That is an opportunity to see if we can get it right without ruining anything for the Cup guys.”

NASCAR has been visiting IMS since 1994 and will return for the 24th Brickyard 400 weekend in July. But the competition in the race pales in comparison to what usually is produced two months earlier in the Indianapolis 500.

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing has produced at least 30 lead changes for five consecutive years, including a record 68 in 2013 and 54 in 2016).

“I think NASCAR watches the Indy 500 and they see those guys drafting and passing and they are competitive,” Earnhardt said. “They have to try to put on that type of show if not better at that racetrack.  It is not good in conversation to have the IndyCar race be more exciting to watch than the NASCAR race there.  That is just business.  I think it’s great for them to be aggressive.”

Earnhardt referenced the big swing NASCAR took in the Brickyard 400 two years ago when Cup cars were equipped with a “high drag” aero package that included 9-inch spoilers in an attempt at creating pack racing. The result was disappointing and widely panned.

NASCAR held a three-car test at IMS last October to try eight configurations with restrictor plates that included various splitter heights and gear ratios. The plates also will be used in the July 22 race with the NASCAR debut of “aero ducts.”

Xfinity teams also will use the 2016 specs for splitters and spoilers.

When it comes to the restrictor plates, 2013 Brickyard 400 winner Ryan Newman said his view is they are used where there is a need for “a balance there on speed and safety.

“I don’t know what their sim results are or what their testing has been to validate what needs to be done, but I believe it’s all based off of safety,” Newman said of the decision to use restrictor plates. “Indianapolis is unique in the fact that the corners really are kind of 90 degrees. You never really hit at 90 degrees, but you’re hitting more so at a sharper angle than you are at a place like Fontana or Michigan or even at 1.5-mile race tracks.

“But given the driver’s throttle response and acceleration and the ability to pass people is equally important. And we’ve seen some racing that gets pretty spread out at Indianapolis. I don’t know if a restrictor plate would make that the same or worse; or even better for that matter. To me, I think the restrictor plate, or at least the term restrictor plate, is usually more about safety and top speeds than it is anything else.”

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Aerodynamic changes announced to accompany restrictor plates for Xfinity at Indianapolis

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NASCAR is following one unprecedented move with another at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In the wake of the news that restrictor plates will make their debut at the 2.5-mile track for the July 22 race, NASCAR announced Thursday that it will equip the cars with “aero ducts” for the first time.

The ducts are designed to improve the airflow through the front wheel wells, theoretically enhancing the opportunity for passing on the flat track (which notoriously has been difficult to navigate for stock cars).

NASCAR also will use a taller spoiler and wider splitter (with the same dimensions as 2016) and the 7/8th-inch restrictor plate, which cuts horsepower by reducing airflow to the engine.

NASCAR tested the plates last Oct. 11 with Blake Koch (Kaulig Racing), Ryan Reed (Roush Fenway Racing) and Brandon Jones (Richard Childress Racing).

RCR director of competition Dr. Eric Warren said this week on SiriusXM Satellite Radio that the plate would need to be combined with some aerodynamic tweaks.

Using restrictor plates at Indianapolis dovetails with aerodynamics, team official says

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NASCAR’s efforts to improve the racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway stretch well beyond the restrictor plates that will be used for the Xfinity race July 22.

In an interview with SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel Tuesday morning, Richard Childress Racing director of competition Dr. Eric Warren said NASCAR has been working with teams on aerodynamic enhancements for the 2.5-mile track.

“There’s been a lot of work with the teams, the aero guys with all the teams, and working with NASCAR on different things,” Warren said on “The Morning Drive” program. “Lots of collaboration. Different aero items of how you create drag and an intermediate-type car at Indy to kind of draft almost. How can you make that work?”

Kyle Busch led 62 of 63 laps in last July’s Xfinity Series main event at IMS, highlighting the difficulty in passing at the front.

“The way the cars are, the rules are, it’s a single-groove racetrack,” Warren said. “The speed of that track and the entry and layout with stock cars, it’s really difficult to pass. Even with the perfect situation. Even 15 years ago, it was difficult to pass.”

NASCAR held a test with the Xfinity cars of RCR, JR Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing to try the restrictor plates after last year’s race.

“We were trying different aero devices and things,” Warren said. “It certainly is an alternate view of what can be done. Time will tell with getting into Turn 1 and what other problems get created. You can say, ‘We’re going to do restrictor-plate racing and bunch everybody up.’ There are other items to consider. You have to get a feel for how this works out. I’m more on the interest side than convinced either way.”

A high-drag package was tried at Indianapolis in 2015 with suboptimal results.

“Unfortunately, everyone learned lessons there that were undesirable features,” Warren said. “You add a lot of drag, but the aero behavior didn’t make it easier to bunch the cars up and draft. You have to address both at the same time. They’ve done a really good job of combining the two. The question is going to be when the end product happens, is the race better or do you end up with something like Daytona with a lot of wrecks and crashes, which maybe is exciting for some but not for others.”

In a separate interview, JRM driver William Byron said using the restrictor plates, which reduce horsepower by cutting airflow to the engine, is “worth a try.

“I really kind of race whatever we’re given, especially being a rookie,” he said. “I’m trying to adapt to whatever it is. I think restrictor-plate racing there is going to be an interesting thing. I think that when they don’t have restrictor plates, it seems like it’s gotten really spread out, and it’s tough to pass. It’s worth a try. I don’t know if it is the right thing. We’ll see what happens. It could be a really good race.”