Despite curbing failure, track and NASCAR commit to keeping Brickyard on road course

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INDIANAPOLIS – Despite an infield curbing failure that caused two red flags and major delays, NASCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials are committed to keeping the Brickyard on the road course.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said there is no plan to return the Cup Series to the track’s 2.5-mile oval after a turnout that was up over 2019, the last time fans had attended at Brickyard 400.

After a 27-year run, NASCAR’s premier series moved to the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course this season (after the Xfinity Series did last year). This also was the second consecutive year of a NASCAR-IndyCar crossover weekend but the first with a crowd after pandemic restrictions last year.

“I thought the energy level of today, our fans that came, was unbelievable,” Boles said Sunday in a brief news conference outside the NASCAR hauler near Gasoline Alley. “I was so excited this morning to interact with folks. Obviously, the weather was great today. So there are all kinds of positives.

“Our tickets, if you look at the crowd today, even vs. (Saturday) when you had Cup, IndyCar and Xfinity all running on the same day, our crowd was 20 percent up (Sunday) over (Saturday) and was up over (2019). This is one of those events that we’ve made the right decision for right now. I think we want to have it back again next year on the road course, and we’ll just continue to see where we go. I don’t think (the curbing problem) has any impact on it.”

Vice president of competition Scott Miller said NASCAR also was on board with keeping Cup on the road course despite a debut plagued by a delay of nearly an hour between green flags for track cleanup and the removal of the damaged curb on the exit of Turn 6. That includes a red flag of 23 minutes and roughly 35 minutes of running under yellow as the race was extended by two overtime restarts that chewed up 13 laps (which went nearly as long as the 15-lap Stage 1).

“We had our problems today,” Miller told reporters. “This is one of those deals you take a lot of learnings away and can come back and put on a better event, obviously avoiding the problems we had today. But I think we saw some exciting action out there, and I think that the course itself puts on a really good show, so I don’t think (NASCAR would return to the oval).”

The first red flag came after the Turn 6 curb delaminated after contact from Martin Truex Jr. on a Lap 77 restart (after a yellow for debris on the racing surface).

On the next lap, William Byron was the first of several drivers whose cars mostly were destroyed after hitting the curb and spinning into barriers or being caught in the chain reaction.

Miller said NASCAR debated whether to call the race official after 78 laps and “without being able to remove part of the curbing that was damaged, that would have been our only option. Certainly we had a lot of fans here, a lot of energy, a lot of people watching on television. We always strive to finish the race with the checkered flag. If we would have had no other option or couldn’t get those damaged pits out of there, (stopping the race) probably would have had to be what we did. The fact that we could take them out, and they could actually race over that part of the racetrack led tot the decision to continue.”

Despite removing the damaged curb (and presumably having no easily installed replacement), NASCAR left the horizontal “sausage curb” strip exposed to maintain some semblance of track limits, even though that curb had caused drivers in all three series to go airborne at full speed throughout the weekend.

It happened to Corey LaJoie during the race and to Michael McDowell on the first overtime restart, which started a seven-car accident that caused a 4-minute red flag.

Miller said removing the sausage curb wasn’t an option because it would have allowed speeds of “maybe 15 to 20 mph faster” if drivers were allowed to be unimpeded heading into Turn 7.

“When we laid out this track and did Xfinity testing last year before the race, all of the drivers said there absolutely had to be something there because that would have been way too fast of a section,” Miller said. “(Removing it for the overtime restarts) really wasn’t an option; it would have been nice if it were. It just wasn’t.

“That was the only way we were going to get back to racing today.”

Boles said the delaminated curbing was the same style that had been in place since the track redid the road course seven years ago when an annual IndyCar race was added in May before the Indianapolis 500. Though there was a curb removed on the exit of Turn 6 after the Xfinity race Saturday, no other issues were discovered before Sunday’s main race.

“We’ve not ever really had an issue with those curbs at all,” Boles said. “The only curb we ever had an issue with was drivers’ left on exit,  which we haven’t seen in a couple of years. We look at that curb between every session. We look at it at night and in the morning. There was no indication earlier today there was even anything wrong with that curb. So it was a little bit of a surprise for us when during the race we started having an issue.”

Denny Hamlin, who was spun from the lead by Chase Briscoe during the final restart, said NASCAR should consider rumble-strip curbing that puts the cars flush with the surface but still causes deceleration.

“The track was a mess,” said Hamlin, who is among several Cup star who have been lobbying in recent weeks for NASCAR to return to the oval. “These cars and curbs and all that stuff just doesn’t go together. We’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans. Although the finish was a crashfest, I’m sure everyone will love it. It’s just stupid. It’s a complete circus at the end of the race. You just roll the dice and hope you don’t get crashed.

“I didn’t see any more people here than what we had at the Brickyard 400. It certainly ain’t the Brickyard 400. I don’t know. I enjoy the road course. Don’t get me wrong. I think this course is nice. It’s got some good passing zones. If we do anything, come back twice. I hate to give a track an extra date that took us off one of the most prestigious tracks and put us in the parking lot in the infield.”

Asked about Hamlin’s comments, Miller responded: “I’m certain he was disappointed with the outcome of the race today. (The curbing changes are) something that we could consider, but these facilities have been proven over time. We didn’t feel that was necessary here or some other new venues.”

There was some grumbling from other drivers (notably Daniel Suarez on Twitter) that better observation of track limits would have solved many of the problems.

Miller said NASCAR would weigh whether to be stricter on driving etiquette.

“That’s something we’ll have to look at; certainly in other racing series they go there,” Miller said. “Stock cars slide around a lot more; they use up a lot of racetrack. We’ve had a tendency at Sonoma and the other road courses to let track limits not really be a penalty thing. It would be very hard from the tower to enforce track limits. It’s something we’ve talked about before, we may have further discussion about that. Really a difficult thing to manage from the tower for sure.”

Race winner AJ Allmendinger, a road-course ace who also is an accomplished winner in sports cars and IndyCar, said NASCAR was in a dfficult spot.

“We’ve all got to race within the limits of the racetrack, but these cars are so big,” Allmendinger said. “When these things get out of control, like you’re along for the ride at times. In IndyCar you can kind of correct and save sometimes and it’s a little easier. These things, when you get side by side, they’re wide, you’re beating on each other. Like you need room to be able to maneuver, to make a mistake and get away with it.

“I thought today with the curbing out like from the Xfinity race yesterday, that was a good call, and I thought the track limits were fine. The biggest problem obviously was the curbing that was coming up. I was shocked where they were having to fix it because you get shoved over there sometimes or you start using more of it, and that’s when it becomes a problem because I felt like I was hitting the curbing, like I never had an issue with it. Where they were having to fix it was almost like way before where cars were kind of jumping over the top of it. But the thing is with those curbs you pay a price anyway, and we saw it. When you hit them wrong, you pay the price.

“Now, unfortunately today it was a huge price for a lot of cars, and we don’t need that. We don’t need to be tearing up race cars that much. I mean, that’s a lot of money that these team owners have to go through. I was sitting under red like watching it, like holy moley, we’re going through a lot of money right now. But at the same point, it’s our own job to not run over it that way. So there’s a fine line. Like you can’t just drive wherever you want to, but this racetrack doesn’t allow that because it has grass. You get off in the grass, it tears stuff up. I thought the racetrack has the right limitations. It’s just unfortunately the curbing was starting to come up in the wrong spot.”