NASCAR viewer’s guide: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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This NASCAR weekend will be one of the most unusual of the season.

Joining the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be the IndyCar Series, which will race in a 12:30 p.m. event Saturday.

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, while Cup drivers will run at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. All races will be on the IMS road course.

NBC will televise the Cup, Xfinity and IndyCar races.

Additionally, the Camping World Truck Series is scheduled to race at Indianapolis Raceway Park near IMS at 9 p.m. Friday. The race will be the first of seven in the Truck playoffs.

Chase Elliott will be looking for his fifth win of the Cup season after scoring the win Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

On the Indy road, again

The NASCAR Cup Series raced 27 times on the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval before moving to the track’s road course last year.

The Cup Series debuted at Indy in a rush of positive publicity in 1994 as stock cars raced on the bricks in a history-making move for both NASCAR and IMS. Some of the shine dimmed over the years, however, as the rectangular track proved a difficult surface for stock cars, and NASCAR moved the event to the road course last year. Some fans and drivers prefer the oval course, and improved competition at intermediate tracks this year has led to discussion about the possibility of returning the Cup race to the oval..

Last year’s race turned into a strange one. It was scheduled for 82 laps but was extended to 95 by a pair of overtime runs. Eleven cars plowed through and damaged curbing in Turn 6 on lap 78.

Chase Briscoe was running second on the second-overtime restart but cut through Turn 2 for a penalty. He said he wasn’t aware of the penalty when he knocked Denny Hamlin out of the lead in Turn 7 on that lap. AJ Allmendinger took the lead, led the last two laps — his only laps led that day — and scored an upset win.

Damages forced nine cars to the garage area.

As an example of what became a topsy-turvy day, Tyler Reddick won the first two stages but finished 21st.

Chasing Chase

Chase Elliott was almost apologetic Monday for winning Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono after apparent winner Denny Hamlin and second-place Kyle Busch were disqualified for infractions.

He didn’t want to celebrate someone else’s misfortune, Elliott said.

Nevertheless, Elliott’s season is worthy of grand celebration.

Consider:

  • He leads the regular-season point standings by 105.
  • Over the past six races, he has gained 96 points on the second-place driver.
  • He has four wins. No one else has more than two.
  • He has finished no lower than second in the past five races.
  • He has 25 playoff points, 11 more than the next closest driver (Ross Chastain).
  • And, just as a bonus, he won Saturday night’s SRX series race in Ohio.

With 15 races remaining, Elliott has a great shot at breaking his career-high number of wins – five in 2020.

The siren at the Dawsonville (Georgia) Pool Room, world headquarters for Elliott fans, might need replacing by the end of the year.

Five races to go

The final five weeks of the Cup regular season offer a patchwork of virtually every kind of race course.

After Sunday’s race on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the series moves to the fast 2-mile oval at Michigan, the short-track bumping of Richmond, another 2.45-mile road course at Watkins Glen and, for the finale, Daytona’s 2.5-mile superspeedway.

It’s a dizzying assortment for the drivers still searching for spots on the 16-driver playoff grid.

Entering the Indy race, 14 drivers have qualified for the playoff list with victories. Two spots are open. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. hold those positions based on points, but a race victory by a non-winner in any of the remaining five regular-season races would leave only one spot open for a points qualifier.

Blaney is 105 points in front of the cutoff line, and Truex is 83.

Lurking below the line are Kevin Harvick (83 behind) and Aric Almirola (140 back).

Harvick and Truex, who might ultimately battle for the final playoff spot, have some great recent history in the chase for the championship.

Harvick won the title in 2014 and has followed with finishes of second, eighth, third, third, third, fifth and fifth. Truex was champion in 2017 and followed that performance with finishes of second, second, seventh and second.

Entry lists

Thirty-eight entries have been filed for Sunday’s Cup race.

Among the non-regulars on the list are former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kyvat (driving for Team Hezeberg), Joey Hand, Josh Bilicki and AJ Allmendinger.

Indianapolis Cup entry list

Forty-two drivers will be looking to fit into 38 starting spots for the Xfinity race.

The Dillon brothers – Ty and Austin – are entered, along with Alex Bowman, Parker Kligerman and Saga Karam.

Indianapolis Xfinity entry list

The Truck Series will open its playoff run at Indianapolis Raceway Park. There are 36 entries.

Truck playoff races will follow at Richmond, Kansas, Bristol, Talladega, Homestead and Phoenix.

IRP Truck entry list

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, July 29

Forecast: Sunshine and clouds mixed. High of 80.

  • 9:30 – 11 a.m. — IndyCar practice
  • 10:35 – 11:25 a.m. — Truck practice (IRP)
  • 1 – 2:15 p.m. — IndyCar qualifying
  • 3 – 3:35 p.m. — Xfinity practice (USA Network)
  • 3:35 – 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (USA Network)
  • 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (IRP; FS1)
  • 9 p.m. — Truck race (IRP; 200 laps, 137 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Saturday, July 30

Forecast: Mainly cloudy. High of 80.

  • 8:15 – 8:45 a.m. — IndyCar warmup laps
  • 9:35 – 10:35 a.m. — Cup practice (USA Network)
  • 10:35 – 11:30 a.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network)
  • 12:30 p.m. — IndyCar race (85 laps, 207 miles; NBC, IMS Radio Network)
  • 3:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (62 laps, 151 miles; NBC, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Sunday, July 31

Forecast: Sunshine and clouds mixed. High of 82.

  • 2:30 p.m. — Cup race (82 laps, 199 miles; NBC, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)