AJ Allmendinger

Long: No fans mutes Indy soundtrack, but Chase Briscoe still relishes win

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INDIANAPOLIS — Mimicking what his hero Tony Stewart twice did at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chase Briscoe climbed the fence after winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the road course.

But unlike Stewart, who looked out to a sea of fans bathing him in cheers, Briscoe saw only empty gray bleachers and heard only the shouts of his crew members who joined him on the ascent.

The culmination of a historic doubleheader with the NTT IndyCar Series and the Xfinity Series also meant the end of a day — and a July 4 at that — unlike any other at the famed speedway.

No fans at NASCAR races have become common during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sight — and lack of sound — at Indy was stark.

Sunday’s Cup race will not have fans. It also will not have seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who announced Friday he and his wife have contracted the coronavirus.

Johnson says he is asymptomatic but admits he has more questions than answers about how he and his wife got the virus and when he’ll be able to return to racing. Sunday was to have been his final Cup start in a race he’s won four times.

Johnson will be missed. So will be the fans. Just as they were Saturday.

The fans provide a soundtrack to any event, even a race where engine noise dominates. There was no roar from the crowd when the command to start engines was made. No cheers for the winner when he emerged from his car in victory lane. No oohs and ahhs when the top four cars in the Xfinity race sailed down the long front straightaway into a sharp right-hand turn with two laps left, dueling for the win.

The only sound came from the engines echoing off the canyon of empty seats.

Even in the smallest settings, interactions were missed. When Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race earlier in the day, his crew, unable to be in victory lane because of protocols, stood on a stairwell 20 feet above him and clapped.

When Briscoe won, there was no family to greet him. Two years ago his father had tears seeing Briscoe drive at Indy. One could only imagine what his reaction would have been Saturday.

My family is probably crying at home,” said Briscoe, an Indiana native. “I was thinking about that the last couple of laps. That is tough. I wish they could have been here to experience it. It is something that may not ever happen again. It is definitely bittersweet to win without them here.”

If he wins again at Indy, good chance it could be with Stewart-Haas Racing. Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s competition director, served as Briscoe’s interim crew chief because Richard Boswell was serving the final race of a four-race suspension and voiced his support for Briscoe.

“I think he is still young and has a lot to learn, but I am very, very impressed with how quick he is learning how to race these stock cars,” Zipadelli said. “I hope he is a part of Stewart-Haas for a long period of time.”

What makes Briscoe — only the second driver to win five of the first 13 races of a season in the Xfinity Series — stand out?

“He is able to dig deep,” Zipadelli said. “There are some people that when it is time to close, I see that a lot in him, he finds a little bit extra. He has a lot of confidence but isn’t getting cocky, which I love. Most of all he is just a good race car driver.”

While IndyCar had run on this course, this was new for Xfinity Series. Briscoe had prepared since February for this race, spending time weekly on the Ford simulator driving the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course. The training came through as Briscoe battled AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric and Justin Haley for the lead late. 

Even though Haley finished second to Briscoe, he still enjoyed the afternoon.

“I have zero complaints about the Indy road course,” Haley said. “I thought it was an amazing day

“When the fans are back, I think it’s going to be better.”

Briscoe said he can’t wait for fans to be back at this track and elsewhere.

“They are the reason you celebrate and the last couple of times I didn’t really celebrate because without the fans I don’t get hyped up,” he said. “Here I was obviously excited. I wish there were fans here.”

Even so, Briscoe would still have a celebration.

A former dirt track racer, Briscoe planned to visit a dirt track Saturday night within an hour’s drive of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“My little sister has decided she wants to try to drive a race car,” Briscoe said. “At the end of the night she is going to drive a mini-sprint around there for 20 or 30 laps. I am going to head there and see a lot of my friends I don’t get to see anymore and hang out with my dad and family.”

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Results, standings after Indianapolis Xfinity race

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After being pushed out of the lead, Chase Briscoe roared right back in the closing laps to win Saturday’s inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s Briscoe’s fifth win of the season. He predicted in the preseason that he would win eight races in 2020. He’s now just three wins away from that goal.

Justin Haley finished second, followed by Noah Gragson, AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric.

Click here for results

Ranked No. 1, Briscoe opened his lead on Noah Gragson to 21 points in the driver standings and a 55-point edge over third-ranked Ross Chastain.

Updated Xfinity driver points after Indy

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Chase Briscoe wins inaugural Xfinity race on Indy road course

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INDIANAPOLIS — Chase Briscoe had been practicing on a simulator since February for Saturday and he survived a four-car battle for the lead in the final laps to win Saturday’s inaugural Xfinity race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. 

The Indiana native scored his fifth series win in 13 races this season, becoming only the second driver in series history to win as many races in the same time frame. Sam Ard holds the record with six wins in the first 13 races of the season.

MORE: Race results 

Briscoe celebrated Saturday’s victory with his team by climbing the fence, just as Tony Stewart used to do. Briscoe and the team also kissed the bricks at the start/finish line.

“Everybody knows that I grew up and my hero in racing was Tony Stewart,” Briscoe said. “To get to drive for him and watch him win the Brickyard, (climbing the fence) was always his signature thing and I just wanted to do it. Obviously it is not the same prestige as winning on the oval, but you still won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Justin Haley, who also is from Indiana, finished second. Noah Gragson was third and followed by AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric.

“I think we saw that the racing was amazing,” Haley said.

Briscoe earned the win by outbraking Allmendinger into Turn 1 to take the lead with two laps to go. The top four cars ran two abreast through Turns 1 and 2. Briscoe kept the lead and pulled away as Allmendinger and Cindric made contact racing for second.

“I think today is a statement win,” Briscoe said. “I don’t think anybody had us as a favorite today with Allmendinger and Cindric in the field but we knew down deep we could run with those guys.”

Cindric’s race took a turn when NASCAR penalized him for jumping the restart. Cindric was furious on the radio about the penalty, saying Riley Herbst pushed him but that didn’t matter to series officials. Cindric was leading by the time the penalty was called and fell back to 31st by the time he serve his penalty by driving through pit road on Lap 31.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Austin Cindric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Haley’s runner-up finish is his best result in six road course events. … Preston Pardus finished 10th in his third career start. … Jade Buford finished 14th in his Xfinity Series debut.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: It’s hard to say that a sixth consecutive top-five at a road course is a bad race, but Austin Cindric, one of the favorites, was penalized for jumping a restart, had a slow pit stop when he parked his car too close to pit wall and lost positions later when a tire changer had trouble removing a wheel. … Brandon Jones finished 37th.

NOTABLE: All seven of Chase Briscoe’s Xfinity Series wins have come on different tracks.

NEXT: The series races Thursday at Kentucky Speedway, the first of back-to-back night races there for the series.

Xfinity start time at Indianapolis: TV, stream, lineups, forecast and more for Saturday

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The Xfinity Series provides the second half of Saturday’s historic NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Xfinity start time at Indianapolis is at 2:15 pm ET (Watch on NBC or the NBC Sports app).

After the NTT IndyCar Series races on the road course Saturday, the Xfinity Series will race on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course for the first time.

AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric, Justin Haley and Chase Briscoe were the fastest in Friday’s two practice sessions. Cindric and Allmendinger combined to win three Xfinity road course races last year and will be the favorites in this race.

Here is the Xfinity start time at Indianapolis and other info for Saturday’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be at 2:49 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 9 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Drivers report to their cars at 2:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:41 p.m by Pastor T.C. Taylor of One Fellowship Church in Indianapolis. The national anthem will be performed at 2:43 p.m. by Noah Schnacky.

DISTANCE: The race is 62 laps (151.22 miles) around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 20. Stage 2 ends on Lap 40.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2:15 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network’s coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

LIVE STREAM: You can watch the race on NBCSports.com or on the NBC Sports app.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for mostly cloudy conditions with a high of 89 degrees and a 15% chance of rain predicted at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe won at Pocono. Ross Chastain finished second. Jeremy Clements placed third.

LAST RACE AT INDIANAPOLIS: Kyle Busch won on the oval. Justin Allgaier was second. Noah Gragson placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Xfinity drivers chase historic checkered flag at Indy

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Chase Briscoe said in February that there was no reason he couldn’t win a quarter of the Xfinity races this year.

Even as he focused on becoming the series’ dominant driver, he concentrated on another goal — winning the inaugural Xfinity race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC).

A win this weekend for the series points leader would compliment the four Xfinity victories he’s scored this year and the six he has in his career, which includes winning the inaugural Charlotte Roval Xfinity race in 2018. 

Briscoe has practiced weekly for the Indy road course race on the Ford simulator since February.

“Every Wednesday I’ve been running at least an hour and a half to two hours at Indy, just trying to get prepared for the racetrack,” the Indiana native said.

“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea of where to make speed. It’s hard to really say how much the simulator will correlate over to the real-life thing, but I feel like I have a really good general idea of what to do, and I’m not going to be lost for those first couple of laps.”

The only NASCAR driver who has tested the road course is Matt DiBenedetto. He drove a Team Penske Xfinity car in a January test, compiling data for all teams. DiBenedetto said he is looking forward to watching Saturday’s race.

“I’m super-jealous of those guys,” he said. “They’re going to have a blast. That course is awesome. It’s so much fun, has really good passing zones, so I’m going to be watching really closely.”

Briscoe’s challenge won’t be just with the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course that winds through Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s infield and includes the tracks famous frontstretch. Among his key foes are expected to be Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger.

Cindric and Allmendinger combined to win three of the four Xfinity road course races last year. Cindric won at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. Allmendinger won at the Charlotte Roval.

Cindric said that there is extra meaning this weekend because of the uncertainty of the Xfinity schedule beyond this month. All four series road course events last year were held after July. NASCAR has not announced the Xfinity schedule for the rest of the season beyond July.

“It’s no (surprise) that the road courses are … a strong suit for our team, and we don’t know how many of those are left,” he said.

Cindric says that Saturday’s race on the Indy road course will be fun and notes the passing zones.

“I think it’s going to be the best layout as far as passing goes that NASCAR goes to,” he said. “You’ve got two really great passing zones at the end of the both straightaways, that’s something you can’t really say about the Roval and Watkins Glen, those races are better for other reasons.”

Allmendinger should be formidable foe for Cindric, Briscoe and others based on his road course experience. Ross Chastain said Allmendinger has been a key asset for Kaulig Racing as it prepared for this event.

“AJ Allmendinger has definitely led the charge for drivers to drive the simulator and he’s built out our setups and what we should feel on those rigs with Team Chevy and (Richard Childress Racing),” Chastain said.

Allmendinger is more motivated to win at Indy than just to win the inaugural Xfinity race on the road course.

“There are very places … when you go to a racetrack that has so much history behind it, whether it’s IndyCars or stock cars, whatever its may be, you say the word, Indy and people that aren’t in motorsports understand what the history is being that racetrack,” he said.

“I want to be a part of that history. It would be something special to kiss the bricks, even if we had to do it with masks on. I don’t care. I’ll kiss them with the mask on.”

But he’ll first have to get through the two-day weekend for the series. With running on the road course for the first time, teams will have two practices Friday. That will be key for drivers, including Jeremy Clements, who won at Road America in 2017.

“I don’t know anything about (the track),” Clements said. “We don’t have any simulators or any of that stuff. Kind of going in blind. So I’m going to be a little behind there.”

One thing he is certain of, though.

“I think it will be a survival type race,” he said.

Briscoe just hopes he’s first to drive past the checkered flag. He admits, should he do so, it will feel different because fans, including friends and family, will not be allowed at the track this weekend because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hate, first off, that there’s not going to be fans at Indianapolis just because when I go there, there are so many people that come from my hometown (Mitchell, Indiana) and from my area that don’t get to see me race anywhere else. 

“Just feeling the support every time I go there is so special. Last year in driver’s intros when we were riding around in the trucks, I literally had tears in my eyes just the amount of people that were standing up and cheering for me. It wouldn’t suck to win Indy without fans, but it would be bittersweet because none of my family would be there, none of the fans that don’t get to watch me anywhere else (would be there). I’m not going to turn away a win at Indy just because there are no fans, but it is tough to go there and not have fans.”