Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Jimmie Johnson wants to drive in IndyCar race on July 4 at Indianapolis

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NASCAR and IndyCar might have found the next driver ready to do “The Double” – with a twist.

Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports’ Leigh Diffey in a Friday interview (video coming soon) that he will take a “very hard look” at racing in the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course July 4. As part of IndyCar’s revamped schedule, the race was moved from May 9 and will take place directly before the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

The seven-time Cup Series champion will be in town to race the Brickyard 400 the following day.

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IndyCar, NASCAR to race at Indy on July 4 weekend

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IndyCar and NASCAR will race July 4 weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, track officials announced Thursday as part of a rescheduling of events at the speedway.

IMS announced it will move its GMR Grand Prix from May 9 to July 4. It will run on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the NASCAR Xfinity Series runs on that course that same day. Cup cars will race on the oval on July 5.

“For very good reason, this historic pairing will be circled on the calendar of every motorsports fan,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement. “We appreciate our friends at NASCAR for their flexibility and support in this matter and will work with them on a memorable, exciting weekend of racing action.”

On a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, Boles said that track officials “along with NASCAR are continuing to hope we can begin racing at some point well before the July 4th weekend event here at the the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We haven’t talked about a contingency plan.”

The move was a part of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s announced Thursday that it is moving the Indianapolis 500 from May 24 to Aug. 23 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tickets already purchased for the Indianapolis 500, GMR Grand Prix and associated on-track days will be valid on the rescheduled dates. Individuals already in possession of those tickets should use them for entry. To learn more about the adjusted on-track schedule, review customer FAQ’s and submit questions, fans can visit www.ims.com/COVID19.

 

Tony Stewart coming back to run Indy Xfinity race

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Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will make his first NASCAR start since 2016 when he competes in the July 4 Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday morning.

“Everyone knows what Indy means to me, so I can’t think of a better place to race on Fourth of July weekend,” said Stewart, who grew up 45 minutes from Indianapolis, in a statement. “It’s going to be cool making history by turning left and right in a stock car at the Brickyard, and the racing will be full of action and contact. Any time you can drive any racecar at the speedway is special, and you know I’m going for the win. The date is already circled on my calendar.”

The Xfinity race at Indy will be broadcast on NBC.

This will be the first time the Xfinity Series races on Indianapolis’ 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.

The 62-lap race will mark the first Xfinity start for Stewart since 2013 and 95th series race in his career.

Stewart made 18 Brickyard 400 starts in Cup, winning twice (2005 and ’07). He also has competed in five Indianapolis 500s and four IROC races at the historic track.

Stewart has eight career Cup road course wins: five at Watkins Glen International and three at Sonoma Raceway.

Stewart’s most recent road course outing came in a demonstration run last October at Circuit of the Americas when he took a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang outfitted with a passenger seat and drove Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen around the track.

“It was a lot of fun for me to get in one of our Ford Mustangs and do that exhibition run at COTA,” Stewart said in a statement. “It kind of got my juices flowing to get back in a car again, and what better place to come back than Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Details about Stewart’s car number and sponsor will be announced later.

“People sometimes say, ‘We miss seeing you behind the wheel,” and I’m like, ‘Well, you’ve just got to go to different places now,’ ” Stewart said in a statement. “I’m racing 100 times a year in a sprint car, but seeing some of these road-course races – especially the Roval at Charlotte – piqued my interest a bit, and running the stock car at COTA, it kind of fed my hunger. All of it has led me back to the place I’ve always called home – Indy.”

Matt DiBenedetto: Joining Wood Brothers, Penske has been ‘hard to process’

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It has been a week of firsts for Matt DiBenedetto and his racing career.

Wednesday saw the 28-year-old Wood Brothers Racing driver became the first to pilot a Xfinity Series car on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, part of a test for the series’ inaugural race on the circuit on July 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

It was also DiBenedetto’s first time in a car as a member of the Wood Brothers/Team Penske alliance, four months after the Wood Brothers chose him as the next driver of the No. 21 Ford at the urging of their previous driver, Paul Menard.

“Opportunities like this are things I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” DiBendetto said during a break in the test. “I’ll be able to say forever, ‘Hey, I got asked by Mr. (Roger) Penske himself, that whole team, by NASCAR, folks at IMS, everyone, to come and be the first ever to run the road course (in a Team Penske Xfinity car).”

Throw in DiBenedetto taking part in his first “Penske Games” (a series of humorous games pitting every Penske driver against each other) and it’s been downright eventful.

The day after the Indy test, DiBenedetto said moving from Leavine Family Racing over to Wood Brothers Racing has been “hard to process.”

“It’s crazy,” DiBenedetto said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “I was talking to Kyle Petty and he said it even better than I could. He said, ‘Matt, you will never driver for a better group of people the rest of your life. You will be part of that family for the rest of your entire life. You’ll be driving for them and a part of history.'”

Petty, an analyst for NBC Sports, drove for the Wood Brothers from 1985-88, winning his first two Cup races in that time.

“It was just amazing some of the things that he said and how amazing a family that they are,” DiBenedetto said. “The opportunity, as everyone knows, is unreal. It’s hard for me to put into words. My wife (Taylor) was crying endlessly when I got that opportunity. Her family has been huge fans of them for so many years. There’s so much history there.

“On top of that, what’s so amazing is if anyone hasn’t been to Stuart, (Virginia) and gone to the Wood Brothers Racing museum, they should. It’s worth the trip to go up there. What’s so cool to see is the amount of pride that they have. On top of all the history, them telling all the stories and how much pride they have for their race team and NASCAR is so unbelievable. Then to have a shot at going and chasing that 100th win this year is going to be such an honor.”

That 100th Cup win for the Wood Brothers would come with just one victory by DiBenedetto this season. It would also be his first Cup Series win.

Five of Wood Brothers Racing’s last seven wins, dating back to Petty at Richmond in 1986, have been via first-time winners in Cup: Dale Jarrett (Michigan, 1991), Elliott Sadler (Bristol, 2001), Trevor Bayne (2011 Daytona 500) and Ryan Blaney (Pocono, 2017).

DiBenedetto will pursue that trip to victory lane with crew chief Greg Erwin.

Erwin worked on the No. 21 the last two seasons with Menard, but has been a crew chief with Team Penske since 2013 in the Xfinity Series.

“We’ve put a lot of time into … spending a ton of time together, me, Greg and then also going to lunch, splitting up into groups and going to lunch with all the different guys on our race team,” DiBenedetto. “These guys are your family. I’m going to spend more time with my race team on the road than I will with my own wife this season. These guys are your family and you’re going to go to war with each other 38 weekends a year. … I’ve put a lot of emphasis on that and getting to know Greg, which we’ve meshed really well together.”

DiBenedetto’s process includes diligently inputing questions into his phone to ask Erwin later.

“It’ll be nine at night and I’ll be sitting on the couch and … I’ll put in my notes, ‘Oh, I want to ask him about this or this situation or if we’re this far into a run or if there’s a big split decision pit call, how would we communicate something, me or my spotter Doug Campbell,” DiBenedetto told SiriusXM. “It’s just more so going through all those questions so that when you do go to the race track you’re as prepared as possible and ready for how I communicate and how he communicates so we can all mesh as quick as possible and get out of the gates strong and go compete for those wins.”

Even after Wednesday’s test, DiBenedetto is “a little overly eager” to get back to the track.

“(His wife) realizes I’m getting extremely bored,” DiBenedetto said. “She’s like ‘You need to go to the dang race track, good lord you’re getting on my nerves.'”

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Matt DiBenedetto: Indy road course ‘everything we could ask for’

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After a morning spent testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Matt DiBenedetto admits the circuit is “tougher than I thought,” but that its 14- and 12-turn formats have “everything we could ask for” competitively.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver piloted a No. 22 Team Penske car around the road course for the only scheduled test ahead of the Xfinity Series’ debut on the circuit July 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

“The part that I like the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities, and that was one of the things we wanted to evaluate is how it’s going to race, how technical it is in the passing zone,” DiBenedetto said during a press conference between test sessions.

“So the cool thing is what we love as road racers is heavy braking zones. Clearly, the end of the front straightaway here, you have a very heavy braking zone. You also have another long back straightaway getting into Turn 7, which is a heavy braking zone. And then on the 14-turn course, you have another braking zone coming into (Turns) 12, 13, and 14. When you come up onto the short chute, get on the brakes, get on there.

“There’s high-speed stuff. There’s low-speed stuff. So it’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint for raceability. Also, the little chicane back there coming on the back straightaway is really technical. I’m still figuring out my approach to that. There’s a lot of different elements to the racetrack that makes it exciting.”

DiBenedetto described how the Indy track compares to other road courses that NASCAR series compete on.

“Coming off of that chicane, exiting it, I’ve made comparisons to Sonoma already,” DiBendetto said. “Then some of the low-speed stuff, where you’re in either first or second gear, I’ve compared to Mid-Ohio, which is also a really neat course.

“And then I guess you could compare it to maybe a Watkins Glen or something, where you’re flying down the front straightaway and then you have a real heavy braking zone, which is perfect, which allows the opportunity to pull out and try and pass people and outbrake and all those different things.”

DiBenedetto said there is “no doubt” there will be physical racing come July.

“There’s a lot of areas not only to try and outbrake and pass, but actually set up in the prior corner, to set up for those passing zones and things like that,” DiBenedetto said. “There’s some low-speed stuff where people might just use their bumper and knock them out of the way, whatever. So there’s opportunities for all of that.”

The main goals of the test were to gather data that will help NASCAR determine which road course format to use, how long the race will be, evaluate safety concerns and to gather info for Goodyear.

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said Goodyear brought tire setups from the Xfinity Series races at Road America and Mid-Ohio, as well as the Charlotte Roval. The morning session had DiBenedetto using the Roval tires.

“Goodyear is getting a lot of data with Matt’s feel inside the race car,” Auton said during the press conference. “And going down into this long straightaway and into that real slow Turn 1 area … Matt’s done us a great job, and we’re getting a lot of input. We’ll do some maybe 10-lap runs here this afternoon and see what we find out from that and take that back, and then we’ll decide on which course we’re going to run.”

Auton said that video from a GoPro camera placed in DiBenedetto’s car will be shared with drivers who will compete in the July 4 race (DiBenedetto will not be eligible to compete due to conducting the test) and that some data collected by Team Penske would be shared with competitors.

The main difference between the 12- and 14-turn layout is the final section of the circuit, which empties from the infield road course onto what is Turn 1 of the oval. In the 12-turn format, cars drive completely through Turn 1 (Turn 12) heading the opposite way Cup cars will drive when they race on the oval for the July 5 Brickyard 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

On the 14-turn layout, after returning to the oval from the infield portion of the road course in the short chute between Oval Turn 1 and 2, there is sharp right-hander (Turn 12) toward the infield, followed by a left-hander (Turn 13) which leads back to the frontstretch (Turn 14). It is the same portion of the track IndyCar uses for its race on that circuit two weeks before the Indianapolis 500.

DiBenedetto said both the 12- or 14-turn format “would put on great racing.”

“The 14-turn course, you’re coming up on that short chute, and it’s right on edge, and you get to brake right next to the wall there (in the short chute between oval Turns 1 and 2), which is pretty cool, and it’s just really unique. I can’t compare that to anything actually. So that’s a cool technical passing zone opportunity.

“Then on the 12-turn course, it spiked the old heart rate pretty good coming through backwards through oval Turn 1 … That was very weird.”