Wednesday, February 21, 2024

NASCAR returning to Indianapolis oval in 2024

The Verizon 200 is dead. Long live the Brickyard 400.

On Thursday, Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced its annual NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series race weekend will revert to the oval after a three-year experiment with the infield road course. The switch aligns with 2024 being the thirtieth anniversary of the inaugural Brickyard 400. The Xfinity race will take place on 20 July with Cup the next day.

“While it’s been exciting to watch the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series drivers tackle the IMS road course over the last three years, being back on the oval for the thirtieth anniversary is a much-anticipated homecoming for drivers and fans alike,” said track president J. Douglas Boles. “Whether you’ve been with us all 30 years or are a new fan, the celebration as we ‘come back around’ will be can’t-miss and truly unforgettable.”

Although Indianapolis is a historic venue, NASCAR elected to move the Xfinity event to the road course in 2020 to revitalise a struggling event. The Cup Series followed suit in 2021, creating a doubleheader weekend with Xfinity and the NTT IndyCar Series.

The road course, while shaking up the oval-based series, drew mixed reception from drivers and fans. Supporters viewed it as a welcome change to a race that had struggled to retain fans since the tyre debacle at the 2008 edition, whereas opponents view it as an affront to Indianapolis’ prestige.

Due to its long straightaways and single groove racing, the 2.5-mile oval is a relatively draft-heavy circuit for IndyCar. Stock cars, on the other hand, generally do not draft at Indianapolis like they would at superspeedways, but the track’s size and increasing car aerodynamics lead to “dirty” air that makes it especially difficult for drivers to pass. This was particularly evident during the Gen-6 car era at Indianapolis, leading to what has been decried as one of NASCAR’s worst oval tracks prior to moving to the road course.

However, the introduction of the Next Gen car hopes to reverse this identity. Many have viewed the seventh-generation Cup vehicle as improving the on-track action at intermediate ovals.

Michael McDowell, who won the 2023 Cup race, said that he wants to “run on as many road courses as we can, but I do understand the prestigiousness of running the Brickyard and being on the oval, and I do think that this Next Gen car is going to put on a good race. It’s going to put on a better race than our previous generation car here.

“I understand wanting to go back to the oval. All I’m asking is can we do both. Can we run the oval and the road course? Is that a possibility?”

The return to the oval continues a seemingly growing trend of NASCAR dropping road courses, which skyrocketed at the start of the decade. Rumours have suggested the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, another infield road course, will also head back to the 1.5-mile oval in 2024, while the Chicago Street Race is on a two-year contract whose extension appears unlikely.

While the 2024 schedule has not been revealed, the Craftsman Truck Series will likely remain at nearby Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park if the series wants to stay in the market.