INDIANAPOLIS — Just last week, Roger Penske made his first big decision in his new role at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The new owner of the famed speedway, decided to shake things up for the NASCAR race weekend. Penske, made the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on July 4 a road course event instead of a 250 mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. That’s something he and NASCAR didn’t take lightly.
But, in order to go from an oval to a road course, they first need data. Never has a NASCAR been run at IMS in a competitive nature on the road course configuration. With this race being in less than six months away, they needed a test ASAP. There’s not much time between now and July to get a car on track in a testing situation.
So, eight days following the announcement, Matt DiBenedetto was on track during a cold winter day in Indianapolis working on a number of different items.
Following the test, Director Wayne Auton really liked what he saw. Auton, noted multiple times that the Xfinity Series a place where names are made. After all, that’s their motto. But, after DiBenedetto took to the road course in his No. 22 Ford, Auton feels like this is THE place where names WILL be made on July 4.
“This is an exciting time,” Auton said. “You’re talking July 4. You’re talking fireworks. I think these guys and ladies if there’s any in the race, will put on some fireworks on the race track.
“There’s a lot of passing zones here. Technicality inside of the race car is going to make a huge difference. These boys and men in the Xfinity Series don’t mind rubbing a little bit. We will see how they hold up here at Indy.”
Auton, mentioned the motto again and that this is going to be a place where that’s amplified.
“This (road course race) has been talked about for a while but when Mr. Penske took over the Speedway, it really ramped up in a hurry. We’re going to come here and in this series where names are made, somebody’s names going to get made. I can say when it comes down to winning this race, I don’t know if I want to be in first place on that last lap because I know as that old cliché says with chrome horn sitting behind me, it would get used a little bit. When you got a race track that’s a wide as this race track is and as technical, one little mistake will cost you 7,8,9,10 spots if you’re leading. It’s going to take every lap. It’s going to be interesting.”
DiBenedetto discussed in further detail why this race will be so exciting.
“The part that I like the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities,” DiBenedetto said. “That was one of the things we wanted to evaluate on how it was going to race and how technical it is in the passing zones. The cool thing is on what we love as road racers are 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 breaking zone. Then, on the 14 turn course you have another braking zone coming into 12, 13 and 14 when you get up on the short chute, you get on the brakes too. There’s high speed stuff, there’s low speed stuff, there’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitors stand point. There’s a lot of different elements.”
With that being said, another unique characteristic of this track is going to be finding the right setup. The straights are long and fast, but the corners are slow and technical. Which area do you compromise in? Some parts you will be tight, others you will be loose.
“100 percent yeah,” DiBenedetto said on if this is one of the most challenge tracks to land a setup on. “This is going to be a tough road course, tougher than I thought. There’s a lot of technical zones, braking zones, etc that we love as racers. I think it’s going to be where a driver and crew chief and stuff can really shine a lot here based on driver ability, things like that. It’s a tough little road course. It’s not just a course where you’re flowing around easy. It’s got everything we ask for as road racers as far as technical stuff, braking stuff and going to put on a good race.”