INDIANAPOLIS — Last Wednesday, history took place on the grounds of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For the first time ever, a NASCAR was turning laps on the IMS road course in a fact gathering situation. The only other time we’ve ever seen a NASCAR on the IMS road course was during ride swap opportunities.
This test, well this was real. This test, held some merit because when the NASCAR XFinity Series comes back here in July, it will be for a race on the road course, not the oval.
That decision was made a couple of weeks ago. It will forever get dubbed as Roger Penske’s first big decision in his new role as owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
But, it was one that honestly came around really quick. The NASCAR schedule had been released for a while now and to move a race from an oval to a road course is a big deal. To do so when the race is just a mere six months away, well that’s a feat in itself.
Behind the scenes, it moved quickly too. Remember, Roger Penske didn’t officially take over the helm until early January. The announcement that he would take over IMS was only on November 4.
In a little over two months after that historic announcement, the NXS race was moved to the road course.
IMS Track President Doug Boles detailed those plans to me on Tuesday and said that plans for the move were already going towards the direction last year. The big reason that they didn’t go through with them was, when they got word from NASCAR in early Spring of 2019 that the Brickyard weekend would be moving to July next year, Boles and his team thought, why rush this this when we can revisit this for 2020?
“We talked about it last year but everybody assumed it was going to happen,” Doug Boles, IMS President, told me on Tuesday from the Indy 500 ticket unveiling. “Really what happened was, when it was announced that the date got moved to July, we thought maybe lets not mess with a road race for September and maybe bring it back up to give it another reason for fans to come back out for the July 4 race. And when the announcement of Roger (Penske) happened, one of the first things he asked was how do we grow the NASCAR event and what can we do for that?
“We went through a list of things and he said that if you guys believe that this road course race makes sense for the Xfinity race, then lets figure out how to do it. That would have been early November. We then reached out to NASCAR and Roger and some of his team helped lobby NASCAR for this. Myself and a couple of people from Penske’s team went to the Banquet (in Nashville) and we had a meeting down there and had a handshake coming out of that meeting.
“Then, we got a call the next week saying we’ve got to test and can we come up in January. I thought are you crazy? It’s January in Indiana. We worked through that and it was quick.”
Boles notes that one of the best things about working with Roger Penske is that if things are a good idea all around, Penske will make sure it happens quick.
“A neat thing about working with Roger is, if he feels like it’s the right thing, there’s no delay. If he feels it’s the right thing and that customer experience is going to be better he’s going to pull the trigger right away.”
Boles said that he hopes he can get an IndyCar driver or two to run the NXS race on July 4 and that he’s still hopeful that it can happen. He’s talked to several of them and that they have some interest. The only thing is, the drivers if they do come over, want a competitive ride, so that could hinder some of their efforts.