It’s a question racing fans ask Doug Boles every time they see him roaming the IndyCar racetracks outside of May: When will the NASCAR Cup Series return to the oval track that makes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the racing capital of the world?
Boles, the president of IMS, and track owner Roger Penske have not been shy about broaching the subject of the lightning rod in the three years since NASCAR last ran a real Brickyard 400 during the been at IMS, with the former saying in September 2021 that there were plans to alternate Cup races between the oval and the road course in some way in the future. Penske told reporters a year ago, during a press conference, he clearly indicated that a return to the oval as early as 2024 could be considered.
Momentum continues to build in this direction, with Greg Stucker, director of racing tire sales for NASCAR tire partner Goodyear, tell SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last week that a two-day tire test is planned next month with the Next Gen Cup car on the oval immediately after the Verizon 200 on August 13 at the Brickyard.
Stucker made it clear that no formal, final decision has been made as to what track the Cup Series will take when it returns to IMS in 2024, although a schedule will typically be announced within the next eight weeks.
“We just think there’s enough talk about the possibility of a return to the oval in the future, so let’s go ahead and take the opportunity to get on that race track, the oval setup with the Next Gen car,” Stucker said. “We didn’t run the Next Gen car on the oval – we only did it on the road – and I’d hate to talk about it, but the last time we took a new car to Indy (on the oval ), ), it didn’t go very well.
“Both are great, but I understand”:Dale Earnhardt Jr. Addresses NASCAR Drivers’ Frustrations Over IMS Road Course
In 2008, NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow visited IMS for the first time for an edition of the Brickyard that would live in infamy and marked a significant decline in the race’s in-person attendance and overall local popularity. TThe grid could hardly go 10 laps without the tires starting to burst or disintegrateforcing series officials to issue competition cautions every 10 to 12 laps in a race ultimately won by Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR had conducted a tire test in April 2008 with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Brian Vickers, and no glaring issues with the ultimately problematic right-side tires emerged at the time. The problem began to surface during Saturday’s free practice, and by Sunday the series was facing a disaster. Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, told reporters after the race: “Obviously we didn’t go there. with the right car-tire combination. We’ve raced on this surface for the last four years and we realized we weren’t going to ask them to change this surface. We need to do a better job.
Then-CEO Tony George accused NASCAR of not spending enough time and effort to ensure the car’s debut at the Brickyard 400 would go off without a hitch. Several tests with different teams, drivers and numbers of participants would take place over the next 12 months, but the damage was done.
It’s clear that NASCAR and Goodyear have learned their lesson.
“We want to stay ahead of the curve and get a first look, so that if a decision is made in the future to return to the oval, we at least have a good starting point with this car, and we can go from there.” ” Stucker said last week. “We always felt like we needed to come back to Indy a few times to test and prepare for the oval race, if that was going to be the decision, and we thought it was a good opportunity to race, gather some data and see where he is.
“And we’ll see how this surface has aged over the years since we’ve been there.”
Implications for the IndyCar schedule
If NASCAR and IMS agreed to remove – even temporarily – its road course experience at Speedway, such a decision would likely impact IndyCar, which has held an additional road race and shared it with NASCAR since the pandemic has made it a necessity. in 2020. Switching the track between its oval and road configurations, from a safety perspective, takes almost an entire day, so alternating between open wheel action and stock car action on the track session after session on isolated days would simply not be feasible.
Running completely segmented days for the series would make IndyCar, which already feels separate in the weekend format from the event as is, even more so.
A green light for the Cup’s return to the oval, given Penske Entertainment Corp. Chairman and CEO Mark Miles’ assertion earlier this month that IndyCar would remain at 17 races points-paying for 2024, would then likely indicate a replacement event to maintain the number of races. stable. Barring a competitor out of left field, the Milwaukee Mile, where Roger Penske visited in June to review its latest safety improvements and discuss a possible future event, would be a likely contender.