As I said in last week’s podcast, I took my wife and twin boys to the Irish Hills 250 NASCAR Xfinity race this weekend. It was my boys’ first NASCAR race — they just turned 5 — and it all worked out because it was free for all of us. Made it a really easy decision to do it.
We don’t discuss the Xfinity series a lot in the podcast, so I thought I would come on here and write a little bit about my experience this weekend. So here are a few noteworthy things from our trip to the track.
1. NASCAR’s low downforce package in the Xfinity Series this season really hurt racing at MIS. The Xfinity cars were arguably the best ones on the 2-mile speedway the last few years. But this year, NASCAR attempted to reduce the downforce by making a few changes, including taking a big chunk off the rear spoiler.
Problem is, the downforce is still there in this series. All they seemed to succeed at doing is getting rid of the wake of air behind the cars. It was that wake of air that allowed cars to draft up behind one another and pass at the end of the straightaways. Now, they don’t punch as big of hole in the air, and there is A LOT less passing.
At several points in the race the entire field was single-file with at least three car lengths between cars.
Low downforce is the answer for the Cup series, but not the Xfinity Series. The Xfinity cars are about momentum, whereas the Cup cars are about power. Getting rid of downforce does different things to those packages. It’s the same reason the big spoiler DIDN’T work at MIS in the Cup series. I hope they bring the spoiler back in Xfinity.
2. Despite subpar racing throughout most of the event, we did get to witness a heck of a finish, thanks to a late-race caution with 13 laps to go, followed by a spin by Matt Tift that led to a 2-lap shootout to end the race. William Byron had lead, with Denny Hamlin starting under him. The two battled the last two laps with a photo finish and the closest finish ever in Xfinity Series history at MIS and the win going to Denny Hamlin. Watch my video from the stands below:
3. My boys aren’t ready for a Cup race yet. We decided to take them to the Xfinity race because it’s short. I wanted to see if they could handle a Cup race, though I expected it would be too long for some budding NASCAR fans. I was right. Ryan fell asleep with about a quarter of the race to go, and Ethan slept through the last 10 laps. Both missed the post-race burnout and celebration, as well as the Matt Tift spin. But they both said they really enjoyed the race.
4. Stage racing from the stands. As a TV viewer, I love the stages. At the track, they’re nice because you know there is a caution coming. But there was one thing I thought could be improved. It’s hard to tell when the stage is ending at the track.
Yes, there is a scoreboard, but the scoreboard just shows the lap count, so you need to remember what laps the stages end. If you don’t, suddenly there is a strange flag waving from the flag stand and then the caution comes out and you’re left wondering what just happened.
If we wave a checkered flag (a different color, of course) at the end of the stage, why don’t we wave the white flag before it? I don’t think that would be confusing for the fans, and I think it would be helpful in knowing the stage was coming to a close. Just a thought. I’ve wondered this since Daytona.
The other observation I had about the stages was how long they take. At the end of stage 2, we had a caution with like four laps to go in the stage. Because there wasn’t time to go back to green, they had extra caution laps to finish the stage. then they opened pit road and allowed two extra laps for pit stops. By the time it was all over, it was a 15-minute caution. There’s got to be a way to speed that up. It was super hot at that point in the race, and it would have been nice to watch something other than the cars following the pace car around for what was just a quick debris caution.
All in all, I’m happy with my experience. I’m never disappointed at MIS, because even if the racing isn’t that good, the fan experience is great. We had fun, and the boys want to go back to another race, so I guess it’s a win all around.
My next NASCAR race is the Camping World Truck Series Eldora Dirt Derby, and I’m still debating whether to hit MIS in August for the truck race or maybe the Cup race to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race. Next year I’m looking at possibly a trip to Martinsville or Bristol for my first time, but we’ll see what happens.