Xfinity at Indy — NASCAR got it right

2017-July22-xfinity-rules-main-922x510William Byron leads the Xfinity field into the first turn at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Nascar.com/Courtesy

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — There has been a lot of experimenting the past several years at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when it comes to NASCAR.

It turns out the racing just isn’t that great for a stock car on a track that was built more than a hundred years ago for open-wheel cars. But NASCAR has raced at Indianapolis since 1994, and it’s too important of a place to leave the schedule any time soon. And you’re not changing the track — the only one where Indycar doesn’t just beat NASCAR attendance, but blows it away.

So that means you either have bad races — races that fewer and fewer people watch on TV and even fewer buy a ticket to attend — or you change the car.

And NASCAR has tried it before. They were sure a high-downforce package a couple of years ago was going to do the trick at Indy, but it turned out to be a bust. They tried the same package at Michigan International Speedway that year, and it was akin to the race when they slapped the restrictor plates on the Cup cars at New Hampshire and Jeff Burton led all 300 laps of the race.

So it’s not surprising when NASCAR announced earlier this year that they were going high downforce again, AND adding restrictor plates, for the Xfinity race at Indianapolis this season, it seemed not a lot of people — including myself — thought it would change things for the better.

Insert foot in mouth now. They were right. I was wrong. The Xfinity race at IMS was, for the first time since they moved from the bull ring at Lucas Oil Raceway, actually exciting to watch.

It was a great race! There were 16 lead changes in the race — almost double the previous record. That alone is a success. But there were battles throughout the pack and a close finish for the win despite not having a late race restart. The leader couldn’t get away, and that was excellent.

Kyle Busch wasn’t impressed, but he really can’t blame the package. He has to blame the poor pit strategy that both his Xfinity team and Cup team seems to have had this year.

I personally think the key is the air ducts they put in the front end of the car, but I have nothing to back that up. One way or another, they made a package that allowed the cars to pass going into the turns, something that was nearly impossible before.

So is there any question whether we’ll see a similar package in the Cup cars next season? I don’t think there is. I think NASCAR already has the technical bulletins ready to hand out to the teams.

But I’m going to take it a step further — is this package right for more tracks?

I don’t think you’re going to solve issues at tracks like New Hampshire with this package, but Michigan and even Auto Club Speedway — where racing has been good as of late — could certainly benefit from this. Maybe even mile and a half tracks could. Maybe Chicago would be exciting again.

I personally think the four most exciting races in the points-paying season are the four restrictor plate tracks. Maybe the plates are the answer other places too. I don’t think you’d get the pack racing you get at Daytona or Talladega, but on tracks with long straightaways, it would definitely create more opportunity to pass. Think how Pocono could benefit from this package.

Now, I think it’s too early to jump the gun and immediately slap this package on the cars at every track. But I think NASCAR needs to experiment more. The experiment at Indy Saturday was definitely a success. And I think we’ll see the experiment more places in the near future.

We put VHT down at Bristol and helped the racing there. The surface at Atlanta and California got old and helped the racing there. New Hampshire was a snoozer but still better than in the past with the PJ1. Many years ago they added banking to Homestead-Miami and created one of the best tracks on the circuit.

To those who claim NASCAR isn’t doing enough, they are trying, and we’ve seen some success as a result. Sure there is room to grow, but I feel like with changes like these, we’re growing in the right direction.

It’s quite unfortunate the same package won’t be on the Cup cars tomorrow at Indy, because I highly doubt we see half as good of a race as we saw Saturday.

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