INDIANAPOLIS – When NASCAR unveiled its 2021 Cup schedule last September with a dirt track, three more road races and an extra oval included, the changes were described by some as dynamic, monumental and enormous.
Sunday’s race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course marked the latest of these major changes to the schedule. The remaining 12 races, including the 10 elimination races, can be found on sites that have previously hosted Cup events.
So what has the sport seen with its gravel run in Bristol and events at the Circuit of the Americas, Road America, the Indy Road Course and the Nashville Superspeedway?
Memorable moments, of course, but many learning experiences.
Another example was Sunday’s race at Indy. The carnage at the end of the race due to the curb issue in Turn 6 and the fact that a car under penalty turned the leader off the white flag are things NASCAR must prevent from happening again.
“These cars and curbs and stuff just don’t go together, âsaid Denny Hamlin, who lost a chance to win to Indy after Chase Briscoe got him out of his mind. âWe’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans.
âAlthough the finish was a crash fest, I’m sure everyone will love it. It’s just stupid. It’s a complete circus at the end of the race. You just roll the dice and hope you don’t get crushed.
It seemed like there was something about most of these new events that could be improved upon for the next year.
“Lots of lessons”, reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott told NBC Sports on Monday.
The gravel race in Bristol – the first Cup event since 1970 – encountered several problems.
Excessive tire wear in practice forced officials to add competition warnings, lengthen stages and give teams an extra set of tires for the race.
The Cup and Truck races have been postponed to Monday due to the rain. There was no way for either series to ride on a wet track without mud clumping the windshields and posing a safety concern.
This remains a question for next year: how to allow these series to run on a muddy track?
NASCAR’s debut on the Circuit of the Americas was eagerly awaited. The Austin, TX road course provided a new venue for NASCAR, and the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck series faced off on a Formula 1 track.
The weekend turned when heavy rains forced NASCAR to cut the Cup race short. This happened after several wrecks because drivers could not see due to water splashing from vehicles in front. Kevin Harvick called racing in the rain âthe most dangerous thing I have ever done in a race carâ.
A day later, three Cup teams took part in a previously scheduled test at Richmond Raceway to see if there was a way for the Cup cars to run in wet conditions on a short track. The emphasis was on finding a way to limit the spray. It doesn’t look like NASCAR is ready to race in wet conditions on a short track just yet.
At Road America, two incidents in qualifying caused full course warnings as others attempted to qualify. Elliott was among those whose qualifying rounds were canceled. At the end of the second yellow, there was not enough time in the session to make a third attempt and he had to start back.
Elliott responded by winning this race in a fiery practice. He delivered a second burnout to fans on the course after they encouraged him to do so.
Also during this race, Hamlin’s aggressive driving against Kyle Larson increased the intensity of their duel for the regular season championship. It wasn’t dirty. Just a good hard race.
Equally memorable was the large crowd at Road America throughout the weekend, energizing the event.
âThe crowd seemed to really enjoy their time throughout the weekend no matter who won (the weekend races),â Elliott said. âThere were a lot of people there. “
This electricity was also felt at Nashville Superspeedway, which had around 38,000 fans in its sold-out booths. One disappointment was that the start of the race was delayed by around 10 minutes to give fans, stuck in traffic, extra time to get to the facility.
âNashville is also a great example, with everyone and excitement,â Elliott said of a highlight of the new venues. âFrankly, I’m disappointed at how unprepared we were for traffic. I would be upset if I was a fan going to this event and sitting in traffic during this time. “
Nashville officials have pledged to make changes for next year’s event.
Among other highlights at the new Cup venues this year:
Times like this make these events interesting, but NASCAR must avoid a repeat of the problems at these tracks to make fans want to see these races next year and beyond.
MORE OR LESS RUN ON THE ROAD?
Sunday’s race was the sixth of seven road races this season for the Cup. For some drivers, road fatigue sets in.
“It’s a bit too much”, Chris Buescher said before Sunday’s race to Indy. âI’m a road racing fan so I like to do it four or five times a year, but it’s enough and maybe a little high for my liking.
âI have the impression that the majority of the pilots would say the same thing. I know we have a handful of people who are really good at road circuits and would probably love to run more, but I’m a training short track runner. This is what I grew up doing, and this is what I want to do more.
Noted Guillaume Byron if he suffers from road fatigue this year: âI don’t feel we need more. I think seven is a lot.
âI think the NextGen car will improve (on the road) courses as a driver. They may be a little more spread out because they will be easier to drive.
âI feel like the cars at the moment are really hard to drive. There is a lot of brake lock. Cars don’t stop well. They don’t turn out well. So you see a lot of accidents.
“Next year you might see less because the car will be easier to brake and shift and you won’t have as many mechanical problems.”
Daniel Suarez can see more road courses added to future Cup schedules.
âI love road racing,â he said ahead of Sunday’s race at Indy. âThat’s what I grew up doing karting. I wouldn’t be surprised that one day we have 10 road circuits on the program and 25 ovals. This is very fun. Everyone benefits. “
Suarez saw some of that excitement during the NTT IndyCar Series weekend in Nashville earlier this month. Suarez competed in the Trans Am TA2 race with car owner Justin Marks the day before the IndyCar race on the city streets.
âI don’t think it could have been better from my point of view,â Suarez said of the atmosphere of the event. âThe fans were amazing. The number of fans, every dayâ¦ was crazy. Lots of NASCAR fans. Lots of people were asking for photos. I was very, very surprised by this. I really hope NASCAR will give a street class a chance because it was such an amazing event.
Speaking of NASCAR considering a possible street race in the future, Suarez could make his wish come true.
THINK ABOUT THE POSSIBILITIES
Renowned motorsport journalist Robin Miller wrote on RACER.com on Monday that the NTT IndyCar series should find a way to roll Kyle Larson in next year’s Indianapolis 500.
Miller suggested that Larson’s Cup car owner Rick Hendrick close the deal. Otherwise, Larson could possibly race with the team of Roger Penske or Ed Carpenter Racing. The two Chevrolet vehicles in this series.
Larson’s adventures on earth lead to an unprecedented year in motorsport for decades.
The Coca-Cola 600 is one of six NASCAR Cup races it has won this year (including the All-Star Race). He is also the point guard.
His resume this season also includes winning the Chili Bowl Nationals midget car race in January and the Knoxville Nationals sprint car race last weekend. Within 24 hours of his victory at Knoxville, he was in position to win the Cup race on the Indy road course until the chaotic end.
âI’ve always wanted to be known as one of – if not the greatest – auto racing drivers of all time,â Larson told Nate Ryan of NBC Sports in June.
Even with wins in the biggest model car and sprint car races this year, Larson is aiming for other races outside of his NASCAR goals.
âNow that I’ve gotten into the Late Model thing, the World 100 is next month – it’s their Knoxville Nationals and Daytona 500s, so I’d love to win that someday,â said Larson.
âI hope I can have the opportunity to run some more on the road. This year is unique. They make up last year’s world event, so I can run the midweek show, the program. Thursday night There are a lot of late model races: The Dream, the Dirt Track World Championship.
âI don’t even know all the crown jewels since I’m new to it (late model racing). The National Open in sprint cars. The BC39 (on the dirt track inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week) in a midget will be up there with Belleville and the Chili Bowl. There are a lot of big ones there.
For those wondering if Larson could spread himself too thin and hurt his NASCAR results, don’t count on it.
âI’m not going there (to the Knoxville Nationals) with extra pressure on myself,â Larson said ahead of Sunday’s Cup race at Indy. âIf you’re going to talk about pressure, I think it comes more when I’m back here (in NASCAR). I have to show that I am still fully committed in this regard.
“I think we trained as well as we have (Saturday) and I hope to have a good qualifying heat (Larson started fourth) then a good race this afternoon (he finished third), I think that sort of checks (that with) whatever I ‘m doing and keeping busy with, NASCAR is always high on my priority list.
If there was a way to get Larson to the Indy 500 next year, he could be joined by seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who runs a partial IndyCar program but has made offers to participate in the ‘Indy 500 next year. It’s due to test at Texas Motor Speedway later this month.
Now only if Kyle busch, who has expressed interest in competing in the Indianapolis 500, may obtain permission to do so. Wouldn’t it be something to see these three pilots in the Indy 500?