The Cup Series needs to go back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Sunday’s race won by Tyler Reddick was further proof that the road course experiment should meet its demise after two seasons. Reddick was challenged for the lead in the final two laps of the race by Ross Chastain after Chastain simply drove straight and skipped the first turn on the race’s final restart and rejoined the actual race track ahead of Reddick.
Chastain’s move — a move that was illegal, though fans watching at home via NBC weren’t informed of that until the race was over — was brazen. And looked like a shortcut from Mario Kart. It also came a year after Chase Briscoe spun race leader Denny Hamlin after the race’s final restart despite being under penalty for cutting the second corner.
After two races on the Indianapolis road course, it’s hard to dispute the entertainment the Cup Series has provided. But it’s cheap entertainment. Especially at a hallowed track like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
NASCAR moved the Cup Series to the road course after the 2020 season following years of miserable attendance at Indianapolis. Fan interest dropped off precipitously after the tire debacle of 2008 and never recovered. It was easy to see how the Brickyard 400 needed a shot in the arm.
But the road course may not have been the right boost. Especially as it’s becoming more and more clear that in-person attendance isn’t a determining factor for racetracks.
Atlanta Motor Speedway got a second race in 2021 despite years of lagging attendance and Road America is losing its Cup Series race in 2023 after fantastic attendance at its Cup races the last two years. Other tracks across the Cup schedule continue to host two races despite having crowds that aren’t close to sold out on either race date.
NASCAR’s arrival at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1990s was met with much fanfare and was a historic moment for both the series and track. The Brickyard 400 was the rare race that was immediately special from year one and remained that way for decades even as passing became more and more difficult as aerodynamic engineering became more and more important at NASCAR’s top level.
But that passing difficulty didn’t diminish the prestige of the race. The team that won on the Indianapolis oval in the 2010s generally had the best combination of pit strategy, aerodynamics and horsepower. And while the oval might have lacked overtaking, it was still a showcase of the best of the best in the Cup Series.
And there’s nothing wrong with a race like that every once in a while. Not every race can be overflowing with passes. Sometimes speed and strategy take precedence. The Indianapolis oval is the perfect place for speed and strategy given the track’s glorious history.
Fans weren’t exactly refusing to watch races on the Indianapolis oval either. The rain-delayed race on the oval in July of 2020 had over 1 million more viewers on NBC than the first race at Road America on the same weekend in 2021. Fans realize that racing isn’t always about cars being close together. Just look at the current rise of Formula 1 in the United States.
The Indianapolis road course is a perfectly fine track and a worthy host for the Xfinity Series. NASCAR’s second-tier series has too much of a financial disparity to put on a good show on the oval. If it’s not going to race at the Indianapolis Raceway Park short track, the road course is a totally acceptable compromise.
But the Cup Series should go back to the oval. The Indianapolis oval was the only track on the Cup Series schedule that was a true showcase of handling and speed. A grueling 36-race season needs a race like that on the schedule.