Sunday’s race won by Tyler Riddick was further proof that the road track trial should come to an end after two seasons. Reddick was challenged to the lead in the last two rounds of the race by Ross Chastain after Chastain simply drove and skipped the first turn in the final restart of the race and got back on the actual race track ahead of Reddick.
Chastain’s move — an illegal move, although fans watching at home via NBC were not informed of it until the race was over — was rude. It looked like an acronym from Mario Kart. It also came a year after Chase Briscoe rotated race leader Denny Hamlin after resuming the final race despite taking a penalty to cut the second corner.
After two races on the Indianapolis road track, it’s hard to argue over the entertainment the Cup series provided. But it’s cheap entertainment. Especially at a sacred track like Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
NASCAR moved the Cup Series onto the road track after the 2020 season after years of miserable attendance in Indianapolis. Fan interest dropped sharply after the 2008 tire disaster and never recovered. It was easy to see how the Brickyard 400 needed a bullet to the arm.
But the path of the road may not have been the right motive. Especially as it is becoming more and more clear that personal presence is not a determining factor on the racetracks.
Atlanta Motor Speedway had a second race in 2021 despite years of late attendance, and Road America lost the Cup Series race in 2023 after impressive attendance at the Cup races the past two years. Other tracks across the Cup schedule continue to host two races although there are no sold-out crowds in any of the race’s history.
NASCAR’s arrival at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the ’90s was met with a lot of fanfare and was a historic moment for both the series and the track. The Brickyard 400 was the rare race that was instantly distinctive from year one and remained that way for decades even as the passes became more difficult as aerodynamic engineering became more important at the top NASCAR level.
But this difficulty of passing did not reduce the prestige of the race. The team that won the Indianapolis Oval in 2010 had the best combination of pit strategy, aerodynamics and horsepower. And while the oval may have lacked overflow, it was still a showcase for the best of the trophy series.
There is nothing wrong with a race like this from time to time. Not every race can be overflowing with passes. Sometimes the priority is speed and strategy. The Indianapolis Oval is the perfect place for speed and strategy given the track’s glorious history.
Fans didn’t quite refuse to watch the races on the Indianapolis Oval either. The rain-delayed race on the oval in July of 2020 had more than a million viewers on NBC compared to the first race on Road America that same weekend in 2021. Fans understand that racing isn’t always about cars that are close together. Just take a look at the current rise of Formula 1 in the United States.
The Indianapolis Road Course is an absolutely fine track and a worthy host to the Xfinity Series. NASCAR’s Class Two series has a lot of financial disparity to make a good showing on the oval. If racing isn’t at the short Indianapolis Raceway Park, a road track is a perfectly acceptable compromise.
But the cup chain should return to the oval shape. The Indianapolis Oval was the only track on the Cup Series schedule that was a true show of control and speed. A grueling 36-race season needs a race like this on the schedule.