For a sport whose fans can be hostile toward change, the upcoming 2020 season in NASCAR may very well be the new standard by which to measure the sport’s future. Changes have been the norm in the off-season, with everything from the Cup Series short track/road course packages being changed again to the pit stop rules changing in the XFINITY Series and the Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series.
On Wednesday, another change was announced as NASCAR stated that the XFINITY Series event on July 4 would be held on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s managing director of racing operations and international development, was optimistic about the change as the XFINITY division will now be holding five road courses in its 2020 campaign.
“As we’ve seen in recent years, road course racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series provides some of the most thrilling action of the entire season, and we are excited to bring it to an iconic venue like Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“[Track owner] Roger [Penske], [track president] Doug [Boles], and the entire IMS team have been tremendous partners in growing the Brickyard weekend, and we’re looking forward to what promises to be a must-see event during July 4th weekend.”
The change could very well be the shot in the arm that the division needs regarding its efforts at IMS as the majority of the events held there since their first visit in 2012 have been less than stellar. NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch has won four of the eight events held there, while XFINITY regulars have only won three of the events (Ty Dillon in 2014, William Byron in 2017, Justin Allgaier in 2018).
Drivers and fans alike have agreed that the division’s product at IMS has suffered compared to how it was on the O’Reilly Raceway Park venue, in which the division last visited in 2011. However, given the quality of the road racing product that the division has put together in recent years, an IMS road course event could bring added excitement to an otherwise dull affair.
Another thing to consider is that an IMS road course event could further fuel the possibility of an IndyCar/NASCAR crossover event, let alone an IndyCar/NASCAR double-header weekend in the future. Considering most of the allure at IMS comes from its history with the IndyCar Series, there is little doubt that bringing in stars from the open-wheel and sports car world would raise the event’s stock a bit.
Sports car star Jack Hawksworth almost won on the IMS road course as an IndyCar rookie in 2014, and considering how well he fared at Mid-Ohio in a Joe Gibbs Racing entry, he’d be a shoo-in for the competition. Another driver to consider would be 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, who has won on the IMS road course three times including a dominant run in 2016 on his way to the season championship.
Of course, this is all speculation. But if the XFINITY Series can make the Charlotte Roval look good on their first try, then there’s no doubt that the idea of an IMS road course race could turn a few heads and pique some interest.
NASCAR is going into the 2020 season doing everything they can to make sure that the fans and drivers are able to enjoy the on-track product. With that being said, changing the XFINITY event at IMS to a road course event is a step in the right direction in rectifying an otherwise dull event. There’s no doubt that it’ll be a good race for both fans and drivers.