The NASCAR Xfinity Series prepares for historic weekend at Indianapolis

For over a century, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been an epicenter of racing and has featured a festivity of crown-jewel races across different motorsports regions. From the United States Grand Prix in Formula One to the Indianapolis 500 in IndyCar and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400, the track presents the best of racing and entertainment for the fans, the competitors and the teams, especially those aiming to achieve and stamp their name as a winner at the historic racing venue and pressing their lips against the yard of bricks on the frontstretch with a victorious kiss. Now, for the 2020 Independence Day weekend, the 2.5-mile track in Indianapolis will feature a unique and historic schedule lineup to kick off its first racing events of this year.

For the second time in the last three seasons, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will be introduced to a racing event on a track very familiar to its schedule, but with a twist. The twist comes in the form of racing at the venue on a layout that is both an oval and a road course. That will be the case on Saturday, July 4, when the Xfinity Series races on the famed racetrack’s infield road course and parts of its 2.5-mile speedway, including the frontstretch with the start/finish line and the yard of bricks, for its 13th event of the 2020 season known as the Pennzoil 150.

The Xfinity oval-road course event at Indy features 14 turns, making it a 2.439-mile event, and will span 62 laps, 150 miles. Stage breaks for the race are scheduled on Lap 20, 40 and 62. While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented NASCAR from allowing drivers and teams to run practice or qualifying sessions prior to a race, there will be two practice sessions on Friday, July 3, at Indy’s road course to prep the competitors and the teams in time for the main event on Saturday. Jeb Burton, driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports, will start on the pole based on a random draw for the series’ race with no fans in attendance throughout the weekend.


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Every competitor and team will receive a first-hand experience of the track’s layout for the first time during Friday’s practice sessions. In January, Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Cup Series, took part in a one-day Xfinity testing session on Indy’s road course layout in Team Penske’s No. 22 Xfinity Series Ford Mustang, driven by Austin Cindric. Due to DiBenedetto’s test session, he will not be eligible to compete in this weekend’s series race.

This weekend’s Xfinity race at Indy will also provide an opportunity for road course ringers like A.J. Allmendinger, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric, and even hometown heroes like Briscoe and Justin Haley, to master their skills towards the historic track’s layout and stamp their names as the inaugural winner of NASCAR’s road course event at Indianapolis. For drivers like Cindric, Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain and Michael Annett, this weekend comes with an opportunity for them to notch their first Xfinity Series win of the season and receive a free pass to the Playoff with the series reaching its midpoint of the regular season. For others like Myatt Snider, Brandon Brown and Jeremy Clements, this weekend comes with an opportunity to gain as many points and positions as possible, through aggressiveness or consistency, towards the battle for the top-12 cutline and towards the Playoffs. This weekend also features the return of Mike Wallace, a NASCAR veteran since 1990 who last competed in 2015, and the debut of Jade Buford, an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car competitor from Brentwood, Tennessee.

The 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series has completed 12 races and has featured seven different winners, five of which are full-time series competitors and are guaranteed a spot in the Playoffs. With four wins, including last weekend at Pocono Raceway, Briscoe leads the regular-season series standings by three points over Noah Gragson and 33 over Chastain. Coming off his career-best fourth-place finish at Pocono, Snider holds sole possession of the 12th and final spot to the Playoffs by four points over Brown.

The Xfinity Series has been racing at Indiana since 1982, but at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis through 2011. In 2012, the series made its debut at the 2.5-mile speedway as part of a doubleheader weekend with the NASCAR Cup Series, which has raced at the famed racetrack since 1994. From 2012 to 2019, five different drivers have won an Xfinity race at Indianapolis with Kyle Busch holding the most with four, including last season.

While the experience of racing on an oval-road course layout at Indianapolis is new to NASCAR, it is not for the track along with other motorsports regions. Since 2014, the NTT IndyCar Series has raced at the track’s road course layout for the GMR Grand Prix, an event that runs two weeks prior to the Indianapolis 500 on the track’s 2.5-mile oval. From 2000 to 2007, Formula One raced at the Indianapolis road course for its annual United States Grand Prix, where names like Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Rubens Barrichello won. From 2008 to 2015, the track’s road course featured Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Motorcycle racing will return at the track for its MotorAmerica Championship of Indianapolis on October 9-11, 2020. The track’s road course has even held the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, a racing meet sanctioned by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association. The Indy Lights, a development series sanctioned by IndyCar, was scheduled to race at Indy’s road course layout in early July, but the series’ season was cancelled and put in a hiatus until 2021.

NASCAR, however, is no stranger in featuring an oval-road course venue to its schedule. Since 2018, Charlotte Motor Speedway utilized its infield road course configuration for a doubleheader weekend for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series during the Playoffs. Known as the Charlotte Roval, the course measures 2.28 miles in length and features 17 turns between the infield course layout and multiple portions of the speedway’s oval-shape track. On March 4, 2020, Daytona International Speedway will host its annual Busch Clash race for the Cup Series on the speedway’s infield road course layout with parts of the speedway’s 2.5-mile high banks under the lights on February 9, 2021. NASCAR’s first oval-road course event at Daytona will mark the first of a six-day span of racing action leading up to the 2021 Daytona 500 on February 14. The layout has previously been used for the IMSA’s annual Rolex 24 at Daytona along with the annual Daytona 200 motorcycle race.

The Xfinity Series will be part of motorsports’ history this weekend as this will mark the first IndyCar-NASCAR doubleheader at the same track on the exact date. With the Cup Series slated to run the Brickyard 400 on oval on Sunday, July 5, this weekend will be marked as a triple-header weekend between NASCAR and IndyCar. Prior to the Xfinity race on Saturday afternoon, the IndyCar Series will race its annual GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis road course layout on Saturday morning. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, IndyCar revised its schedule that included postponing the GMR Grand Prix from May to July 4, the exact date as the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ first oval-road course race on the track, and as the second race of the season for the series. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner, and Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 champion, remain the only two IndyCar competitors to win at the track’s road course layout in its six-year history. The IndyCar Series completed its first race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6, which was won by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.

The Fourth of July doubleheader will not mark the only IndyCar race at Indianapolis. With the revised schedule, the series will race for the third time at Indianapolis, second on the track’s road course known as the IndyCar Harvest GP, on October 3. The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 on the track’s oval-shaped layout, which was initially scheduled to run on Memorial Day weekend, is scheduled to occur on August 23 with fans in attendance. Among the names who will attempt to make the starting grid for the race will be two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who will drive the No. 66 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet Dallara. The current and revised 2020 IndyCar Series schedule features 14 races across nine different tracks with seven races cancelled, among which includes the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama; the Grand Prix doubleheaders in Detroit, Michigan; the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas; the Streets of Long Beach, California; the Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada; and the series’ anticipated return to Virginia’s Richmond Raceway.

The upcoming NASCAR and IndyCar races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway serves as part of an eventful race weekend throughout Independence Day weekend. In other motorsports news, Formula One, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary of the first F1 season, will make its first anticipated start of the year at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, Austria, for the Austrian Grand Prix on July 5. It is the first of two races scheduled at Red Bull Ring with the F1 series to return the following weekend on July 12 for the Styrian Grand Prix. The start of the 2020 Formula One season was scheduled to commence in March, but was paused due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This Sunday will provide a first opportunity for the current F1 drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc for Ferrari, Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon for Red Bull Racing, Carlos Sainz Jr. for McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo for Renault, Kimi Räikkönen for Alfa Romeo Racing and Pierre Gasly for AlphaTauri along with Haas F1 competitors Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to compete and make up for the loss time on the track. The current and revised 2020 F1 schedule features eight races across six countries with the rest of the schedule to be determined. Some countries like the United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Russia and China have postponed their scheduled F1 races to unknown dates while others like Australia, Monaco, Singapore, France and Japan have cancelled their F1 races this year.

In addition, the 2020 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume on July 4 at Daytona International Speedway for the WeatherTech 240 spanning two hours and 40 minutes. It will mark the second SportsCar race of the season since the Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 25-26. There are 10 WeatherTech SportsCar races in 10 different tracks that are currently in schedule to occur through November 14 for the finale, the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway.

The inaugural Pennzoil 150 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course for the NASCAR Xfinity Series will air on July 4 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC after IndyCar’s GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Road Course, which will air at noon ET on NBC. The NASCAR Cup Series’ Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will air on July 5 at 4 p.m. ET on NBC.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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