Even though the Lilly Diabetes 250 is just an Xfinity Series race, the new look 100-lapper has some serious big picture implications for NASCAR’s future at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With the hopes of injecting much-needed energy into the Saturday companion race, NASCAR has spent the past 12 months developing an Indy-Xfinity rules package centered around restrictor plates, aero ducts and drag-generating spoilers.
Here’s the short version:
- The 2016 spoiler and splitter will be used (teams must run the ear flaps on both sides)
- Aero ducts will be placed on the front bumper and will be supplied by NASCAR at the track
- A 7/8-inch restrictor plate will be used.
NASCAR hopes a leading driver will form a slipstream in his wake — allowing a trailing driver to surge behind and around the frontrunner before the entrance of a corner. The idea was very much inspired by the kind of racing recently seen here in May during the Indianapolis 500.
But as is often the case in NASCAR, the reality may struggle to match the vision.
Based entirely on Friday practice, there is a distinct possibility that the event could produce some side-by-side racing and slipstream dive-bombs. However, that was based purely on a track session with drivers more willing to be passed than they will be on Saturday.
Current championship leader Elliott Sadler thinks Saturday has the potential to get messy.
“You’re going to see a lot of blocking,” Sadler said. “It’s Indy in the corners and Talladega on the straightaways. We’re racing closer and the guys behind you are going to be able to get a run on you, especially if they have help behind them.”
Expect to see something that resembles tandem drafting on the long IMS straightaways.
Sure the push-draft will create additional speed, but what happens when you near the end of the corner and the pushing driver wants to peek out to make his move? That’s going to be the challenge according to Daytona Xfinity Speedweeks winner Ryan Reed.
“You’re gonna be able to bump draft or tandem draft, whatever you want to call it, but what are you doing to do once you get to the corner,” Reed said. “That’s going to be the problem… When you are tandeming, you’re going to be a lot faster, so you’re gonna have to respect the guy in front of you.
“If someone does get to your bumper and does give you a shot, you’re going to be at his mercy, so you’re going to hope that he gives you a break once you get down in the corner.”
So what does this have to do with the Cup Series and the Brickyard 400 at large?
Well, Indianapolis has never been suited for stock cars and the novelty started to wear off about a decade ago. It just took a Goodyear/Car of Tomorrow tire debacle to make fans acutely aware of it.
Instead of proactively working to address the quality of racing for the Brickyard 400, NASCAR and IMS officials stripped the Xfinity Series of one of the crown jewel short track events at Lucas Oil Raceway Indianapolis and gave it to the big track.
So now, NASCAR and IMS have two awful races to fix.
However, they status quo does give them an experimental platform for future Cup races. If this works on Saturday, it could represent the start of a restrictor plate era for the Brickyard 400. If it’s a complete disaster, it could signal the shift of the Brickyard from an oval race to an infield road course affair.
Between this ‘fix’ and the Brickyard 400 moving to September next season, this is basically ‘all hands on deck’ to resuscitate what is still seen by many as NASCAR’s second most prestigious event.
Saturday will go a long way to determine what the next step looks like.