Here’s what a NASCAR test driver said you can expect from the new Xfinity road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard this summer. Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS â His heart rate spiked but Matt DiBenedetto smiled wildly and struggled to find a complaint after turning the first stock car laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Wednesday morning.
In the end, the only one he could muster stemmed from his own excitement. After serving as the lone test driver for the Xfinity Seriesâ newly-formatted road race set to take place July 4 this summer, the NASCAR Cup Series driver is officially barred from competing in the inaugural event.
âIâm already jealous of the Xfinity guys, of just how cool the race is going to be and just how good a show itâs going to be for people,â DiBenedetto said. âItâs got all the things you could ask for from a road course race.â
DiBenedetto was tabbed to steer the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang around both the 12- and 14-lap road course configurations Wednesday after last weekâs announcement from new IMS owner Roger Penske that for at least this yearâs race, NASCAR would run cars on both a road course and oval at the same track the same weekend for the first time in its history.
The five-year Cup Series veteran participated in a test effort Wednesday, logging laps for NASCAR research and development folks back at the North Carolina headquarters that will, ultimately, help decision-makers come to a consensus on the number of turns the course will have and how many miles the race will run.
Wayne Auton, the Xfinity Series managing director, and Goodyear representatives were on hand with two different tire configurations to test â one traditionally used at Road America and Mid-Ohio, as well as another that teams use on the roval course in Charlotte. Additionally, DiBenedettoâs car was configured with a GoPro inside to log video that will be sent to other teams, along with some of the data logged by Team Penske throughout the day.
âWeâre looking at gearing to make sure we arenât too slow with RPMs and making sure we arenât too slow in the turns we have here,â he said. âYou donât want to be hitting chips going down the long front straight or the long back straight, cause that will upset the engine.â
But Auton clarified that number crunching wonât play as big into the ultimate decision between the 12- and 14-turn formats. Like Penske has so often touched on since the announcement of his acquisition back in November, fan experience will play heavy into how the weekend is ultimately conducted.
âWe want to put on the best show we can for fans and for NBC, and we definitely want to make sure the NASCAR Xfinity Series shines here at IMS,â Auton said. âItâs going to be a challenge for all of us, but weâre just excited that weâre going to put on the best show in Indy, one fans will really like.
âItâs going to be one heck of a race.â
The two race tracks that were tested Wednesday only differ at the very end, with the 12-turn version running the entirety of the ovalâs Turn 1 in reverse onto the front stretch, across the start/finish line and into a 90-degree turn that starts the infield portion. The more technical 14-turn version adds an S-shaped chicane from the inside of Turn 1 before entering whatâs known as the front-straight for Indianapolis 500 fans. Itâs also the same course the newly-named GMR Grand Prix has run in the past.
But what DiBenedetto loved most â and what local NASCAR fans will love to hear â is what the stock car veteran imagines will prove to be an exciting, pass-heavy race; something stock cars running around the IMS oval have struggled with for years.
âWhat we love as road racers is thereâs heavy braking zones. Here on the front straightaway, you have a very heavy braking zone, and then you have another long straight,â he said. âAnd on the 14-turn course, you have another one around (Turns) 12, 13 and 14.
âYouâve got high-speed stuff and low-speed stuff, everything we could ask for from a competitorâs standpoint.â
When asked for a comparison to NASCARâs other road course venues, DiBenedetto characterized the chicane like Sonoma, with the low-speed racing of Mid-Ohio and a lengthy straightaway that promotes high speeds followed by prime passing sections like Watkins Glen.
Additionally, the course is wide enough to allow the stock cars to conduct the physical brand of racing theyâre accustomed to on road layouts. Auton said he even expects spots where drivers who donât take turns the proper way couldÂ drop eight, nine or even 10 spots in a span of a couple seconds.
And though the Seriesâ drivers will undoubtedly have a little extra on the line while vying to be the first stock car winners on a road course at IMS, Auton admitted heâs not sure heâd want to be running out front as the white flag is waived come July 4.
âAs the old clichĂ© goes about the old chrome bumper, it might get used a little bit,â he chuckled. âWith a race track as wide as this road course is and as technical as it is âŠ itâs going to take every lap.â
Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown atÂ firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter:Â @By_NathanBrown