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NASCAR officials wowed after Xfinity test on IMS road course: ‘It’s going to be one heck of a race’ – IndyStar

NASCAR officials wowed after Xfinity test on IMS road course: ‘It’s going to be one heck of a race’ – IndyStar
26 Jan
7:54
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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 – 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 Series’ 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.

“I’m already jealous of the Xfinity guys, of just how cool the race is going to be and just how good a show it’s going to be for people,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s got all the things you could ask for from a road course race.”

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 week’s announcement from new IMS owner Roger Penske that for at least this year’s 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 – one traditionally used at Road America and Mid-Ohio, as well as another that teams use on the roval course in Charlotte. Additionally, DiBenedetto’s 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.

“We’re looking at gearing to make sure we aren’t too slow with RPMs and making sure we aren’t too slow in the turns we have here,” he said. “You don’t want to be hitting chips going down the long front straight or the long back straight, cause that will upset the engine.”

But Auton clarified that number crunching won’t 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.

“We 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,” Auton said. “It’s going to be a challenge for all of us, but we’re just excited that we’re going to put on the best show in Indy, one fans will really like.

“It’s going to be one heck of a race.”

The two race tracks that were tested Wednesday only differ at the very end, with the 12-turn version running the entirety of the oval’s 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 what’s known as the front-straight for Indianapolis 500 fans. It’s also the same course the newly-named GMR Grand Prix has run in the past.

But what DiBenedetto loved most – and what local NASCAR fans will love to hear – 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.

“What we love as road racers is there’s heavy braking zones. Here on the front straightaway, you have a very heavy braking zone, and then you have another long straight,” he said. “And on the 14-turn course, you have another one around (Turns) 12, 13 and 14.

“You’ve got high-speed stuff and low-speed stuff, everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint.”

When asked for a comparison to NASCAR’s 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 they’re accustomed to on road layouts. Auton said he even expects spots where drivers who don’t take turns the proper way could  drop eight, nine or even 10 spots in a span of a couple seconds.

And though the Series’ 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 he’s not sure he’d want to be running out front as the white flag is waived come July 4.

“As the old cliché goes about the old chrome bumper, it might get used a little bit,” he chuckled. “With a race track as wide as this road course is and as technical as it is … it’s going to take every lap.”

Email IndyStar motor sports reporter Nathan Brown at nlbrown@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown

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Source: https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/motor/2020/01/22/nascar-officials-wowed-after-initial-xfinity-test-ims-road-course/4530767002/

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