NASCAR drivers bemoan loss of Indianapolis oval "crown jewel"

Joint NASCAR Cup points leader Denny Hamlin is among the drivers bemoaning the series swapping Indianapolis’s oval for the road course this year, saying it has “lost a crown jewel”.

The race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval once boasted the largest crowd of the season, with over 250,000 attending at its peak, but in recent pre-pandemic years has struggled to attract 50,000 fans in the stands.

Ever since the 2008 race – which featured NASCAR throwing competition cautions every 10 laps or so to prevent tyre blowouts – attendance has waned.

The declining crowd numbers prompted a long look by the track and NASCAR over the future of the venue on the Cup schedule.

Instead of scrapping the race altogether, it was decided to move it to the 14-turn, 2.439-mile Indianapolis road course.

The Xfinity Series made its debut on the course last year to rave reviews and NASCAR and IMS hope the move for the Cup Series will inject some new life into the event.

The NASCAR weekend is also being paired, for the second consecutive season, with an IndyCar race.

Many of the Cup Series’ top stars understand the reasons for the change for this weekend’s fixture but also don’t think the new race will remain a “crown jewel” on the schedule.

“We lost a crown jewel – I don’t think anyone will consider the Indy road course any sort of crown jewel race,” said Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver Hamlin, who is tied on points with Kyle Larson heading into this weekend’s contest.

“We can’t just keep adding road courses – maybe alternate or something, but certainly I think the Brickyard is special because of the oval, not because of the road course.”

Kevin Harvick, who won the last race to be held on the Indianapolis oval – in July last year – added: “For me, driving through that tunnel and understanding the history and everything that comes with racing on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is something I always look forward to.

 

“I can’t imagine driving backward on the frontstretch and driving the road course in the infield. It’s an oval thing for me.

“I’m sure I’ll get over it as we start to get into practice and realise it’s just another race but, for me, it’s going to be a difficult hurdle to overcome.”

Hamlin and Harvick’s views are echoed by two-time NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch, who feels there is not the “same allure being on the road course”, adding: “I don’t view it as Indy – Indy is the oval.”

However, Trackhouse Chevrolet driver Daniel Suarez feels it is just important Indianapolis is on the calendar, regardless of the configuration.

“I love Indianapolis no matter what shape it is in,” he said. “I love going there and seeing so much history.

“There are a lot of fans that love road course racing and it’s adding different markets.”

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