Successful Xfinity Series race at Indy provides glimpse of the future

No matter what you think of NASCAR’s decision to go with an experimental rules package in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the merits of such a move, let’s start with the facts.

— There were a race record 16 lead changes, nearly doubling the previous race record of nine. That’s a remarkable number for the Brickyard, which has had 16 or fewer lead changes in 12 of the 23 Cup Series races run here!

— A race record eight different drivers led laps (two more than the previous mark). By comparison, last year’s Brickyard 400 — again, a race that was 100 miles longer — had just three different leaders.

— The margin of victory was just 0.108 second, which was obviously the closest.

So there are the facts. Did those stats — along with the eye test — make for a good race?

Well, as of the time of this post, 83 percent of people in a quick Twitter poll said “Yes.”

I agree. It wasn’t just a better race than in the past, but it was a good race — and I wasn’t very optimistic that would be the case, even with the rule changes in place.

After all, how many times has NASCAR tried something with high hopes (just look at the PJ1 at New Hampshire last week) only to see the race result in somewhat of a letdown?

This time, NASCAR’s extensive research and development work paid off with a concept that seemed to click. It would be shocking if officials didn’t try this idea in the Cup Series sometime in the next year — not just at Indy, but places like Pocono or Michigan.

Was it perfect? No, because it achieved only part of the goal. Slowing the cars kept the race close because the leader could not get away, but passing still seemed like a challenge.

Erik Jones, for example, told me he could easily stay with race leader Kyle Busch while running second — but there was nothing he could do to pass, even if he’d wanted to.

That said, Jones said the package was a positive move overall; it just needs some tweaks, he said.

“A lot of times, these cars are just going too fast,” Jones said. “You go to your local short track and the best race of the weekend is the street stocks or vintage cars, because they’re going so slow that they can go everywhere. They can go all over the racetrack.

“We were definitely a step towards that. You could even see people make passes on the outside, which at Indy is pretty unheard of.”

The whole thing is a bit of an odd concept at Indianapolis, which has rewarded pure speed ever since NASCAR has been racing here. But Saturday’s race had more of a Daytona or Talladega feel, where the leader was punished by getting too far ahead — allowing competitors to catch up in the draft.

Some fans were upset about the concept of artificially bunching the field. It also didn’t sit well with Kyle Busch, who was feeling salty after seeing his chance at a fifth straight Brickyard win disappear.

Busch told me the package was no good and said he would “definitely” be opposed to seeing it tried in the Cup Series.

“They wanted to slow down the fastest guy here so the rest of the field could keep up, and they did,” he said.

But what if there were some tweaks made that perhaps allowed for more passing? Would he be open to the idea then?

“There’s great ideas everywhere,” he responded while walking away.

Xfinity regular Brennan Poole, who finished seventh, disagreed with Busch’s comments. He said there were a couple small changes NASCAR could make to increase passing opportunities, yes; but overall, Poole had no problems with the fairness of the rules.

“I mean, that’s just part of racing,” he said. “It’s the same way at Daytona and Talladega. This package keeps everybody together, but you’ve just got to work a little harder for it.

“It puts on a better fan show for the fans. When there’s more passing and swapping for the lead and everyone fighting, it’s better to watch. I think it was good.”

And if you’re looking for a hint from NASCAR whether a similar package might be used in future races, Steve O’Donnell certainly gave all indications the sanctioning body viewed Saturday’s experiment with a smile.

“I think it passed the eye test,” he told reporters. “Some races, you’re going 200 (mph). Some, you’re down in the 100s on a road course. What at the end of the day matters is how many lead changes did we have and was it competitive throughout. And we thought it was today.”


8 Replies to “Successful Xfinity Series race at Indy provides glimpse of the future”

  1. I usually hold my tongue about Kyle Busch, but come on, man. Didn’t he say yesterday that the NXS package wouldn’t make a difference? Then he loses and he whines about the difference it made? The guy is truly an insane driving talent. 38 Cup wins. He needs to get over this Xfinity Series fetish and focus on burnishing his Cup legacy, especially after his 2015 injury. He’s lucky he came back at all. You didn’t see Gordon and Johnson playing in the kiddie pool on Saturdays after they got hot in Cup. Focus on Sunday, give the young guys a chance to shine and, most importantly, stop whining like a damn baby.

    1. Spot on. Given the various problems he’s had on Sunday pherhaps he should concentrate solely on that.

  2. Yes but the amount of lead changes and amount of leaders were skewed by the segments and the competition caution which had nothing to do with the aero-package. There was also a huge gap between the have and have nots, much more so then with other packages.

  3. I’ve been going to the Brickyard weekend every year since I moved here in 2007. If they’re gonna keep the xfinity race on the speedway and away from IRP (formerly ORP, now LORP…????) then today was a HUGE step in the right direction. I expect those comments from Busch though. He’s never happy if he doesn’t win, and sometimes not even then!
    Lastly, I have to say I disagree with your analysis of NHMS bring a bad race last week (Cup series). I saw more side by side and 3-4 wide passing than I can ever remember at that place. I’ll be going back there for sure.
    Love ya Jeff!
    -Dustin Pead

  4. Jeff you have to be better with the facts and the things influencing them.

    Kyle Busch, Morgan Shepard and Hemric lead laps because of the competition caution at lap 17. No caution then 3 less lead changes.

    Harrison Rhodes led 1 lap because of stage gimmick.

    Garrett Smithley led 1 lap because of stage gimmick.

    None of these happened in prior years. Context is very important when reporting facts.

    So there’s 5 lead changes that had nothing to do with package.

    1. Ok, what about the other 7 lead changes Ron?! That’s still a more than 300% growth over last year. You’re nit picking and that’s what you have to do when you just don’t like something because you already had your mind made up.

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