INDIANAPOLIS — Elliott Sadler’s summation of what Saturday’s Xfinity Series race could look like.
“Talladega on the straights, Indy in the corners,” Sadler said.
Since the Xfinity Series moved from nearby short track Lucas Oil Raceway to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012, there’s no sugarcoating the description of the series’ racing in Indianapolis. It’s been pretty bad.
With its 90-degree corners and long straightaways, IMS exploits all of the massive gaps in competition in the Xfinity Series garage. Small teams without the latest and greatest engines can’t keep up with Cup Series-affiliated teams on the straightaways. And those underfunded teams don’t have the engineering capabilities to get their cars to stick to the track in the corners like big teams do.
The result has been racing with cars spread out all over the 2.5-mile track and a lack of passing.
Enter the restrictor plates. Earlier this year, NASCAR announced that the Xfinity Series cars would run plates at Indianapolis like they do at Daytona and Talladega. The plates choke down horsepower and prevent cars from being able to accelerate away from each other. And the plates throttle down top speeds.
But the plates aren’t the only tweak. There are air ducts embedded at the bottom of the front of the cars near the grille openings. The ducts take air from the front of the car and push it out on the sides with the goal of creating a bigger wake for the cars behind.
That wake would then allow trailing cars to get a run on the straightaways and make passes via the draft like at Daytona and Talladega. Got all that?
“I said this week, I’ve been doing this stuff for a long time – more than 20 years – and there’s more unknowns coming into this weekend than probably what I have ever faced coming to a race event,” Sadler said.
But remember, while cars could go two and three-wide on the straights on Saturday, the corners at Indianapolis are still treacherous. It’s going to be near-impossible for drivers to go two-wide in the corners without losing momentum. And momentum is going to be more important than ever in the corners with the choked horsepower.
Kyle Busch, winner of the last two Xfinity Series races and the last two Cup Series races at Indianapolis, said he wasn’t expecting a dramatic change in the racing. During practice on Friday, the changes were far from subtle. While the pack racing on the straightaways wasn’t to the level of a Daytona or Talladega, the cars were much closer together than they typically are at Indianapolis.
“You can pretty much run wide open leaving pit road all the way around to start your run and then just run wide open the whole rest of the time, you know?” Busch said. “So to me it’s about trying to not lift as much as you can. You may have to here or there in traffic in order to time a run or something like that, but other than that you can pretty much run wide open. So the lack of horsepower is definitely the biggest that I’ve noticed.”
Denny Hamlin isn’t participating in Saturday’s race, but he said Friday at a FedEx event that he’s hoping for the best for the Xfinity race.
“I’m optimistic that it will work,” Hamlin said. “And hopeful that it will put a good race on. Because everyone knows that Indy is a very challenging track for stock cars. So I think that it could potentially put on a great race.”
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