Matt DiBenedetto and NASCAR officials offered positive first impressions Wednesday during the Xfinity Series’ first test on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road-course layouts.
DiBenedetto drove a Team Penske No. 22 Ford on a pair of configurations — a 12-turn layout and a 14-turn circuit — to help determine the best setting for the July 4 event at the historic speedway. Track owner Roger Penske joined other officials Jan. 15 to announce that the Xfinity Series would use the IMS road course for the first time this season.
During a lunchtime news conference, DiBenedetto said he was still figuring out his approach to the more technical sections in the track’s infield, adding that the tighter twists reminded him of Sonoma and Mid-Ohio, but that the faster portions of the course had parallels with Watkins Glen. The 12-turn layout (2.28 miles) uses the oval’s first turn as a sweeping right-hander before the frontstretch; the 14-turn configuration (2.41 miles) bypasses the oval’s Turn 1 with a sharp infield chicane.
DiBenedetto also joked about making the proper turn out of the Indianapolis garage; stock cars will run clockwise for the first time at the Brickyard this summer.
“The part that I liked the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities,” said DiBenedetto, who will join Wood Brothers Racing for the Cup Series season this year. “That was one of the things we wanted to evaluate is how it’s going to race, how technical it is and the passing zones. So the cool thing is what we love as road racers is heavy braking zones. … There’s high-speed stuff, there’s low-speed stuff, so it’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint for race-ability.”
Xfinity Series director Wayne Auton said that competition officials would analyze the data from the test to make a determination about which course layout will be used and the length of the race and its stages. Auton said in-car camera footage would be shared with the drivers, and teams would share the data to help get a baseline for set-ups at the IMS road course.
Auton added that Goodyear officials attended the test, trying a pair of tire combinations — one used recently at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and the other used at both Mid-Ohio and Road America.
“The one thing with the engineers that are here and Matt’s input inside the race car is we look at the gearing to make sure that we aren’t too slow with RPMs when you get into the slower turns that we have here, or that you’re not hitting the (rev-limiter) chip going down this long front straightaway or the long back straightaway that upsets the engine,” Auton said. “There’s a lot of data that we’ll look to the team for. Matt’s input inside the race car is valuable. He’s given us already a lot of information today with the couple of runs that we’ve already done that will be very valuable for us to take back to our engineers. … We’ll evaluate it, and see how we do.”
DiBenedetto was chosen as the driver for the test with the caveat that he would be ineligible to enter the July 4 event. He said that it was the lone minor regret from what’s been a time of great personal transition — joining the Wood Brothers soon after his release from Leavine Family Racing.
“It’s been a lot of change in a short time, and it’s been a whirlwind,” DiBenedetto said. “So I don’t even know how to answer that of just how cool my life has been in the past handful of months really since not long after Bristol last year. So a lot’s changed for me personally and my family, and I couldn’t have possibly dreamt up all the big things and the little things. I mean, I’d consider this one of the big things — opportunities like this are things I’ll never forget the rest of my life.
“I’ll be able to say forever that, hey, I got asked by Mr. Penske himself, that whole team, by NASCAR, folks at IMS — everyone — to come and be the first ever to run the road course and test it out for the NASCAR Xfinity gang. So there’s a lot of amazing things for me personally that have been happening that I’ll never forget and always appreciate.”