The Xfinity Series’ Friday arrival at Indianapolis Motor Speedway comes with a bit of a milestone, marking the first practice sessions scheduled for a NASCAR national tour since the sport returned in May after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Adding on extra track time comes with good reason. The prep will be necessary for Xfinity teams to acquaint themselves with Indy’s road-course layout, which will be used for the first time for Saturday’s Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Cup Series regular Matt DiBenedetto tested a Team Penske entry back on January 22 to help determine the 14-turn, 2.439-mile configuration, which uses portions of the historic 2.5-mile oval with the twisty, road-course sections that wind through the speedway’s infield. DiBenedetto won’t be entered in the 62-lap race, so the full Xfinity field will get its first taste of the layout — outside of simulators — in Friday’s two 55-minute sessions (1:30 and 3 p.m. ET).
“Yeah, I’ve been practicing on the simulator since February for the Indy race,” said Chase Briscoe, an Indiana native and winner of two of the last three Xfinity Series races. “It means the world to me to win there, just with it being new nobody knows what to expect, so we’re trying to be the best we can be.
“I go to the simulator every Wednesday and every Wednesday I’ve been running at least an hour-and-a-half to two hours at Indy, just trying to get prepared for the race track. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea of where to make speed. It’s hard to really say how much the simulator will correlate over to the real-life thing, but I feel like I have a really good general idea of what to do and I’m not gonna be lost for those first couple of laps.”
Former Cup Series driver AJ Allmendinger and Team Penske’s Austin Cindric stand out on the entry list for their road-racing expertise. Kaulig Racing’s Allmendinger scored his first NASCAR oval win on June 6 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but his other four national-series victories have come on road courses. All three of Cindric’s national-series wins have been on road-racing circuits, including two in the Xfinity Series (Watkins Glen International, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) last year.
The series’ bigger organizations may have the opportunity to log simulated laps on the Indy road course, but independent teams may have to count on Friday’s practice — or get resourceful. Jeremy Clements’ lone Xfinity Series win for his family-owned team came at Road America in 2017, and his approach to Indy so far is to embrace the unknown.
“I think it’ll be a lot of fun. I really have no idea about the track,” Clements said after a third-place finish at Pocono Raceway last weekend. “I hear it was fun for Matty D. … I don’t know anything about it. We don’t have any simulators or any of that stuff. I don’t know. Kind of going in blind, so I’m going to be a little bit behind there. I think Ford’s got the track on their simulator, but I don’t know. I’m going to get on Forza on my Xbox and see, I think it’s on there. …
“It’s really all I got. I don’t think iRacing even has the exact track. I just enjoy the chance to go to a track that nobody knows that good and we can make the most of it. I think it’ll be a survival-type race for sure, and you need to be there at the end and I think we can capitalize on that and possibly pick up a win or another top-three finish. But I’m excited about it.”