Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Oval Vs. Road Course for NASCAR

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the most recognizable race track in the world and holds all the prestige that comes with a 100+ year history of motorsport’s most beloved crown jewel races. While not part of the NASCAR schedule until the mid 1990s, both the track and NASCAR series have treated their relationship as one of mutual respect for their corresponding histories. In truth, some great races and memorable victories have taken place in the nearly 30 years of Cup events, but several moments called for a rethink of the relationship. While the tire fiasco of the 2008 Brickyard 400 will rightly stick out in most people’s minds, other oval races held by the Cup series at Indy simply didn’t have the excitement or racing quality that comes with the prestige of the event. In the waning years of the “Gen 6” era of Cup racing the decision was made (along with the xfinity series) to run the IMS Road Course starting in 2021 and again in 2022 with the new generation of Cup vehicle. In both cases, the races have been controversial examples of the division between some traditional enthusiasts and the evolving crowd of supporters open to a less structured and crazy event conclusion.

(NBC Sports)

For me, a lot more of what I like about NASCAR comes through during the last two road course races at IMS. The yard of bricks and prestige of winning at Indy can still be shared and appreciated, but the unpredictability of the later stages of the race has been nothing short of wonderful. Indy RC isn’t the sort of track you need to throw unnecessary cautions for due to its size, and (strictly in the 2022 race) the drivers were allowed to sort the incidents out for themselves. If you’d have told me this 2022 Cup rookie class would have a 2-3-4 finish at a non-super speedway…well let’s just say it’s been added to the long list of surprises we’ve seen this season.

Harrison Burton finished a career best 3rd (NBC Sports)

I debated making some long drawn out article with my personal opinion of how the Indy Road Course is better, but just for today I figured to leave things a little more democratic. Putting a question out to the community, we asked for something they either liked or did not like about the Indy Road Course and Oval to see if we could come up with a Pro/Con list for each one. Here’s what the community had to say (some responses summarized or combined):


Pro: Challenging Track, Good Prestige/History, Rewarding Pit Strategy (Pre-Stage Racing)

Con: Boring races, tire wear, cars should go faster, One Lane Track, Pocono with 4 Turns, Hard to pass, Oval Turn 1 too narrow for NASCAR, too flat, not a “stock car track,” Watching the racing on track live is difficult, weirdly bad wrecks

Road Course

Pro: Exciting finishes, Good Track Layout, functions like a real RC, Passing more “doable” than oval

Con: Turn 1 prone to numerous accidents, Escape road BS, Boring, T4 of Oval should be used, No Respect Amongst Drivers, No prestige, Track Limits Issues, Next Gen is good for ovals now, too flat

It’s not hard to see how racing fans typically have a much easier time finding fault than finding something they like about a controversial topic, but every opinion shared here is valid in its own way. The recent oval races really were boring when compared to the average 2022 Cup race, and the road course races really are a great example of the lack of respect Cup drivers show each other. Still, when dealing with a track with the fame and prestige of IMS, there is not going to be a satisfactory answer that will please all parties.

Had the Cup schedule not been bursting at the seams combined with the loss of a quality road course like Road America, I’d have suggested a second event on the calendar to run the oval. A yearly or bi-annual rotation of the two track layouts could also work, as the exciting new performance of the Gen 7 on recently struggling ovals makes a very strong case for giving it a try.

Sunday had a bit of everything.

The mood I pick up from people I speak with on this issue is that Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a track that NEEDS to be on the schedule rather than one that SHOULD be on the calendar. While that’s an unfortunate thing to suggest about a race track, it could say a lot about why the road course creates so much controversy. Should we just grit our teeth and have a potentially subpar oval race on the calendar in the name of prestige and history? The almighty dollar will have more to say about this than anything of course, as Formula 1 in Monaco consistently fails to produce high quality racing, the venue is packed with the wealthiest people in the world as well as vacationing race fans of all kinds to this very day.

Indianapolis is much more than just a race in IndyCar, but as the attendance numbers from 2009 on will dictate, that distinction can’t be given to NASCAR no matter how hard the presenters of the race try to make us believe. The oval is certainly worth another try in the NASCAR Cup series, but if it doesn’t work we need to be ready to go back to something that is at the very least keeping the world’s most famous race track in the headlines for the right reasons…great racing.

Follow Matt on Twitter for all things NASCAR.

Published by mjburroughs

Matthew Burroughs is a noted “art-scholar” hailing from Salisbury, Maryland. He enjoys video games and baseball, but motor racing is what he calls....his life.

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