For the people tuning into this Saturday’s NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants them to keep in mind one key question: “Could this work in the Cup Series?”
For the first time ever, NASCAR and the IndyCar Series are racing at the same track over the same weekend. IndyCar kicks things off Saturday with the GMR Grand Prix at noon ET, followed by NASCAR’s second-tier XFINITY Series in the Pennzoil 150. Both races will be on Indy’s road course, which is a first for the NASCAR Series.
The top-tier Cup Series race on Sunday, however, will still be on the iconic 2.5-mile oval, marking the first time the Cup and XFINITY series will have two races in the same location but on different tracks.
As Earnhardt noted on his Dale Jr. Download podcast this week, the XFINITY Series experimenting with stock cars on Indy’s road course could potentially lead to the Cup Series moving from the iconic oval to the road course too, especially “if the [Cup] racing continues to be boring or not satisfactory at the oval.”
Like many racing fans, Earnhardt — who owns JR Motorsports, an XFINITY team — said he’s “really, really excited” about the XFINITY Series racing on the road course. He explained on the Dale Jr. Download:
“I think the road course there has always been a point of conversation. There’s been times throughout the racing at Indianapolis for the Cup cars where the racing hasn’t been that great. With the new rules package, we’re kind of still sifting through to see whether this is going to improve the racing at Indy on the oval.
“But a lot of people have called for the possibility or the idea for the Cup Series to go to the road course and try to race the road course at Indy. This will be the first test of whether that’s really the move to make. So I think as we’re watching this race Saturday, we need to keep in mind not only are we watching it to see who wins and we’re pulling for our favorite drivers and all that good stuff. But we’re also watching it with the idea of: Could this work in the Cup Series?
“I think everybody should pay attention while they’re watching the XFINITY race and make that decision for themselves at the end. Did what you see — would you like to see the Cup cars doing just what you saw the XFINITY cars doing on Saturday? Because if the Cup racing at the [Indy] oval doesn’t improve or doesn’t trend toward more exciting racing, then they might have to make a change or they likely will make a change.”
Earnhardt fully admitted that his excitement over just the idea of the Cup Series taking on Indy’s road course is largely because he retired from the Cup Series and moved to NBC Sports’ broadcast booth. He clearly wants to watch a Cup race on the road course, but he said he wouldn’t want to actually race in it.
Back in January, Matt DiBenedetto was the first NASCAR driver to test on Indy’s road course, and because of that, the full-time Cup Series driver is ineligible to compete in this first XFINITY race. But after the test, DiBenedetto said he’s “jealous” of the NASCAR drivers racing on it.
On the Dale Jr. Download, Earnhardt continued explaining why he’s enthusiastic about the hypothetical idea of the NASCAR Cup Series switching to Indy’s road course from the oval:
“I like the idea because the IndyCar oval is — that belongs to IndyCar, that belongs to open-wheel, that belongs to the legends of [A.J.] Foyt and [Mario] Andretti. We are merely just guests — I’ve always said that. That’s what it’s felt like. … So if that was taken away, our cars racing there doesn’t have this long tradition. We just started racing there since .
“We’re not losing this tradition or history of great triumphs and exciting finishes going back into the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, like maybe you have at Daytona or even Charlotte, right? That’s the one thing I’m afraid of for Charlotte, if we quit racing the oval entirely, is losing all that history and tradition of what happened there and the race and the triumphs that have happened there. So I’m OK with this though. If we moved away from the oval and when Cup cars go to Indy, we run the road course, I’d be OK with that.”
Of course, there is no guarantee the XFINITY Series taking on Indy’s road course will produce captivating racing. And even if it does, NASCAR could still keep the Cup Series on the iconic oval.
But between the half-oval, half-road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway and mixing up things in the nine-month schedule — prior to COVID-19 reshaping the schedule too — NASCAR has shown its willingness to experiment and offer fans some variety. So maybe sometime in the future, Cup cars on the Indy road course will be next.