The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is hallowed ground as far as the racing world is concerned. The 2.5-mile rectangular layout provides the setting for the most famous auto racing event in the world. The Indianapolis 500 has been contested every year since 1911 with the exception of the World War years.
Winning at IMS would be a dream come true for any racer, and in 1994, the drivers from NASCAR would also be given the opportunity to experience that dream. And since then, legendary names such as Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson and Jarrett have been among those NASCAR stars to visit the victory lane located in the town of Speedway, Indiana.
But the 2021 version of the Cup Series race held at IMS this Sunday will be different from the previous Brickyard 400 races. Instead of the traditional oval track, the top division of NASCAR will employ the 2.4-mile road course that uses some of the oval along with a twisting layout that traverses through the infield of the legendary facility.
Drivers will still have the opportunity to win at the world’s most famous racing address but not on the track that has been made so famous since Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500.
So, will winning the ‘Verizon 200 at the Brickyard’ carry the same weight as the Brickyard 400?
Very quickly after its inception, the Brickyard 400 came to be regarded as one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races along with the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500. That lofty status, of course, came from the fact that the race was held on the historic grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And in particular, it was held on the 2.5-mile oval layout.
The problem with the races held on the traditional track is they tended to play out as follow-the-leader type affairs with little passing, especially for the lead. As a result, the decision was made by both NASCAR and the Roger Penske-led team at IMS to stage this year’s Cup Series race on the venue’s road course. This holds true with the growing trend of adding more right hand turns to the top level of the stock car-based series.
So yes, this race will still be held in front of racing’s most famous grandstands but not entirely on racing’s most famous track.
The road course portion of IMS does not have the history that the oval track does, not even close. Yes, there were Formula 1 races held there but only for a relatively short period of time and with little historical note in terms of that form of motorsports. For all intents and purposes, this is a new race on a new track that just happens to be on the same property as the Indianapolis 500.
This may very well turn out to be a better race than most of those held on the oval track. However, the ‘Verizon 200 at the Brickyard’ is not a crown jewel and will not carry the same weight as winning of the traditional layout. Certainly, the winning team will likely kiss the bricks at the end of the day and will be able to call themselves an Indy winner.
The IndyCar race held a couple of weeks prior to the Indianapolis 500 does not hold the same place in the lore of that form of racing as does the traditional Memorial Day weekend event.
The Brickyard 400 held the status that it held, even in NASCAR, because took place on the same track at which A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, and the Unsers had won. This Sunday’s contest might very well turn out to be a great race, perhaps even the race of the year. But, of course, winning it will not carry the same weight as the Daytona 500 nor even that of the Coca-Cola 600 or the Southern 500 in terms of assuring the victor’s place in the sport’s history.
The victor will have won just another NASCAR Cup Series race.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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