Story By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – SPEEDWAY, IN – The review was clearly evident on Matt DiBenedetto’s face and in his voice. After only one morning testing a NASCAR Xfinity Series car for the first time on one of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road courses, DiBenedetto’s reaction said it all.
“It’s been fun,’’ DiBenedetto said during a break from the test Wednesday morning, adding, “I’m already jealous of these [NASCAR] Xfinity [Series] guys, just how cool the race is going to be and how good of a show it’s going to put on.’’
Last week, Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s new owner, Roger Penske, announced – in conjunction with NASCAR – that this season’s July 4 Xfinity Series race at the famed facility would be run on its road course instead of the traditional 2.5-mile oval that will host a NASCAR Cup Series race the following the day.
And DiBenedetto, who moves to the famed Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford for the 2020 Cup Series season, was chosen to test the two Indianapolis road courses as NASCAR decides which will be the best option for the summer race. There are varying layouts with one course featuring 12 turns and the other including 14 turns.
“There’s high speed stuff,’’ DiBenedetto said. “There’s low speed stuff. So, it’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint for race-ability.
“Also, the little chicane back there coming on the straightaway is really technical. I’m still figuring out my approach to that. There’s a lot of different elements to the racetrack that makes it exciting.’’
As part of the testing agreement, DiBenedetto is not allowed to compete in the Indianapolis Xfinity Series race, but that didn’t temper his enthusiasm for what to expect, whichever road course NASCAR decides to use. It was hard to see an early favorite based upon his or NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director Wayne Auton’s comments and reactions Wednesday.
“We’re working on a lot, as Matt alluded to, on the 14-turn, the 12-turn course and we’ll take all the data back with us to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina and evaluate all of it and then make an announcement here pretty soon which course we’ll run,’’ Auton said.
“Matt’s done a great job and I think his heart rate got up a little bit there on the 12-turn course going into one,’’ Auton continued with a smile. “You can’t say enough about Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Roger Penske’s idea of getting the NASCAR Xfinity Series cars on the road course and [Indianapolis Motor Speedway President] Doug Boles, what a job his whole staff has done here at Indy to accommodate us here today so we can get great data for the team.’’
Auton credited Goodyear for the tires it brought to the Indianapolis test session – tires used at multiple other road courses in the Xfinity Series from Road America and Mid-Ohio to the Charlotte ROVAL. He reminded that this week’s test will be very helpful to Goodyear in making its tire recommendations as well.
Both DiBenedetto and Auton were impressed with the early runs and eager to see what this new venue will present to the Xfinity Series drivers, who compete on more road courses (now five) than any other of NASCAR’s three national series.
“Technicality of the driver inside the race car is going to make a huge difference,’’ Auton said. “Whether you can get through [turns] five or six and out-brake somebody getting into [turn] seven or either get off of [turns] 12, 13, 14 and get down the frontstretch and out-brake somebody going into one. That’s probably, from what we’ve seen so far with Matt’s input, that will be two areas that really you’ll see a lot of passing at.
“Now I can tell you, those drivers manning these Xfinity cars, they don’t mind rubbing a little bit. We’ll see how they hold up here at Indy.’’