The first full NASCAR weekend on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was one to remember: but probably not for the reasons Doug Boles, Roger Penske, IMS, and the sport had hoped for.
The word of the weekend was “curbs” after multiple pieces of curbing dramatically hindered both Xfinity Series (NXS) and Cup races at the 14-turn road course.
First, on Saturday, a large orange curb on the exit of turn 6 wiped out multiple cars on the opening lap of the NXS Pennzoil 150. The large orange “turtle”, placed on Hulman Boulevard appeared to unexpectedly blindside the drivers when they left the turn 5-6 chicane on the course’s second straightaway.
Despite being placed there for both Friday’s practice and Saturday morning’s qualifying session, the drivers rows behind the leaders couldn’t see the large orange curbing. Two-time series champion Kevin Harvick, Mazda Miata racer Preston Pardus and series regulars Brandon Jones and Brandon Brown were all eliminated on the opening lap because of the orange menace.
Harrison Burton, Chase Elliott, and Austin Hill also hit the curbing but managed to continue after the opening lap mess.
When the green flag flew to begin Stage 2, curbing struck again.
Kris Wright entered turn 5 wide as Ty Gibbs got spun towards the old Formula 1 layout of the course. Wright was committing to missing the turn and straightened his Sam Hunt Racing Supra to hit the curb straight-on. Unfortunately, the contact with that blue-and-white curbing launched his iHeartRadio Toyota several feet into the air. Miraculously, he kept the car from spinning but retired from the race with extreme damage to the underside of the No. 26.
On lap 44, Elliott made contact with JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer in the turns 5-6 complex trying to avoid the blue-and-white curbing on the inside of the turn. As a result, Mayer lost control of his blank No. 8 and had two options: Hit the orange curb or spin into the grass. He chose grass, but unfortunatlety the momentum carried him into a tire barrier. Either way, his JRM Chevy was going to be destroyed. He continued, briefly, limping to an exit of the course in turn 7, done for the day.
Before Sunday’s inaugural Verizon 200, NASCAR and IMS removed the big orange curbing on the outside of turn 6, but left intact both curbs inside turn 5.
Sunday’s race started much smoother — no curb drama on the opening lap. In fact, the curbing wasn’t a major factor until the final six laps. A track repair squad had been working on that curb for most of the race, and later-on, an entire splitter and oil pan was found underneath the temporary curb. Most on social media assumed it came off Aric Almirola’s Ford after he crashed in that section on lap 42.
On the lap 77 restart, Kurt and Kyle Busch drove through turns 5 and 6 side-by-side and when their two machines left the scene, debris was seen flying all over the track. Martin Truex Jr. spun out in the midst of trash, but NASCAR kept the race under green as the No. 19 continued on after contact with a tire barrier. At the same time, Corey LaJoie hit the horizontal curb and went flying in the air, reminiscent of Wright’s crash on Saturday.
When the field returned to the corners the next lap, William Byron’s No. 24 completely peeled off a section of the curb, destroying the front-end of his Hendrick Motorsports Camaro. With oil all over the track from Byron’s destroyed Chevy, curbing loose and missing in some spots, and then grass flying onto the racing surface, a huge nine-car crash erupted off the sixth turn.
Byron and Kyle Busch spun in unison through the grass while Joey Logano pounded into a tire barrier head-on. Daniel Suarez, Ryan Preece, Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, James Davison, and potentially more were involved in the chaos. NASCAR red-flagged the race and IMS removed the curb that came up.
The track did, however, leave the longer curb that sat horizontal to the racing surface. That curb was dubbed “the ramp” on social media, being the one Wright and LaJoie pierced.
After a lengthy red flag and caution period, the race resumed for an Overtime Green-White-Checkered finish. When the field returned to turns 5 and 6, another crash ensued.
This time, Michael McDowell hit the ramp and went flying briefly with his Mustang. Austin Dillon, Cole Custer, Truex Jr., and Tyler Reddick were involved in this melee. Many speculated this crash was the result of the removal of the curb that went along with the track, as this was the first lap at speed through the reconfigured chicane.
Commentators on NBC Sports, along with those on Twiter, even questioned how it could be the same race with an altered track.
The race would finally finish on the next restart attempt after another long red flag and caution period. While the curb wasn’t the subject of the final restart, the drama between the two race leaders would be.
Ryan Newman hit the turn 6 curb on the final restart but managed to keep his No. 6 Fusion heading in the right direction. Through the last lap mayhem, Newman managed a 10th-place finish.
All-in-all, this weekend’s racing from Indianapolis was meant to be a historic weekend where NASCAR and IndyCar drivers freely enjoyed each other’s presence on the same circuit on the same weekend for the first time in history. Unfortunately, history will instead focus on what became of the inaugural Verizon 200. Curbs coming off the road, a dump-and-run for the lead, track limit penalties, and a part-time team stealing the win at one of the most hallowed venues on the calendar.