NASCAR Cup drivers offer mixed reaction to first look at Indianapolis road course

INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick made their opinions perfectly clear Saturday. They would rather be racing on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s historic oval.

Other drivers didn’t seem to mind the switch.

Now, after one short practice session, Cup drivers will spend Saturday night plotting their strategical twists and turns for Sunday’s reconfigured and renamed Brickyard 200.

“I really enjoyed it,” Kyle Larson said after posting the third-fastest lap in practice at 97.445 mph. “I thought it was flowing and there were some hard-braking zones. I seemed to adapt to it pretty quickly, so I was definitely pleased.”

That’s not good news for the rest of the field.

Larson is this season’s points leader after adding his series-high fifth victory last week on the road course at Watkins Glen. The only drivers who went faster Saturday were Martin Truex Jr. at 98.021 and William Byron at 97.487.

Many wonder if the series’ best drivers should even be competing on the road course. Declining attendance and complaints about passing on the 2.5-mile oval had race organizers searching for ways to inject excitement into Brickyard weekend for years. They seemed to inadvertently find a solution last year when the Indianapolis Grand Prix was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. IndyCar officials rescheduled the race as part of a rare crossover weekend with the top two NASCAR series.

When Chase Briscoe outdueled AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric in the final laps to win the Xfinity race, organizers thought it might be a preview of how it would work with the Cup cars.

This year, they brought back the three-series, three-race weekend, putting all three on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course for the first time while cutting the Brickyard distance in half.

“It’s definitely not the same Indianapolis,” said Harvick, the defending Brickyard winner. “This place is built on the history of its oval. For me growing up as a kid, this is where I wanted to race, and to come here and race on the road course is a little degrading, I guess you could say.”

After Busch’s car rolled off the truck and into a subpar practice session, the two-time series champ and two-time Brickyard winner called the course a “parking lot.”

All they can do now is wait until Sunday’s race to determine if NASCAR made the right call.

“It’s different, but it’s not the end of the world to me,” Chase Elliott said. “I mean, we’re still at Indy and we’re still racing here, so I guess at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter too much.”

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