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No. 9: NASCAR, INDYCAR Share IMS for First Time

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2020 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR first arrived at the Racing Capital of the World in August 1994 for the inaugural Brickyard 400. Despite some skepticism from longtime IMS observers and open-wheel devotees, the first Cup Series race on the 2.5-mile IMS oval was a rousing success, propelling former Indiana resident Jeff Gordon into racing’s stratosphere with his historic victory.

But for the next 20 years or so, the Brickyard 400 stood alone on its late July or early August date as one of NASCAR’s crown jewels. The Month of May continued to belong only to INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500.

While there was certainly plenty of crossover interest among teams and competitors in the two series, the sanctity and status quo of their respective race weekends remained intact. But in recent years, the concept of a joint weekend at the same track between NASCAR and INDYCAR started to gain traction.

And why not? They’re the two most popular motorsports series in North America. There has been more and more crossover between the Cup Series and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with star drivers such as Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch making starts in both.

These crossover moves have helped break down any walls that may have existed between fans of the two series. Both NASCAR and INDYCAR produce great racing, so it’s all good, right?

A move toward a joint weekend was making inexorable progress, especially after Roger Penske completed his purchase of IMS and INDYCAR in early January 2020. Penske Racing fields teams in the Cup Series and NTT INDYCAR SERIES, among its many racing operations. If anyone could bridge the gap and make this weekend happen, it was The Captain.

But this historic union between NASCAR and INDYCAR finally became reality out of desire – and a healthy dose of necessity – in perhaps the most challenging year ever in global motorsport, 2020.

Track activity during the Month of May at IMS wasn’t possible due to public health guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge was moved to Aug. 23, but a spot was needed for the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course that normally opened track activity for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in May.

NASCAR already was scheduled to race on the IMS road course for the first time Saturday, July 4, as the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard for the Xfinity Series was unveiled in mid-January. So, why not add the GMR Grand Prix for INDYCAR to that date’s schedule and create a one-of-a-kind weekend of NASCAR and INDYCAR on the same circuit on the same day, with the Big Machine 400 at the Brickyard the next day on the IMS oval?

It was ambitious. It was historic. And it ended up being fantastic – with one exception.

Scott Dixon kicked off the historic day of racing on the Fourth of July with a victory in the GMR Grand Prix, with Indiana native Chase Briscoe winning a wild Xfinity Series debut on the road course just a few hours later.

IMS crews quickly and skillfully converted the facility from road course to oval format for the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard the next day, with Kevin Harvick earning his third career victory in the NASCAR crown jewel.

About the only downside to the history-making weekend was the lack of spectators in attendance at IMS due to continued restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The weekend was so well received by teams and fans watching at home that it was scheduled again for Aug. 13-15, 2021, with the Xfinity Series and NTT INDYCAR SERIES racing on Saturday, Aug. 14 and the Cup Series competing Sunday, Aug. 15. But there will be yet another new wrinkle in 2021, as all three series will race on the road course for the first time.

And everyone hopes fans will be able to again flock to the Speedway to see this magic in person.

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