With the NASCAR Xfinity Series set to race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway‘s road course in July, Matt DiBenedetto got to work. On Wednesday, he drove a Team Penske Xfinity car around the track’s infield layouts in a test session.
DiBenedetto joined the Penske stable via ally Wood Brothers Racing for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. In recent years, he has enjoyed success in NASCAR’s road races, including a fourth-place finish in the Cup race at Sonoma Raceway and leading the most laps in the Xfinity Road America race in 2019. However, he will not be eligible to run the Xfinity race due to NASCAR testing rules. For the test, he drove the #22 Ford Mustang, typically run by Austin Cindric; on Twitter, Cindric quipped, “Matty D stole the keys to my ride today.”
The test consisted of runs on two IMS layouts, driving along twelve- and fourteen-turn courses. The former utilises oval turn one, while the latter skips it in favour of an infield chicane. The fourteen-turn layout is currently used by the NTT IndyCar Series for its GMR Grand Prix, while Formula One‘s United States Grand Prix formerly raced on a thirteen-turn configuration that used oval turn one. NASCAR has not confirmed which of the two will be used for the Xfinity race, so data collected from the test will be used to make a final decision.
“The part that I liked the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities,” DiBenedetto commented. “That was one of the things we wanted to evaluate is how it’s going to race, how technical it is and the passing zones. So the cool thing is what we love as road racers is heavy braking zones. […] There’s high-speed stuff, there’s low-speed stuff, so it’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint for race-ability.”
Goodyear was also present at the test, providing a pair of tyre types. One set was used at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, while the other saw action at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Road America.
“The one thing with the engineers that are here and Matt’s input inside the race car is we look at the gearing to make sure that we aren’t too slow with RPMs when you get into the slower turns that we have here, or that you’re not hitting the (rev-limiter) chip going down this long front straightaway or the long back straightaway that upsets the engine,” Xfinity Series director Wayne Auton stated. “There’s a lot of data that we’ll look to the team for. Matt’s input inside the race car is valuable. He’s given us already a lot of information today with the couple of runs that we’ve already done that will be very valuable for us to take back to our engineers.”
The change to the road course was announced last Wednesday, ending an eight-year run for NASCAR’s second tier on the oval. Scheduled for the 4th of July, the Pennzoil-sponsored race will be the fifth road course event on the Xfinity calendar. In addition to the Charlotte Roval, Mid-Ohio, and Road America, it joins Watkins Glen International.