For the first time in history, NASCAR stock cars are on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. As part of a 4th of July doubleheader with the NTT IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series ran the legendary track’s infield layout for the Pennzoil 150. The race lived up to its hype in its final laps as Chase Briscoe engaged in a wild battle for the victory with Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, and Noah Gragson. Although a late error dropped him back, a dramatic move with two laps left propelled Briscoe back to the front en route to his fifth win of 2020.
Less than two hours after IndyCar’s GMR Grand Prix, JR Motorsports team-mates Jeb Burton and Michael Annett led the Xfinity grid to the Pennzoil 150’s green flag. Other notable faces in the field included Mike Wallace, who started fourteenth in his first NASCAR race since 2015, and road course ringers Jade Buford (seventeenth in his NASCAR début), Preston Pardus (nineteenth), and Brandon Gdovic (thirty-eighth). Allmendinger, a longtime NASCAR veteran and road course expert, started at the back in thirtieth.
The pole-sitter Burton would fall off the pace with power steering issues, leaving Cindric and Justin Allgaier to battle with each other for the early lead. Vehicle-related issues would also plague other drivers in the field during the first stage. Jeffrey Earnhardt and Brett Moffitt both exited the race with a broken trackbar and mechanical failure, respectively, though the latter would return. With four laps remaining in the stage, Vinnie Miller‘s right-front tyre went down to end the segment under caution. Cindric took the stage win ahead of Allgaier.
Stage #2 was dominated by Cindric’s fight with Briscoe for the lead. However, a caution for Bayley Currey‘s stopped car eventually led to controversy when Cindric was penalised for shooting past Briscoe—who had the authority of controlling the restart as the race leader—coming to the green flag. Cindric and his Team Penske crew argued he had received a push from behind by Riley Herbst while Briscoe had a slow restart, giving the appearance that he had jumped the restart. Nevertheless, he served his pass-through penalty.
With five laps left in the segment, Brandon Jones‘ car burst into flames with a brake line failure. Briscoe stayed out under caution to retain the lead for a two-lap sprint to the green-checkered, and held off Ryan Sieg for the stage win. Amidst the frenetic nature of the restart, Timmy Hill collided with Gragson and turned him into the grass, through no caution came out.
Briscoe held the top position as the final stage began. Shortly after, Moffitt spun entering turn one and Wallace stopped to avoid him. Although the incident did not lead to a yellow flag, Tommy Joe Martins‘ lost axle did; it has been a rough season for Martins and his family-owned team, which has been plagued by mechanical issues throughout the year. Allgaier, who is replacing Jimmie Johnson in the #48 car in Sunday’s Cup Series race, was penalised for removing equipment from the box during his stop.
The race resumed with seven laps remaining as Briscoe and Allmendinger duked it out. At the back, Kody Vanderwal spun, though there was no yellow. With the race staying green, Allmendinger hunted down Briscoe.
With four laps to go, Briscoe made what seemed to be a fatal error as he missed the corner, with Cindric and Gragson entering the conversation. The four continued their battle for the next two laps. On the penultimate lap, Briscoe threw his #98 down Allmendinger’s inside line as the four entered turn one, a move that ultimately paid off as the Indiana native cleared the others.
Allmendinger, Cindric, and Gragson could not catch him as the points leader stormed off to his fifth win of the year, seventh in the Xfinity Series, and second on a road course. Incidentally, the first road course win also came on an infield configuration (the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in 2018).
The win comes with additional meaning for Briscoe as his home NASCAR track. Furthermore, the Indiana native races for Stewart-Haas Racing, a team co-owned by his idol and fellow Hoosier Tony Stewart; Briscoe also emulated his boss by climbing the catchfence in celebration. Similarly, Briscoe’s interim crew chief Greg Zippadelli served the same position for Stewart for much of his driving career.
“This was an unbelievable feeling,” Briscoe tweeted, “I’ve came here throughout my childhood and always would cherish just looking at the bricks. Can’t believe a small town Indiana kid got to kiss them at @IMS.”
The move to the road course had been announced in January after eight seasons on the oval. The Cup Series will remain on the oval for Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400. Nevertheless, many fans and media members have since made the call for the premier series to follow its developmental counterpart. For instance, The Athletic’s Jordan Bianchi tweeted, “If NASCAR wanted to go ahead and shift tomorrow’s Brickyard 400 to the road course I don’t think too many people would object.”
James Small, the crew chief for Cup driver Martin Truex Jr., remarked he is “pretty sure tomorrow will be the last @Nascar Cup race on the @IMS oval after that…”