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Nationwide heads to Indianapolis in 2012

7 July 2011

The Nationwide Series will be racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 2012, after organisers confirmed a switch away from Lucas Oil Raceway also located in the city of Indianapolis.

The Nationwide race will form part of IMS's race weekend at the end of July focused around the Sprint Cup Brickyard 400 race, one of the top events of the Cup season.

"This is a very important announcement for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," said Jeff Belskus, the CEO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It's going to make for just a really exciting weekend. We're going to triple our hours of track activity here. That will be good for the fans. It will be good for the sponsors.

"We're billing it as a Super Weekend in motorsports. To come here and see all the different types of competition, whether it be on the road course or on the oval, it will be great for our fans, it will be good for the sponsors. It's going to be a fun weekend."

The Nationwide race will be held on the 2.5-mile Speedway on Saturday July 28, with Grand-Am (also owned by NASCAR) featured on the Friday running on the old F1 road course, and the Cup race itself on the oval on Sunday.

NASCAR and IMS management are hoping that the switch will arrest declining attendance at the Brickyard 400. Crowd numbers have dipped sharply in recent years, and problems with tyre wear on the Speedway have been a major issue in the decline as they led to multiple cautions. Tyre failures were so bad in the Cup race in 2008 that it was almost reminiscent of the F1 debacle that saw only six cars complete in the 2005 Indianapolis Grand Prix after Michelin suffered a string of major failures and was unable to certify the safety of their tyres to the teams. The event contributed heavily to the subsequent withdrawal of both F1 from Indianapolis and of Michelin from F1.

That's ancient history now, and everyone is hoping that the new line-up of races for 2012 will reverse the decline and see bigger crowds at IMS, which has capacity for 200,000 spectators.

"It's great. I think it will help everyone," said AJ Foyt, four-time Indy 500 winner. "For all of the drivers who have never had the chance to compete at the Speedway, whether they're in the sports cars or stock cars, I think they will be thrilled to death.

"I wish I was younger because I would have enjoyed running the road course there myself," he added. "I might even show up to watch it - I've been fortunate enough to see all of the inaugural events run at the Speedway since the Brickyard 400 in 1994. If there's a way to make it, I will."

"That's going to be a pretty big deal," said Kyle Busch. "There's not many series that get an opportunity to race at the big track, so for the Nationwide Series, it will be a huge deal."

Busch is a Cup season regular and also makes appearances in Nationwide, and on hearing the news about the switch to IMS he confirmed: "I'm excited about it. I bet you I'll be in it."

"It's awesome they're going to the big track," said Busch's team mate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Joey Logano. "It's the Brickyard. It's a cool race track. That and Daytona are up there right next to each other on how cool those two tracks are."

"Just to come here to Indianapolis to race anything is huge," said Carl Edwards. "It will be a lot of fun. It will be different because we'll be able to sit back and watch some of these spectacular races, you know, during the Super Weekend next year. It will be cool for all the drivers."

The switch means that a three decade historic association between NASCAR and Lucas Oil Raceway is at an end. Nationwide has run at the 30,000-capacity 0.686 mile short oval - formerly called Indianapolis Raceway Park - since 1982 when the series began, with the Camping World Truck Series joining the line-up in 1995.

“We are disappointed that the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series will not return to Lucas Oil Raceway on their customary race weekend" said Wes Collier, general manager of Lucas Oil Raceway. "The Kroger 200 and the AAA Insurance 200 have long been one of the 'can't miss' events for race fans in the Midwest."

Track officials said that they would not be hosting a Truck Series race during the Indy race weekend in 2012, even though there is no Truck race scheduled for the Indianapolis event. Although the door has been "left open" for other stand-alone deals for Truck or even Nationwide events to be held there, Lucas Oil Raceway management did not say it was actively pursuing any such events.

Defending Truck Series champion Todd Bodine was among those who was sorry to be losing the short oval venue. "I don't like the thought of Trucks and Nationwide not going back," he said. "There's so much history, so much tradition. We've lost that part of our sport, the history and tradition of the short track ... That's where most of us grew up.

"You have to have advancement, you have to grow, you have to do all those things and unfortunately part of the casualty of that is the tradition," he conceded, adding: "It's a shame. I hope we still race there."

But the allure of the "big track" at IMS proved irresistible and does indeed add to the impression that Nationwide is becoming a big deal in its own right and at last stepping out of the shadow of its Cup big brother.

"Indy has always been a place that I wanted to race, and I always just assumed I had to get to the Sprint Cup level to race it," said Nationwide series driver Brian Scott. "NASCAR bringing the Nationwide Series there, that brings me a lot of excitement. I'm looking forward to next year."

"For myself, it's going to be huge just to make laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway," said Roush Fenway Nationwide driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. "It's something every race car driver wants to do. It doesn't matter what series you race in. To finally be able to do that is going to be a huge, huge deal in my accomplishments of racing."


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