The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is synonymous with history, which is not lost on Kevin Harvick. As one of only three active drivers that have won the Brickyard 400, Harvick cherishes the moment every year when they descend upon 16th and Georgetown and drive under the track through the tunnel.

Harvick has made history on the famed oval that he so deeply reveres. The veteran driver has three Brickyard 400 wins and has led 389 laps in the race. Only Jeff Gordon has led more. Harvick ranks 3rd all-time in top-five finishes in the race and 2nd in top-tens. His 8.6 average finishing position is the best among all drivers in the history of the event.

Kevin won the last two Brickyard 400 races, in 2019 and 2020. His finishes in the four years prior to that were 3rd, 6th, 6th, and 4th. His three Brickyard poles are just another example of how strong he was on the oval.

His deep ties with the oval made it difficult for Harvick to come to terms with racing on the road course last year. “It’s just another race,” he admitted. “For me, that was a difficult hurdle to overcome. It’s an oval thing.” He finished 14th in the race last year, and qualified 18th for today’s race.

"It’s definitely an oval thing for me," Harvick said. "Driving through that tunnel and understanding the history and everything that comes with racing on the oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is something that I always look forward to. The oval just holds a huge place in racing and it holds a huge place in the things that I look forward to every year.”

"I remember the first time I pulled in there for a test in 2001 and you roll into the racetrack and you think, ‘Man, I just accomplished everything in my childhood dreams, rolling into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.’ Getting to go out on that racetrack and hearing the echoes of the cars through the grandstand is something that I’ll never forget."

Growing up, Harvick had dreamed of racing on the famed oval. "I grew up a Rick Mears fan wanting to race in the Indy 500, so not racing on the oval for me is a gut check. As a kid, that’s where I wanted to race." With one more win on the oval, Harvick could match the four-time Indy 500 winner's total.

The memories of when the Brickyard finally became a reality is something that sticks with Harvick. "It's unbelievable. It’s the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I’m just old school. Watching them run the Cup cars around there the first time in 1994 and remember the excitement and enthusiasm that I had my whole life to go race on the oval."

The Cup Series spent decades trying to find their way to Speedway, Indiana. Finally, Tony George made it happen with a test in 1993, followed by the first NASCAR race in 1994. Those first races were won by titans of the sport – Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett all found victory lane at Indianapolis.

Like those before him, Roger Penske saved IMS, but in a different way. Just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States, The Captain purchased the venue from the Hulman-George family, who held ownership for nearly 75 years. Penske immediately went to work on making improvements, something that still continues to this day.

There have been a ton of upgrades, with many more to come. Large digital screens were put in all around the facility. Gravel lots were paved. Seats were replaced. Walls were painted. Bathrooms were refurnished and wireless technology was significantly improved. Nearly every change was viewed as a monumental success.

Then came the decision to move the Brickyard 400 to the road course. It began a year prior with the Xfinity Series switching to the infield course. That race was invigorating, filled with drama and intense racing. That was all that Roger needed to see to make the change.

IMS President Doug Boles shed some light on how the decision came to be. When Roger Penske took the wheel, he specifically asked about this event. "One of the first things he asked was how do we grow the NASCAR event and what can we do for that? We went through a list of things and he said that if you guys believe that the road course makes sense for Xfinity, then lets figure out how to do it."

Boles said that Roger and his group helped lobby NASCAR to make the change. "We got a call the next week from NASCAR saying we’ve got to test, and can we come up in January? We worked through that and it was quick. A neat thing about working with Roger is, if he feels like it’s the right thing and that customer experience is going to be better, he’s going to pull the trigger right away."

Count Austin Dillon as one of the drivers that already misses the 2.5-mile oval. “We lost a crown jewel,” he said. “I don’t think the road course will ever be what the oval history has, so I’m kind of disappointed we don’t get to race on the oval anymore.” What about the possibility of two Cup races?

“I wouldn’t mind going twice and doing it two different ways,” Dillon suggested. “If we have to run the road course, we still want to be able to run the oval because of the history and legacy there. Everybody wants a real Brickyard trophy.”

Jimmie Johnson has four of those real Brickyard trophies. The seven-time Cup champion made his Indianapolis 500 debut two months ago with Chip Ganassi. Johnson may no longer compete in this series, but he certainly has an opinion that matters.

“There’s nothing like racing on the oval, and the pageantry and pre-race and all that goes into it. Not every car fits every circuit perfectly, and I’m proud of NASCAR trying something different, but if that doesn’t work like everyone thinks it will, I’m sure we’ll go back to the oval.”

Denny Hamlin, who has three crown jewels on his resume, would certain like to add another one with the Brickyard 400. He also believes the series will return to the oval, possibly very soon.

"Maybe we can alternate or something. I certainly think the Brickyard is special and Indianapolis is special because of the oval. I don’t think that (2020) is the last time we’ll be on the Brickyard oval." With the top concern being the on-track product, could the NextGen car be the simple solution?

This current generation car has produced some compelling racing this season. Some races that had become stale in recent years, were suddenly reinvigorated. The events at Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas, and Charlotte were all much better this season because of the new product these cars produce.

"It could be the greatest race on earth," insists Harvick. "What is the real ingredient that made Charlotte so much better than Texas? I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. You just have to do it. I think that would be the only way you would find out."

"It is kind of a stumper to try to figure out exactly what the ingredients are that make a good race or a bad race and what tracks are good and what tracks are bad. I wish somebody could tell me because I would have bet a million dollars last week that Charlotte was going to be horrendous. Then all of a sudden we are running up on a part of the race track that we haven’t run in five or six years."

Kurt Busch believes there is a path to getting back on the oval, but it requires some work.

"After watching the Indy 500 and racing in it a few years back, there are options for downforce that teams have in other forms of motorsport. In NASCAR, we’re basically boxed into this very small box of adjustments. Let the teams have more downforce that they can take out of the front or the rear. That would create different packages on the same style track. That might open things up to who has short run speed versus long run speed in a different way."

The issue on the IMS oval has always been that it was difficult for Cup cars to run side-by-side due to the narrow groove in the corners. That is something that Ryan Blaney doesn't think would be solved by the NextGen car.

"With the prior car, with a little bit of skew in them, you’d pray for like six inches or a foot that the car ahead would miss the bottom. If you could get in clean air, you’re in decent shape. Now there is zero skew in them. You would need half a car length and that is not going to happen. I honestly think that it would be worse in this car."

"I love racing big Indy just for nostalgia purposes but I think it would be a worse race than what we had. I remember growing up and watching my dad run there as a kid. It's even more special when I started driving for Mr. Penske. His history behind that race track. And it was obviously a huge emphasis on going and trying to win that race. And now, since he owns the track, it's even more of an emphasis."

Penske met with the media on Friday and confirmed that the Cup race next year will once again run on the road course. He did reiterate that they are evaluating whether to switch to the oval in 2024, including the possibility of alternating each year.

Should that come to fruition, the question would then be how that looks. Daytona and Charlotte both have two races each season – one on the oval and one on the road course. With so many tracks starving for Cup dates, that could be just wishful thinking. One lucky driver will still get to kiss the bricks this afternoon, it just won’t taste as sweet.