Roger Diez: Historic weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway | NevadaAppeal.com
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Roger Diez: Historic weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By Roger Diez

This is a historic weekend. It’s the first time both NASCAR stock cars and the open-wheel Indy Cars will run on the same weekend at the same facility. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is hosting both the IndyCar GMS Grand Prix on the road course and the NASCAR Cup on the oval. And the Xfinity series will also be on the road course for the Pennzoil 150. The IndyCar race will air starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, with the Xfinity series to follow at noon. Sunday coverage of the NASCAR Cup Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 will begin at 1 p.m. PDT. All three races will air on NBC.

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Although it will be the first IndyCar outing since Texas on June 6, the NASCAR Cup raced twice last weekend at Pocono. Kevin Harvick took the win on Saturday, elevating him to three-time 2020 winner status. Not to be outdone, Denny Hamlin beat Harvick to the checkered flag on Sunday, making him the sole four-time season winner. Hamlin’s Pocono victory was his sixth, tying him with Jeff Gordon for the most career wins at the “tricky triangle.”

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There will be no fans on hand at Indy this weekend, both sanctioning bodies and the Roger Penske-owned speedway adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. But we will have a front-row seat via television for all three races. Two of the weekend’s TV commentators will also be on the track: James Hinchcliffe will race in the IndyCar event, then switch to the booth, while A.J. Allmendinger will provide commentary for the IndyCar race and then take to the track for the Xfinity race.

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The IndyCar race will have a field of 26 cars with five Indy 500 winners, five past IndyCar champions, and four rookies in the field. Sadly, the 2004 series champion and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan will not be in the field. It is the first race in America’s top-level open wheel racing he will miss since his debut in Portland in June 2001, breaking a streak of 318 consecutive starts. The IndyCar series has run six times on the Indy road course, but only two drivers have won there: Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, with three wins each – Pagenaud in 2014, ‘16, and ‘19, Power in 2015, ’17 and ’18. Watch for their teammate and defending series champ Josef Newgarden or Ganassi driver and five-time series champion Scott Dixon try to break that string today.

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As for the 27th NASCAR Cup race at the Brickyard, only five active drivers have won at the 2.5-mile oval with four distinct corners. Jimmie Johnson leads with four Brickyard victories, just one short of Jeff Gordon who won five times… 1994, 2014, and three times in between. Kyle Busch and Harvick have two wins apiece, while Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman have one each. Although Fords and Toyotas have won four of the last five Brickyard races (two each) Chevrolets have won 17 of the previous 26 outings. The Camaros are fast this year, and I’m gonna go way out on a limb and predict that seven-time champion Johnson is going to take the checkered flag at the famed track tomorrow.

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Whether he wins or not, Johnson isn’t finished with the Speedway yet. On July 8 he will test with Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar team on the Indianapolis road course. The team is allowed a test for driver evaluation, and Johnson has indicated an interest in racing an Indy car on a road course after his NASCAR retirement. He had initially been set to test in April at Barber Motorsports Park, but that was canceled due to the COVID-19 shutdown.