Matt DiBenedetto has already provided NASCAR officials with a lot of data to evaluate from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
First impressions happened Wednesday as DiBenedetto drove a No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang on a 12-turn and 14-turn configuration. Officials are going through different options and information to determine which layout the NASCAR Xfinity Series will run when the series returns on July 4.
“It’s been fun,” said DiBenedetto. “It was cool getting acclimated with the course, evaluate a couple of different layouts — the 12-turn and the 14-turn course. I’m already jealous of these Xfinity [Series] guys, just how cool the race is going to be and how good of a show it’s going to put on.”
Why jealous? Because of his participation in the test, DiBenedetto is not eligible to compete in the Xfinity Series race.
Wayne Auton, the managing director of the Xfinity Series, said an announcement would be made “pretty soon” on course layout. In addition to DiBenedetto’s feedback from behind the wheel, competition officials were taking a close look at gearing.
“To make sure that we aren’t too slow with RPMs when you get into the slower turns that you have here, or you’re not hitting the chip going down this long front straightaway or the long back straightaway that it upsets the engine,” explained Auton. “So, there’s a lot of data we’ll look to the team for.”
Goodyear also brought different tire setups, including a set of tires from Road America, Mid-Ohio, and the Charlotte Roval. Indianapolis will be the fifth road course race on the Xfinity Series schedule this season.
“It’s not just that NASCAR is getting a lot of data,” continued Auton. “Goodyear is getting a lot of data with Matt’s feel inside the race car. And going down into this long straightaway and into that real slow Turn 1 area, Matt’s done us a great job and we’re getting a lot of input. We’ll do some maybe 10-lap runs here this afternoon and see what we find out from that and take that back, and then we’ll decide on which course we’re going to run.
“Matt’s input has just been so valuable already today, what little bit of runs we’ve already done. And that’s why we were really hyped up that he volunteered to come up here and get into the car. Plus, he wanted to get in the car to say he got to be the first NASCAR car on this road course.”
Whether NASCAR chooses the 12- or 14-turn configuration, DiBenedetto believes both would put on great racing. Making comparisons to some of NASCAR’s other road courses, DiBenedetto felt some of the slower speed areas were like Mid-Ohio, and in flying down the long frontstretch into a heavy braking zone is like Watkins Glen.
“The 14-turn course was really good in the aspect of probably allowing another braking zone and a little bit of another technical section and a good pit in, good at pit entry from that area and things like that,” he said. “It was good to run both and be able to evaluate both and get my heart rate up when doing both for different reasons.
“The 14-turn course, you’re coming up on that short chute, and it’s right on edge, and you get to brake right next to the wall there, which is pretty cool. It’s just really unique — I can’t compare that to anything actually. So that’s a cool technical passing zone opportunity. Then on the 12-turn course, it spiked the old heart rate pretty good coming through backwards through oval Turn 1. That was very weird.”
Either way, he’s confident there will be plenty of challenges for the racers. “This is going to be a tough road course, tougher than I thought,” DiBenedetto said. “There’s more technical zones and heavy braking zones and all the stuff that we love as road racers. So I think a driver and crew chief can really shine a lot here based on driving ability, things like that.”