Revamped Belle Isle kicks off big stretch for IndyCar (VIDEO)

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The Indianapolis 500 has come and gone, and now the real fight for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship can begin.

This weekend’s Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit (Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET; check local listings) not only marks the first-ever doubleheader weekend for North America’s top open-wheel series but also begins a run of five races in four weekends. It’ll be a tough stretch for everybody involved and it gets started with the island course at Belle Isle Park on the Detroit River.

The circuit has been overhauled following last year’s embarrassing track surface problems that caused the distance of the race, won by Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, to be shortened by a third (60 laps instead of the scheduled 90). Over 100,000 square feet of new concrete and 50,000 square feet of new asphalt has been put down to ensure that such a scenario won’t play out again, but just as importantly, the track has gone to a 2.3-mile configuration that was used during the event’s days under CART sanction.

This has brought in a new straightaway of about one half-mile connecting Turns 2 and 3 – adding a much-needed passing zone to a course that has been maligned repeatedly over the years as unexciting.

It cannot be stressed enough just how important physical conditioning and managing mental stress is going to be this weekend for the drivers and teams in Detroit. Two 70-lap races on a bumpy, narrow street circuit is going to be hard for them, but with the series championship now front-and-center after the “500,” they’ll all have to keep their eyes on the prize.

IndyCar teams with NASCAR on IMS road course doubleheader in 2021

IndyCar NASCAR doubleheader 2021
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The NTT IndyCar Series will be sharing Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the NASCAR Cup Series in a race weekend doubleheader for the second consecutive season, but both series will be on the road course in August 2021.

IMS announced Wednesday that IndyCar will hold an Aug. 14, 2021 race on its 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. It’ll be a day before NASCAR’s premier series runs the same layout for the first time after the Brickyard 400 was contested on the 2.5-mile oval for the first time in 27 years.

This season’s rescheduling of the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix to July 4, 2019 (a day before the Brickyard 400) led to the first NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader weekend. The Xfinity Series also raced on the IMS road course for the first time July 4 after the IndyCar race ended.

INDYCAR AT IMS THIS WEEKEND: Harvest GP schedule, entry lists

IndyCar will be holding its second race weekend this year at the IMS road course Friday and Saturday with the Harvest GP.

“Our first NASCAR-INDYCAR weekend was a big success last July, with positive feedback from
our loyal fans who watched the races on NBC and from the drivers, teams and participants
involved,” IMS president Douglas Boles said in a statement. “The Xfinity Series’ debut on the IMS road course provided exactly the kind of thrilling action from the green to checkered flags that we anticipated, so we know the teams and drivers of the Cup Series will put on a great show as they turn left and right for the first time at IMS.

“We can’t wait to welcome back fans to see NASCAR and INDYCAR together during this
exciting weekend as we add another memorable chapter in the long, storied history of the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

It also will mark the first NASCAR Cup-IndyCar doubleheader with a crowd as fans weren’t permitted at IMS in July because of the novel coronvavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Over the course of Wednesday, NASCAR is releasing its 36-race slate for next season. IndyCar has yet to release its full 2021 schedule.