William Byron is a winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, capturing the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2017.
But that event was on the oval. Byron never has raced on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course, so he turned to the most recent winner on that track for advice as he and the rest of the NASCAR Cup Series field prepare to race on it for the first time Sunday in the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard.
That’s right: Rinus VeeKay, who grew up in the Netherlands and has never turned a wheel in a NASCAR stock car, used his experience in winning the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ GMR Grand Prix on May 15 in the No. 21 SONAX/Autogeek Chevrolet to offer valuable pointers to North Carolina native Byron, who drives the famous No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
VeeKay, 20, and Byron, 23, met Tuesday and worked together with Chevrolet engineers in the Chevrolet “Driver in the Loop” simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina. Chevy is the only manufacturer competing in all three races during Brickyard Weekend on the IMS road course – the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard for the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Saturday, and the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday.
Besides his first career win in May at IMS, VeeKay also raced on the IMS road course three times in 2020 during his rookie season with Ed Carpenter Racing. He also competed on the circuit in the Road to Indy ladder series, winning an Indy Lights race in 2019.
“Well, I’ve got many laps on this track,” VeeKay said. “I’m the latest winner on the road course, so I kind of know how to drive around the track. It’s going to be his first time. It’s not that hard of the track, which makes it very hard to make a difference to the other guys.”
Byron and VeeKay exchanged ideas, and then 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year VeeKay put them into action by climbing into the NASCAR Cup Series car simulator. It was his first time in a Cup Series car – real or virtual – and he quickly adapted once he adjusted to the 3,450-pound weight of the car. An NTT INDYCAR SERIES car weighs approximately 1,700 pounds – half the weight of a Cup car – in road course configuration.
“It’s pretty crazy,” VeeKay said of the Cup car. “It’s a lot of braking. The INDYCAR SERIES car has big downforce, and if you have a good car, it’s stable. It’s not doing anything; you just drive laps. Here, you are coming on to the front straightaway sideways, trying to get the power down.
“It’s pretty cool going from something very different like the INDYCAR SERIES car to a NASCAR car and see what they do. It really changes my whole perspective of watching a NASCAR race now.”
VeeKay’s biggest tips to Byron were about corner entry and carrying speed, which VeeKay admits is tougher in a Cup Series car because it has nowhere near the downforce of an INDYCAR SERIES car.
“He’s been really successful there,” Byron said of VeeKay. “Just kind of understanding some of the nuances of the track you might see but you might not know are really important. It was cool to experience that, and hopefully it pays off this weekend.”
Turn 12, where drivers leave the short chute between oval Turns 1 and 2 and turn hard right into a short infield complex of two turns, was a particular point of focus for VeeKay and Byron. VeeKay also offered tips about riding over some of the curbs on the 14-turn circuit.
“Coming on to Turn 12, these little tweaks on how to get the braking right because that’s so hard in this car,” VeeKay said. “Use the speed and get the braking right and the angle, just to save every little tenth of a second and not brake as much for a long time.
“An INDYCAR SERIES car is a lot different than a NASCAR car. The only similarity is that it has an engine and four wheels. But definitely the same basics. But like William told you, I did a few lines he didn’t do just because I drive an INDYCAR SERIES car, and you have a different style. But it definitely opened some ideas for them. Hopefully it helped them, and they can have a good result.”