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IMS plays host to NASCAR tire test, drivers react to Earnhardt Jr. retirement

With less than a month until the Indianapolis 500 and just days before IndyCar will dominate Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a month, the yard of bricks gave way to NASCAR for a Goodyear tire test, which included Jimmie Johnson, who is coming off back-to-back cup wins following Monday’s win at Bristol.

Wednesday marked the second day of testing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams. Drivers participating included Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and David Ragan.

“Goodyear likes to come and just validate the tire choice they’re bringing to the race track,” Ragan, who drives the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, explained. “Obviously as the team’s engineer these race cars to ride lower and grip more to the surface, Goodyear has to continually adjust they’re compounds a little bit and construction of their tires to make sure the tires are safe and that they’ll also last.”

“It’s a little bit softer than what we had last year, so it’ll give the tires a little more grip and we’ll be able to go a little faster with the current aero package that we have. Hopefully you’ll see some guys will be able to conserve tires a little bit and pass some late in a run.”

However, the buzz surrounding racing still heavily centers around Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who just this week announced he will retire from NASCAR at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

“I haven’t really thought a lot about Dale leaving yet, we still have a lot of racing left this season and ultimately Dale was able to come back from a couple of concussions and has been successful throughout his career,” Ragan said following Wednesday’s tire test. “So, he’s been a guy that before I even got to the sport I was a fan of and I enjoyed watching and kind of he stands for.”

“He’s certainly made the sport of NASCAR better for the fans, for the partners and even for the drivers and the people in the industry. So, it’ll be sad when he’s gone but I think we have a lot of racing left this season to enjoy his farewell tour and we can still beat up on him a little bit, we can’t take it easy and let him go out and win a bunch of races,” Ragan said with a laugh. “It’ll probably hit those last two or three races when the season’s winding down that you’re not going to see him a lot next year.”

Although NASCAR drivers have several months until they’ll race at IMS for the Brickyard 400, Ragan says there’s already plenty of anticipation building to see who will kiss the bricks later in the season.

“Every driver has Indianapolis circled on the schedule,” Ragan said. “That’s one that you want to qualify good, you want to race good, you want to lead laps. There’s nothing like coming out of turn four and you’re the leader and you see the stands full on both sides and I can only imagine what that would be like to going to take the checkered flag. For me, it’s one of the top two or three races of the year.”

The Brickyard 400 is set to run at IMS on Sunday, July 23.