Senior staff writer
Each season for New Castle’s Dakoda Armstrong has been a learning experience in the Xfinity Series.
This year is no exception for the fourth-year driver who finished third in the recent 300-mile race at Daytona in the No. 28 Winfield Toyota.
“Something always changes,” Armstrong said in an exclusive interview earlier this month at Kentucky Speedway. “This year NASCAR took a lot of downforce (about 600 pounds on the front end) away from us, and that’s been big for our guys to make our cars go faster. So every track we’ve been to it’s been a new setup. It’s been a little bit of a new learning curve, but that’s NASCAR – they want to keep it fresh for everybody so that one team doesn’t dominate.”
Last year the Xfinity Series had a playoff system like the Monster Energy Cup Series, and this season the series has its races in three stages too. Armstrong, ninth in points, is a contender for an Xfinity top-12 playoff spot.
“Our cars have been better and we’ve improved as a team,” Armstrong said. “We’ve finished every race. We still need to find more speed on the mile and one-half tracks. Our short-track program has been great. We’re still improving every single week”
Armstrong is filled with confidence as he heads into the Lilly’s Diabetes 250 Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The race will be a learning experience for Armstrong and the entire Xfinity field. NASCAR has deemed the IMS race as a restrictor-plate race with the same plate used only at Daytona and Talladega superspeedways. He started from the pole last year at Daytona.
As Armstrong says, very little is the same about the upcoming race at the Brickyard, which will award bonus points to the top 10 at 30, 60 and 100 laps.
The racer said he believes the race will be more competitive. Rules also call for a taller rear spoiler and a front splitter package that features aero ducts on the lower front bumper.
Officials are hopeful that the rules will lead to improved competition on the relatively flat Speedway oval.
“Our car is pretty good with the restrictor plate,” Armstrong said. “Indy is so flat so we want to bring an intermediate car. With traffic you’re going to need extra downforce. It cut us about 200 horsepower at Daytona and Talladega. If we are all stuck together, then I think there will be some big wrecks. If anything, it will be exciting for the fans and for all teams to see what happens.”
Armstrong will be able to spend extra time this week with family in New Castle. His father, Craig Armstrong, still fields race cars for USAC sprints for Dakoda’s cousin Caleb and a Super Series Late model for brother Dalton Armstrong.
Dakoda Armstrong and wife Carly, his high school sweetheart, returned to Hoosierland earlier this week. He likes the familiarity of being less than one hour from the Speedway, and he recognizes the importance of the race.
“You can tell this is a premier race for Xfinity. I may be biased because it’s my home track, but this is not just another weekend. It’s a cool track to go to. We always want to do well there.”
Practice is at 1 and 3 p.m. Friday with qualifying at 12:45 Saturday; the race follows at 3:50 p.m.
Armstrong’s racing roots are in Indiana. He is a graduate and youngest champion (13 years old) of the Kenyon Midget Series, and he won an ARCA stock car race at Winchester (Ind.) Speedway. He was a developmental driver for Team Penske and previously drove for Richard Petty in the Xfinity Series.