Key Moment – The Brickyard 400 saw multiple fuel strategies jumble the field early in the race. A long green flag run from lap 25 through lap 69 had some teams pit and return to the track, while others were not quite in the window they were hoping for. When the yellow flag flew for Danica Patrick’s car stopping in turn one after having a failure in the rear of the car leaving her pit stall, the caution period caught Brad Keselowski a lap down and buried Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson deep in the field. Their ability to challenge for the lead was stifled from that moment on and limited the contenders for the win.
In a Nutshell – Track position is king at Indianapolis and it was never more evident than Sunday. Jeff Gordon found himself in the third position after the final cycle of green flag pit stops and proceeded to pass Kyle Busch for the second spot before the final caution flew. He prevailed on the final restart and cruised to his fifth Brickyard 400 win. Kasey Kahne led the most laps before fading near the end and running out of gas coming to the checkered flag.
Dramatic Moment – The final restart of the race found Kasey Kahne with lane choice. After seeing Kyle Busch lose the Nationwide race on the outside for a final restart on Saturday, Kahne chose the inside lane, putting Gordon to his outside. The green flag flew and Gordon managed to get to Kahne’s outside in turn one and loosened him up enough to exit the turn with the lead. The rest, from there, was history.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Carl Edwards is not returning to Roush Fenway Racing in 2015. Roush released their driver lineup for 2015 on Sunday and Edwards’ name was not included. The roster for RFR in 2015 will be populated by Greg Biffle, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne. Biffle’s status has been up in the air, and the word is he has inked a multi-year deal to remain with the organization. Stenhouse is in the middle of his current contract and Bayne was announced as moving up earlier this year. Edwards’ contract prevents him from announcing his future employer until September, just as Matt Kenseth’s did when he made the move to Joe Gibbs Racinig in 2013. The rumor is Edwards will join Kenseth in the Toyota ranks and Ford’s Director of Racing, Jamie Allison, at least confirmed that he will be leaving the blue oval roster by stating how much he’ll be missed in their hierarchy.
Jeff Gordon has 90 wins on his resume. During his glory years in the 90s and 2000s, most people assumed he would eclipse the 105 wins posted by David Pearson. After some lean years, most people decided 90 would be the most he would score. After Sunday and looking at the confidence portrayed by Gordon post race, fans ought to seriously bring up the 105 discussion again. 15 wins is a tall order. Looking at the record book over the last five years plus the beginning of 2014, there are five drivers who have compiled 15 wins. Jimmie Johnson has 29, Denny Hamlin has 20, Kyle Busch has 17 and Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart have 15 each. Gordon is six below the number necessary with nine. He only won a single race in 2009 and 2010 combined, having picked up the other eight wins in the last three plus years. The way he is driving and his team is running, don’t count Gordon out of retiring with the second most wins all time.
The Brickyard is not about the racing. The first years of the Brickyard had quite a few passes for the lead. Jeff Gordon even said, during the post race of his first win, that you didn’t want to be leading on the last lap because you knew you’d be passed. However, passing has become truly bad the last couple of years. By the third lap of Sunday’s race, the entire field was single file down the front straight. Friday night, during the Jeg’s/CRA Super Late Model race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, that didn’t happen until lap 86 of the 100 lap event. The differing fuel strategies certainly made the race interesting, but when the outcome of the race was determined by who came out of turn two with the lead on the final restart with 16 laps to go, that isn’t a good thing.
The scoring pylon at Indianapolis was replaced by a new, LED pylon from Panasonic. It is brighter and easier to read. It also provides the fans with more information like time behind the leader, laps down and advertising messages. It also changes to all yellow when the caution flies and all green when the racing resumes before returning to the running order. Many people were upset about the existing pylon coming down, but they need to remember that it has only been there for 20 years and was added because of the need to track more than the traditional 33 cars that start the Indianapolis 500.
The attendance at the Brickyard has been a topic of conversation for the five years since the tire debacle of 2008. While it is nowhere near the 350,000 that saw Jeff Gordon win the first Brickyard 20 years ago, it appeared to be the biggest it has been since that fiasco. A rough estimate of 80,000 was supported by some in attendance and called optimistic by others. Whatever the case may be, the crowd at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is bigger than three-quarters of the rest of the Cup schedule. The crowd at today’s race would have been a sellout at half of the tracks on the schedule. The Brickyard is a strong event in terms of at track attendance, but it’s just hard to realize when the capacity is so much more than the usage.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Danica Patrick launched out of her pit box on lap 69 and left a trail of smoke like the mosquito foggers that patrol the country roads of Indiana during the Summer. Whether it was an axle or a rear gear, something went south on her No. 10 ride and cost her a decent finish at the Brickyard. Patrick ran as high as 10th before the incident and was in the upper teens the entire time before the problem. People like to jump on the bandwagon of Danica bashing when she receives unnecessary praise, but this time the bad break really did torpedo a strong run for her.
Trevor Bayne was moving forward in the Brickyard after starting 20th and had made it up as high as fourth before he had a tire failure heading into turn three. He kept the car off of the wall but cut a brake line as it was headed to the inside wall. The damage incurred when the contact with the barrier mangled the front of the No. 21 and ended his race. He finished the race dead last.
Kasey Kahne was on the verge of winning his first race at Indianapolis and punching his ticket to the NASCAR post-season before Ryan Truex slowed to a stop on the back straight. The ensuing restart put him in the cross hairs of Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch. The restart from that caution not only saw Kahne slip out of the lead but lose second to Busch and basically ended his hopes at the win. Coming to the checkered flag the No. 5 ran out of fuel and cost him a top-5 finish as well.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Being caught a lap down by a caution at Indianapolis can be a death knell for someone considering how precious track position is. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the fine fortune that befell him at such an inopportune time was that his team had him on the track ahead of Brad Keselowski. As a result, Earnhardt received the Lucky Dog when Patrick had her issue and the No. 88 ended up at the tail end of the lead lap. Earnhardt’s car showed the ability to pass more cars than most and that one bit of good luck ended up enabling him to finish the race with a top-10 run.
Joey Logano ran in the back half of the top 10 for most of the day, save a short stint at the lead during a round of green flag stops. He was running sixth coming off of turn four on the final lap, fully expecting to finish in that position, when Kahne ran out of gas and slowed, propelling Logano into a top-5 finish.
Denny Hamlin has had a gambler on his pit box for several years. Sunday he started in 27th position and started taking gambles early in the race. Short pitting put the No. 11 in the lead by lap 50 and helped him remain there the rest of the race. Hamlin noted during his post race that they were fast and never were passed the entire event. As a result, he rolled home in third position and continues to build momentum for the Chase.
Jeff Gordon scored his 90th victory of his career in his 745th start on Sunday.
Gordon’s win is his fifth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tying him with Michael Schumacher for the all-time record at the Brickyard for four wheeled vehicles.
Five wins at a track is tied for sixth on Gordon’s all-time wins list. He has eight at Martinsville, seven at Darlington, and six at Talladega, Pocono and Daytona. Indianapolis is tied with Sonoma, Atlanta, Charlotte and Bristol.
The win is Gordon’s second of 2014 and essentially locks him into the Chase.
In the 21 races at Indianapolis, Gordon has scored 17 top-10 finishes.
Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish was his second career number two run at Indianapolis.
Busch has four top-2 finishes this season.
Denny Hamlin’s third-place run was his second podium finish at Indianapolis in his career.
This was Hamlin’s third top 3 of the season.
Matt Kenseth has finished in the top 5 seven times at Indianapolis. That is the most top-5 finishes without a win of any driver at the Brickyard.
Chevrolet has won the last 12 Brickyard 400s.
Kyle Larson was the top finishing rookie.
Hendrick Motorsports has won nine of the 21 Brickyards.
There were two on-track passes for the lead.
What’s the Points
Points don’t matter as much as wins. The 11 race winners are listed below along with the five drivers who would make the Chase on points at this juncture of the season.
Daytona and Pocono – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Phoenix and Darlington – Kevin Harvick
Las Vegas, Kentucky and New Hampshire – Brad Keselowski
Bristol and Sonoma – Carl Edwards
California – Kyle Busch
Martinsville – Kurt Busch
Texas and Richmond – Joey Logano
Talladega – Denny Hamlin
Kansas and Indianapolis– Jeff Gordon
Charlotte, Dover and Michigan – Jimmie Johnson
Daytona (2) – Aric Almirola
Drivers making the Chase on points who do not have wins:
4) Matt Kenseth
7) Ryan Newman
10) Clint Bowyer
13) Kyle Larson
14) Autin Dillon
Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Brad Keselowski were all locked in the Chase heading into Indianapolis. Jimmie Johnson joined them this week. He is more than 282 points ahead of 31st place David Gilliland, so he cannot fall out of the top 30 before Richmond even if they finish last in each race and he has two victories.
Overall rating (On a scale of 1-6, where 1 is a stinker and six is the finest of brews and a instant classic.)
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway oozes with tradition. People argue about whether stock cars belong there and how bad the racing is. Like it or not, the experience that is the Brickyard is unforgettable, and winning there means more than most any race outside of Daytona and Darlington. The race on Sunday wasn’t a total snoozer because of the differing fuel strategies, but it was far from titillating. Still, the excitement of the final restart and just being at the Brickyard earned this one a three brew rating. So hoist three frosty Floyd’s Folly Scottish Ales from Cutter’s Brewing Company and toast the beginning of the third decade of Cup at Indianapolis.
From one flat 2.5-mile race track to another, the series heads back to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for another weekend at the three cornered course that is Pocono Raceway. The race can be viewed on ESPN at 1:00 PM Sunday, August 3rd. It can also be heard on MRN and NASCAR Sirius XM radio. For a little added fun, feel free to enjoy a drinking game. Every time someone says triangle take a drink, every time they say tricky triangle take a shot. It will add to the enjoyment for sure.