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Thinkin’ Out Loud – Brickyard 400

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Brickyard 400

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.

Kasey Kahne came so close to making his first trip to victory lane this season, but Jeff Gordon was just too strong on the final restart. Credit: CIA

Kasey Kahne came close to making his first trip to victory lane this season, but Jeff Gordon was just too strong on the final restart. Credit: CIA

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.

BOWLES: Edwards Couldn’t Say “NO” Twice

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.

Worth Noting

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.
Winners:
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.

What’s Next

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.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Sprint Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Thursday with Tech Talk. Mike works as track announcer for Millbridge Speedway and East Lincoln Speedway, local bullrings based outside of Charlotte, and pops up everywhere from Athlon Sports to SIRIUS XM Radio.

29 comments

  1. Mike Neff

    I apologize Riskay for the mistake on the drivers making the Chase on points. I updated the rest of it and simply missed that.

  2. Checking the results I noticed that once again there was no late race “debris” caution with a Hendrick car leading. I guess Brian has learned his lesson and won’t mind Hendrick’s call this morning. Jr. got a free pass when he needed it too.

    I noticed on the first restart Gordon delay until Johnson was ahead and then fell in behind him. I stopped watching after that and watched the Blue Jays and Yankees.

    • So let’s get this straight,,,, You are complaining because there wasn’t a fake caution?

      BTW, Gordon has been burned by late cautions as much as any other driver.
      And right, Gordon purposely let Johnson by, but then wouldn’t do the same for Kahne…. that makes a lot of sense.

      • Some people hate to admit that, sometimes, there is no conspiracy.

        As for the Gordon-Johnson incident—while I can’t recall the incident in question, I’ll assume it occurred because trying to pass someone on the outside in Turn 1 at Indy after a restart is a high-risk game, one that’s not worth playing with your teammate just 25 laps into a 160-lap race.

  3. Still think Lucas Oil Raceway across town is the better stock car track. Watching the Brickyard 400 is more painful than an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo… <.<

  4. I can’t believe I wasted a whole afternoon watching that snorefest. Time to give this track the boot.

  5. Absolutely horrible track for stock cars. The only way for Indy to have a good NASCAR race would be to move it down the road to IRP (Lucas Oil Raceway). But no, the idiot king did just the opposite and ruined the Nationwide race by taking it away from IRP. Sunday was the first cup race I didn’t watch or at least listen to this whole season, and I didn’t miss it at all. The only race I watched from Indianapolis this weekend was the ARCA race at IRP.

  6. List of drivers making Chase on points is incorrect. Menard should not be there, Austin Dillon should be.

  7. So they go from Indy to…….Pocono. Yeah. Excuse me while I put a call in to Nascar’s lawyers.

    Seriously, this ship is sinking faster than even *I* thought. It’s bad. REALLY bad.

  8. Way too much focus on fuel milege strategy. It ruined the race for me.

  9. First of all, I’m a Ford fan. If Edwards signs with JGR he’s lost me as a fan. And Mike, how can you give this race three beers? It should have been called the Nyquil 400 because it made me want to take a nap. I”ll give it no beer rating.

  10. Thrilled to see Jeff Gordon make history at Indianapolis. I’ve been a fan of his for over a decade and I can’t recall ever seeing him so determined to win a race. He was driving that car as hard as he could for the whole 400 miles, and made some stunning moves.

    I was looking actually looking forward to this race for a while, because rumor had it that the speedway was going to reintroduce the apron and create another groove. But I learned this week that NASCAR vetoed that, saying there wasn’t enough time to test it or something. I can only hope it actually happens next year, ’cause Indy needs something to spice up the racing. I don’t think any track’s been more negatively affected by the COT and Gen 6 cars than Indy—passing’s become next-to-impossible and on-track contact has gone away, so the races inevitably become green-flag-heavy stretches of strategy and track position. That said, the racing was better this year than last year without a doubt.

  11. Check your conspiracy theories at the door; no team orders here. If so, you can bet that with Gordon already in the chase, he would have been told to back off so that Kahne could make it 4-for-4 HMS cars in the chase. Kasey comes up short again, but I still think he’s gonna snag a win before the chase.

    I did not watch much of the cup race but I did watch the Nationwide snoozefest. The only thing that saved that debacle from being the worst race of the year was watching a Nationwide driver get his first win with so many cup drivers in his rear-view mirror.

    • Michael in SoCal

      Totally agree with you Carl about the Nationwide race. The crowd was pathetic (maybe 10,000), but it was cool to see Ty Dillon beat Kyle Busch. And Ty had a great burnout too.

  12. I’m a Gordon fan, so obviously I was very happy at the end of yesterday’s race so I won’t get into the debate about whether it was a good race or not. I’m still smiling today!

    Can’t say I’m really interested in where Carl Edwards winds up or who stays at RFR. Stenhouse Jr hasn’t set the world on fire since getting in the 17 car and Biffle has been just average for a while. Bayne? Who knows?

  13. Amwe to thatKen. Many people don’t know that he was convicted and banned from any NASCAR racing for three years. He was pardoned by, wait for it, Clinton.

    • garry – i also loved his miraculous cure from cancer after his year of house arrest. i’m sure clinton pardoned him cause of a donation to the clinton slush fund.

  14. I thought It was the John Wayne Walding 400 persented by Crown Royal? ESPN made sure that it was the Brickyard 400. It hasn’t been that in 8 years. Stock cars need to race elsewhere. Never at Indy. That’s hallowed ground. And I’m a stock car fan.

  15. One of the most boring races of the year as I watched between baseball innings. ESPN camera work was terrible as usual. Constant zooming in and out and then to an in-car for ads. The camera
    stayed on the 24 for the last 15 laps with a single shot or one that included the crew chief. I guess that was dictated by no one attempting to pass further back. That would have been a perfect time for
    one of the speed shots that usually have no value to show racing. I’ll be glad when ESPeeN is gone.

  16. I understand the history behind Indy, it’s great that stock cars get to compete on one of the world’s most famous race tracks, surely it draws a lot of eyes that normally wouldn’t pay attention to stock car racing. However, if the race itself isn’t any good how does that help the sport? Will those new eyes tune in again after watching a boring race at a historic track?

    I also understand the sheer size of the track and how a sellout at other venues would seem sparse at Indy, but what other sport or entertainment venue would be happy with 1/3 of the stands being filled at one of it’s grand slam events? Again, how does that look to new or casual fans?

  17. estimating 80,000 in attendance is a bit extreme, if you ask me. place was anemic in attendance. i was there in 1995 and we were packed like sardines in that place. indy is just a rough place to watch a race with the seats on both sides of the front stretch.

    while i’ve never been a jeff gordon fan, this dale sr fan has mellowed over the years. it was good seeing an “old guy” win one. glad he was the first drive to win 5 brickyard 400′s. i thought it interesting when gordon said he wanted to be the first 5 time winner. we all know what that was about. the race was kasey’s to loose and he did it in style. low on fuel probably didn’t help him either, cause once the last restart happened and he got passed, and passed and passed, guess he went into fuel saving mode.

    knew it would be a fuel mileage race.

    of course the story to steal the hendrick thunder was edwards and roush parting ways. wonder if edwards will take subway with him to where ever he goes.

    considering he did a poor qualifying job and got a lap down, was shocked to see dale jr finish in top 10.

    congrats to the 24 fans on the board.

    • Thanks, Janice. Yeah, I jumped up off the couch when he got that great restart over the 5 (since we all know and he knows that restarts have been an issue) and then paced around the living room biting my nails until he took the checkers. Victory is sweet! I want him to win that damned sprint cup trophy so much – even though I am not a fan of the Chase. Then I want him to smile at all the fans during the banquet and retire!

  18. I will not rate the race this week because my bias blinds my objectivity, so I am recusing.

    I can say that winning, or at least having a car capable of winning, can make a boring race interesting.

    For once all the cautions (with the exception of the competition caution at the start) were somewhat legit. At least they involved cars with issues and not unseen debris.

    Things are pretty bad when track position is so important that it dictates pit strategy on a 400 mile race at an oval track. Tires were way to hard if guys could take two tires at Indy.

    kb, you’d think that if there was a team order, it would have been for Gordon not to push the issue with Kahne, after all Kahne is the one who needs the win to make the chase. The other three drivers are already locked. I can’t agree with “the race belonged to Kasey” either. As Logano said, Gordon was the only car that seemed to be able to pass at all.

    I guess this was written before the news that Denny Hamlin failed post-race inspection since there is no mention of it.

  19. This was an absolutely horrible race! I wouldn’t even rate it a single can of “New Coke” that has been left open and sitting out in the sun since the product was dropped. But, with the Hendrick dominance of this track, Indy won’t be going away soon. Brian knows how to keep his buddy, The Felon, happy.

    I would love it if when NASCAR released the 2015 schedule, this race was replaced by Iowa. But, that won’t happen.

    I did try to watch the race, but, with Hendrick cars (and I include Harvick as a Hendrick driver. I don’t care what the listed owner says.) dominating as they were at the start, I turned the TV off. I wasn’t going to waste a good Sunday afternoon watching Felon Racing dominate, and I’m glad I didn’t waste my time. As for the crowd, it looks like a lot of people thought the same. Why waste good vacation money to watch this garbage.

  20. Mike, Perhaps because ESPN is leaving the NASCARTANIC their cameras did not shy away from the stands. There was no where near 80,000 people there. Free fall attendance is so obvious now that even some of the NASCAR press are acknowledging it.

  21. Too bad for Kasey, that should have been his. Wonder if team order had a say? After allJeff was really hyped the week coming in to this race, awards and all. Hey you know how Nascar is about this stuff. Before I get beat up, Jeff was there for the race he didn’t check in at the end. Just saying Kasey totally chucked up the inside line on the last restart, he kinda looked like Gordon usual does on restarts. I really felt that race belonged to Kasey, but alas it wasn’t to be..this time. There is always next week. :)

  22. too bad this wasn’t a nite race. i’ve been having trouble falling asleep lately.

  23. All hail the conquering Hendrick Hero and the vanquishing of the unclean blue oval invaders. Our month-long nightmare is over. At long last, tranquility returns to Hendrick Cup.