Who’s in the headline – Feel free to stop if you’ve heard this one before: Kyle Busch just won a Cup Series race. If you haven’t been paying attention or lived under a rock for the last month, this win was his third in a row and fourth in the last five races. Three in a row is impressive in and of itself. Throw in the parity that is rampant in the Cup Series today, plus the fact that the three races each used different aero packages, and you have just witnessed something truly special.
What happened – Carl Edwards started the race on the pole, but outside polesitter Joey Logano snaked into the lead in the first corner of the first lap and stayed out front for 11 laps. Edwards passed him on lap 12 and held the point for the next 20 circuits. Kevin Harvick then took the lead from Edwards and ran in the top spot until the first caution flag flew. Logano led through the first and second caution before Harvick took the top spot from him for the second time of the race on lap 62. A series of differing strategy calls resulted in the lead switching hands another nine times before the end of the race, but they were all on restarts; Busch used the final series of them to take control and wrestle the lead from Harvick, who appeared to have the fastest car. Jeff Gordon, making his final Brickyard start, was caught up in an incident with Clint Bowyer on lap 51 and lost his chance to become the all-time winningest driver in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. At the end, 41 of 43 starters were running and, despite the forecast of 100% precipitation possibility at 5:00, the race ran to completion without a weather-related caution.
Why you should care – Busch was granted a medical exemption that will allow him into the Chase if he is able to climb inside the top 30 in points. When the exemption was granted, it looked like there was a slim chance that Busch could make the climb all the way to 30th. At this point, he is 23 points out of that spot and at his current pace will probably make it into that position next weekend at Pocono. While Busch was celebrating the victory, it was anti-climactic to see Gordon’s chances at a win go out the window so early. Having won the inaugural event, it would have been a storybook ending to see him take the trophy home in his final start at the hallowed grounds.
The race also marked the debut of the high-drag aero package that NASCAR is trying out to increase slingshot passing. While cars were able to draw up to a competitor they were following, the stability of the car was significantly compromised in the corners. Many drivers noted that the changes were a step in the right direction but few of them felt the lack of security in the turns was what they were interested in.
What your friends are talking about – Throwing a completely new aerodynamic package at the teams in the Cup Series can be a major challenge for everyone involved. Testing and simulating can take some time before the competition feels comfortable putting it into a race situation. This weekend, the teams took to the Brickyard with a package that had zero laps turned on it prior to practice on Friday. Going into the second-biggest race of the season blind like that was a risky proposition, to say the least. The fact that the man who made the call, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Gene Stefanyshyn, vacationed in the Bahamas for the weekend seemed to be a very sore spot for most of the crew chiefs in the series. There was a lot of grumbling from the head wrenches over the circumstances surrounding the implementation, but having one of NASCAR’s leaders absent was a particular sore spot.
Speaking of the new aero package, teams were given some five hours to practice with it on Friday. During that time, there was zero attempt by the teams or NASCAR to put a group of cars on the track together and simulate a race situation. The result was that, after the green flag flew on Sunday and the 43 cars barreled into turn 1, no one had a clue if they were going to make it to the exit. The crapshoot of unleashing this package untested prior to Friday was truly risky by itself, yet the fact that the teams didn’t want to take a chance on tearing up their cars so they didn’t test in a group setting was just short-sighted. Fortunately, everything went well during the initial stages of the race and the dice rolled by NASCAR did not come up snake eyes.
One interesting angle of this change was that NASCAR decided to go to single-car qualifying for the weekend. The sanctioning body felt that it would be unfair for some competitors to get runs on others during the sessions based on how the package was designed to allow cars to “suck up” to each other. The odd part of that logic is that is exactly what the drivers do at Talladega and Daytona with group qualifying. Whether NASCAR was worried about people wrecking due to lack of practice in a group or concerned over the newness of the package, that is the decision that was made. It is confusing that there is a double standard for qualifying at Indy with this package versus the plate tracks but that was the call NASCAR made.
Hot on the heels of the stupidity that is running the July Daytona race at night, Sunday’s Brickyard took the green flag at 3:49. Similarly, although not as clockwork as the rains in Daytona, afternoon showers on a hot summer day in the Midwest will usually happen late in the afternoon. Instead of starting the race at 1:00 or 1:30, like the series did when fans asked for standard start times a couple of years ago, NASCAR chose to start the race at the requested time for NBC, having it work into their schedule for the sports network. Luckily for the sanctioning body, fans, and the network, the rain held off until just after the checkered flag had flown and the teams were able to get packed up. Had the forecasters been right, the race would have been held on Monday. While racing in the heat of the day is uncomfortable for the fans and the drivers, it produces a far greater product and reduces the potential for weather interruptions.
Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway proved a couple of things that race fans have known forever. Racing on short tracks is better than racing on big tracks and you don’t have to go ridiculously fast to put on a great race. The consensus from most everyone who watched the festivities in Rossburg, Ohio was that it was one of the best NASCAR races anyone had seen in quite some time. That happened despite the fact the racetrack is a half-mile in length and the average speed was a tick over 44 mph. Short tracks inherently put the competitors close together which is what fans like to see and the lower speeds make it easier for drivers to take chances and recover when things go wrong. Hopefully, the people making the decisions on the schedules going forward will take note and start putting more races back on short tracks. It is the right thing to do.
Who is mad – Gordon had to be mad about the way the weekend unfolded for his final run at Indianapolis. The qualifying effort was less than satisfactory, as it was for most of the Hendrick teams. After starting 19th, he was making little progress forward, as most of the cars did in typical Indy fashion. Then, before his race really had a chance to even develop, he was caught up in an incident with Bowyer, wound up torn up and 42nd in the final rundown. While Gordon initially sounded like he might do one-off races after this season, that no longer appears to be the case. The finality of the end of the event has to have stung a little after occurring just a quarter of the way into the race.
Harvick looked to be the dominant car, leading a race high four times for 75 laps. He was in the lead on the seventh restart of the race only to spin his tires, dropping three spots and never recovering. Looking to become the fourth driver to win multiple Brickyards, plus having a car that appeared to be capable of making that happen, a third-place result had to be a major disappointment.
This weekend, it really looked like Tony Stewart was going to be in the happy category rather than the mad category. Unfortunately, when the laps wound down to the final 60, Stewart ended up back in the now all-too-familiar 20s rather than Victory Lane. As the field prepared for the final restart, Stewart came on the radio and thanked everyone on the team for their hard work and apologized for not finishing the deal. The struggles for Smoke continue; after laying down the fastest lap in the first round of qualifying and starting fourth, this one has to sting especially bad.
Who is happy – Bowyer spun and ultimately caused Gordon’s incident that crushed his hopes for a win. However, Bowyer had minimal damage thanks to avoiding any walls and bounced back to a sixth-place finish. After three straight top 10s, Bowyer had a 19th at Kentucky and a 34th at Loudon. Knowing that Busch is going to be in the top 30 soon, it had to be a relief for Bowyer to put some distance between himself and Aric Almirola in 15th position in the points standings. Unfortunately, he’s 20 points behind Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard for what appears to be the last spot that will qualify for the Chase so the happiness is a little tempered.
Speaking of a bounce back after some disappointing results, Martin Truex Jr. started the season with a record setting run of top-10 finishes. Since that streak was broken at Sonoma, he had not notched a top 10 in four straight races. A fourth-place result had to be a big boost to a team whose confidence was most likely shaken over the last month.
Kyle Larson is looking to recapture the magic of 2014 but it has been fleeting. He had just five top 10s coming into this weekend but they were all posted in the first 14 races of the season. The last five events, Larson’s best finish was 15th and three of those five results were in the 30s. While top 10s is not what Larson or his No. 42 team is happy with, running solidly (ninth) after more than a month of running poorly had to feel great.
When the checkered flag flew:
Busch won his 33rd career Cup Series race in his 374th career start. Sunday was Busch’s first victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch is now tied with Fireball Roberts for 20th on the all-time wins list for the Cup Series. Busch is four wins behind Bobby Isaac for 19th. Indy marks Busch’s fourth triumph of 2014, which ties him with Jimmie Johnson for most in the series.
Logano finished second for the second time this season. It is the fourth time in his career that he’s crossed the finish line in the runner-up position. It ties Logano’s best career finish at Indianapolis and his second top five in a row. Logano has three top-two finishes in 2014. He is tied for 92nd on the all-time list with four career second-place runs.
Harvick crossed the line in third for his fourth podium run at Indianapolis in 15 career starts. This was Harvick’s 12th podium of the season and second consecutive third-place run. Harvick has finished in the top three 91 times in his career, which ties him with Junior Johnson for 23rd on the all-time list.
Busch’s win is the first triumph for Toyota at Indianapolis. The win now means that Toyota has won at every venue on the current Cup schedule.
Matt DiBenedetto came home in 32nd to claim Rookie of the Race honors.
Harvick, Logano, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kurt Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins. Kyle Busch will be locked in assuming he can make it into the top 30 in points, which would mean down to 14th in points would make it in.
The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 20 races without wins and their standing in points:
11) Jeff Gordon
12) Ryan Newman
13) Paul Menard
14) Kasey Kahne
15) Clint Bowyer
Takin’ it to the Bank:
Cup winners this year have pocketed $7,227,103 in 20 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,659,712.
In the XFINITY Series, it has been $1,403,964 for the winners and $257,518 for last place following 18 races.
After 11 Truck races the winner has $592,603 and the last loser has banked $109,559.
What is in the cooler
Indianapolis is all about history, prestige and spectacle. The racing there, in any series, is seldom spectacular. Sunday’s Brickyard was no exception. While there were four on-track passes for the lead that did not occur on a restart, the amount of passing in general and the primarily single-file parade was uninspiring. Three restarts in the last 12 laps provided some excitement, which is where most of the excitement in the Cup Series comes from in general these days. As a result, we’ll give it three Dragonfly IPAs from the Upland Beer Company. That was the top selling beer at the craft beer stands on the grounds at Indianapolis this weekend.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – From one predominantly flat oval to another, the series heads off to the Pocono mountains for their second visit of the season. The green flag flies on the isosceles triangle at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 2. The action can be seen on NBC Sports Network. If you prefer to listen, don’t have NBCSN or won’t be in front of a television, it can be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
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 Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.