A doubleheader weekend on the road course of the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway between NASCAR and IndyCar did not disappoint between the duo of races on August 12. After an epic NTT IndyCar Series race that saw Scott Dixon claim a victory for the 19th consecutive season, the NASCAR Xfinity Series brought the thunder to the track … literally.
Shortly after the race began, a lightning strike followed by a downpour halted the event. After the race resumed, it became a battle of NASCAR Cup Series regulars, with Ty Gibbs topping AJ Allmendinger to win the Pennzoil 150 at The Brickyard.
Gibbs wasted no time grabbing the lead after starting second, passing Allmendinger on lap 2. However, once the race resumed, Allmendinger opened it up by starting on slick tires while nearly the entire field opted for rain tires. The strategy worked to Allmendinger’s favor, sending the Kaulig Racing driver to the lead in a flurry and cruising to the stage one victory.
Allmendinger also won stage two in what was a relatively calm road course race compared to most series events on the track type this year. But the final stage saw the duel of two NASCAR Cup Series playoff bubble drivers with no intentions of racing for points in this event.
On the lap 47 restart, Gibbs beat Allmendinger to the punch, holding off the veteran in the final stint to bump his Xfinity win count to a dozen for his career. Road America winner Sam Mayer got around Allmendinger for second, with Austin Hill and Justin Allgaier closing out the top five.
Remember the days of the controversy of Cup drivers coming down to spank the Xfinity field? Give the Xfinity regulars credit, as they have held their own this season. But the Gibbs vs Allmendinger show was perhaps a prelude to the Cup race.
Entering Indianapolis on the Cup side, Gibbs holds the final playoff spot by three points while Allmendinger trails him by 24 points. Both have proven they are very capable road racers. Remember, Allmendinger’s second Cup win came at this track two years ago. But in a race where nothing but the trophy mattered, it was Gibbs using an opposite strategy and overcoming pit issues on lap 28 to land the first blow in what could be the battle for the final playoff spot in Cup.
Mayer has turned himself into quite the road racer. It didn’t start out pretty when he got into the back of Jeb Burton in the opening laps, but Mayer put together a strong points day. He finished second and third in the two stages, and his drive to out-duel Allmendinger for the runner-up spot has now put him as a staple on the radar when the series hits road courses in the future. The second-place result gives him five top fives in the past six races and his third top three showing in the past five road races.
Hill continues to top five the field week after week, as well as showing that he is serious about winning the regular season title …. and the season title at that. Despite missing out on stage points with varying strategies in the opening stage, Hill continued to march forward and did what we have come to expect of him: run inside the top 10 and make his presence quietly known. The 29-year-old finished sixth in stage two and had an exciting battle with Allgaier in the final run to earn a fourth-place result. After entering the race in a deadlock with John Hunter Nemechek for the points lead, Hill exits with an 11-point advantage.
Every time Parker Kligerman has speed, something comes up to derail him. The same happened at Indianapolis, a track type that fits right into Kligerman’s wheelhouse as he tries to scratch above the playoff cut line. After scoring seven stage points to open the race, Kligerman had to make a second green flag stop a few laps later with a flat tire, sinking him to as low as 35th. However, it was a spirited comeback that saved Kligerman’s day, as he charged all the way back to seventh. At times, he was running the fastest laps on the track.
The late-race crusade was tremendous, but Kligerman’s playoff competition didn’t cut him any favors. Currently sitting in the final playoff spot, Sheldon Creed was right behind the No. 48 in eighth, leaving Kligerman 17 points back with four races remaining in the regular season. With a road course, superspeedway, and short track a part of that quartet, grab your popcorn.
Nemecheck did not have his finest moment at The Brickyard. As the winner of three of the past five races prior to Indy, momentum was Nemechek’s side. Unfortunately, his road course misfortunes didn’t help him. The No. 20 looked like a pinball at times, suffering contact with other cars, including Daniel Hemric in stage two that caused a tire rub. In spite of this, the 26-year-old was in position to leave with a top 10 when that went up in smoke. As Kaz Grala was recovering from going off-track, he made contact with Nemechek, sending the Joe Gibbs Racing driver around and back to 13th. Nemechek will have to fight from behind once again for the regular season title, as Hill was able to gain the upper hand this week.
As the playoffs fast approach, Brandon Jones‘ opportunities to be a part of them are growing slimmer. Road courses may not be Jones’ strength, but he just needed a clean race where he closed in on the cut line. That didn’t happen. On the final restart, Jones was on the outside of Sammy Smith and Grala entering turn 1 in 12th. The end result wasn’t favorable, as the JR Motorsports driver went around. He left with a 21st-place finish and now sits 65 points out of the playoffs. It is must-win territory now for the No. 9.
Kaulig Racing brought three fast race cars to the track, with all three scoring stage points in both stages. That is important for the team’s Xfinity regulars Hemric and Chandler Smith, with both looking to boost their regular season points finish and Hemric trying to separate himself from the cut line. When push came to shove, both drivers were shoved… hard.
The final restart was their kryptonite too, as Connor Mosack overshot turn 7 and torpedoed Smith, who then got into Hemric. Hemric cut a tire, forcing him to pit, but Smith got the worst of it with major damage. The speed was evident but didn’t pay dividends, as Hemric left in 27th while Smith limped home in 34th, six laps down. While Smith is locked into the playoffs, Hemric’s cushion over the cut line becomes slightly uncomfortable, as he has a 50-point advantage.
Scheme of the Week
Sometimes, when you do the opposite of the norm with paint schemes, you strike gold. That was the case with Allgaier’s No. 7, swapping the normal orange base for a white base this week for his Brandt Chevrolet. Paired with that identifiable orange and corn cob number, the scheme popped out among its peers in en route to a top five.
Fuel for Thought
With four regular season races remaining, the fight for the regular season title will come down to execution. Nemechek has struggled to put clean races together on road courses, opening for the always-steady Hill to capitalize. There is also Daytona, where Hill looks like the shark from Jaws around the competition. For Nemechek, that makes tracks like Kansas Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway even more important.
Where to Next
If drivers aren’t comfortable on the rights and lefts, they better settle in. The series heads to New York’s Watkins Glen International Raceway next. Last year, it was Kyle Larson stealing the win after late contact between Gibbs and William Byron.
The playoff push continues on Saturday, August 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET on the USA Network.
About the author
Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.
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