Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN — September 8, 2019
It’s bubble day at Indy. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2019 regular season comes to a close today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Four guys are battling for the final two postseason positions in the 16 driver playoff field.
Clint Bowyer(14), Daniel Suarez(41), Ryan Newman(6), and Jimmie Johnson(48) hope to grab one of the two spots left. They also hope a surprise winner, a driver who has not visited victory lane this year and is out of the top 16, does not cut the available spots to a single position open on points.
Fourteen drivers have clinched a playoff spot. But, each one of them wants a Brickyard win on their resume. This year’s competition package is similar to what the NASCAR Xfinity Series has run here the last two years. The racing has been good hopefully, it carries over to the Cup Series. An exciting and competitive race would be a big help to attendance figures at the speedway.
Kyle Busch won the Xfinity race here yesterday for the 3rd time in his career. Twice he followed up the next day with a victory in the Brickyard 400. He lines up 7th for the start of today’s race.
Kevin Harvick(4) starts on the pole after grabbing the top spot during an unusual race day qualifying session.
Denny Hamlin, who has been a hot driver in the latter part of the season wrecked on the last lap of practice Saturday.
Hamlin was forced into his backup car, with qualifying Sunday he did not have to worry about being sent to the rear of the field. Unfortunately, he was only able to record the 33rd fastest speed and will have to work his way through a long line of cars while making adjustments on pit stops.
Harvick and Paul Menard(21) lead the field to the green flag. Four Ford Mustangs paced the lineup with Bowyer and Joey Logano(22) in row two. Harvick made quick work of Menard and fought off a brief challenge from Logano before establishing the lead. Stages for today’s race are 50/50/60 laps
Suarez hit the wall 10 laps into the race, flattening the right side of his race car. His crew was able to repair the damage but, it dealt a serious blow to his chances of making the playoffs.
During the caution flag, everyone drove to the pits for tires and gas. In a jumble near Johnson’s pit, Chase Elliott(9) got turned backward on pit road. He suffered minor cosmetic damage which will mess with the aero of the car for the remainder of the day. Martin Truex Jr.(19) also suffered damage to the left front of his car in a pit road incident.
Harvick and Brad Keselowski(2), last year’s winner, led the field back to the restart. Harvick again drove away at the drop of the green adding to his laps led total.
Landon Cassill(00) had a tire go down on Lap 41 bringing out the 2nd caution of the day. Hard impact with the wall ended Cassill’s day, thankfully he was able to walk away from the incident.
Stage Ending Excitement
With the end of Stage 1 just a few laps away, the yellow flag resulting from Cassill’s wreck brought Stage point strategy into play. Most of the field pitted, Logano stayed out and inherited the lead. Newman stayed out, hoping to gain valuable Stage points for a top 10 finish. Johnson pitted but only took 2 tires and he exited the pits first.
The lineup heading to the restart featured Logano in first, Newman 2nd, and Johnson in 3rd. Kyle Larson(42) and Harvick rounded out the top 5. The strategy looked questionable as cars with newer tires began passing Newman and Johnson.
Last week’s winner, Erik Jones(20) dove inside Keselowski trying to gain track position. Jones car wiggled and he lost control, he collected Keselowski and they both hit the outer wall. Jones backed in and Keselowski bounced off heading for the inside wall. Brad’s car made contact where the road course exits onto the oval at a dangerous angle.
That section of the track is protected by a tire barrier. Keselowski hit it and ended up on the tires with the driver’s side of his car trackside down. There was just enough room for him to escape the race car. Both vehicles were destroyed, both drivers walked away from the wreck minor bumps and bruises.
The wreck brought out the caution just before the conclusion of the Stage, freezing the runner order and assuring Logano of the Stage win. After the green and white checkered flag was displayed, the race was red-flagged while track crews reconstructed the tire barrier.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Newman was able to hold onto 5th place, with Johnson one position back in 6th. Denny Hamlin worked his way into 8th after starting 33rd. Logano picked up the 10 bonus points for the Stage win, more importantly, he also got the single playoff point that accompanies it.
Larson led as the race went back to green. Harvick, Ryan Blaney(12), and Kyle Busch(18) followed, racing side-by-side through Turn 3. When they exited Turn 4 it was Harvick, Blaney, Larson, and Busch.
Harvick had led for 70 laps when he gave up the top spot to make a green-flag pit stop on Lap 85. Kyle Bush pitted and after returning to the track had his engine expire while getting back up to speed. He coasted to pit road and exited the car with flames billowing out from under the hood. Kyle had already clinched the regular-season championship at Darlington, so the early exit did not change his standings in the points race.
With the yellow coming out during the pit stop cycle it scrambled the standings. Johnson held the top spot when the caution displayed. But, pitting during the caution put him behind the drivers who had already pitted and stayed out. Bad racing luck.
Another short run to the end of the Stage, the green flag for the restart flew on Lap 95 with Harvick leading Larson, Blaney, and Kurt Busch(1). Before the pack returned to the start-finish line the caution flew again for debris in Turn 2, ending Stage Two under the yellow flag also.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Mustang Drivers
At the end of the Stage, the Playoff Point standings for 15th place to 18th stood as follows in relation to the cut line.
- Bowyer 15th, +15 points
- Suarez 16th, +5 points
- Newman 17th, -5 points
- Johnson 18, -17 points
The Final Stage
Harvick and Larson led the pack into Turn 1 on the restart. Johnson, William Byron(24) and Kurt Busch tried to navigate Turn 2 three-wide. Busch, running slower on the outside, caused Byron, in the middle, to pinch down on Johnson, who ran out of room on the bottom. Johnson spun clipping Busch, while Larson escaped and drove away. The wreck caught up a number of other competitors. Menard, Buescher, Daniel Hemric(8), Parker Klingerman(96), and Matt Tift(36) picked up some degree of damage in the incident.
Johnson’s car came out the biggest loser in the crash. The damage was too extensive for his crew to the repair. The car was retired and so were Johnson’s playoff hopes. The first time in his career that Jimmie Johnson has not qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs.
The Final Stage resumed with Harvick in front, followed by Blaney, Logano, Kurt Busch, and Byron. With Johnson out and Bowyer well-positioned, the final playoff spot was up for grabs between Suarez and Newman. They started the race tied for the last spot. Newman earned six points at the end of Stage 1, Suarez picked up five at the end of Stage 2. Currently, Suarez owns the tie-breaker based on his best finish of the year. A 3rd at Texas in March. Essentially whoever finishes the highest in this race will earn the last spot.
Trouble Sets Up a Short Run to the Finish
Kyle Larson got loose coming out of Turn 2 and crashed on Lap 128.
Drivers were in the middle of green-flag pit stops so positions were scrambled again. When the race restarted, it was Harvick, Blaney, Logano, Bubba Wallace(43) and Alex Bowman as the top 5.
Wallace, the real wild card, does not have a victory this season and is out of the points chase. A win by the Richard Petty Motorsports driver would be huge for the team and a blow to the playoff bubble chasers.
On Lap 134, Bowman crashed exiting Turn 2 bringing out another caution. The race went back to green with 21 laps to go. Harvick, Blaney, Wallace, Logano, and Newman making up the top 5.
On Lap 146, Matt Tift hit the wall and the yellow flag waved again. Setting up an intense scrimmage for the final nine laps. Harvick, Logano, Wallace, Blaney, and Hamlin lead the pack to the restart. Newman in 7th and Suarez in 12th are close enough to possibly mix it up before the checkered flag displays.
On the final restart, Logano made a bid for the lead down the backstretch and Harvick almost ran him into the grass. Harvick cleared everyone out of Turn 3 and began to build the lead back across the line of bricks. Bowyer, in the top 10, was just looking to avoid trouble. Suarez could not make a serious run at Newman with too many cars between them. Harvick crosses the line first with Logano in 2nd and Bubba Wallace taking 3rd.
Harvick’s win sends him into the playoffs on a bit of a roll. Logano, last year’s Cup Champion will undoubtedly contend round-by-round and would surprise no one if he is in the finale at Homestead.
The Playoffs Lineup is Set
Bowyer and Newman are in, Suarez and Johnson are out. In another testament to the competitiveness of the Cup Series, four points left Suarez on the outside looking in. Johnson missed by 43 points after finishing 35th.
The final tally for the regular season looks like this.
|Rank||Driver||Points||To Cut Line||Race Wins||Stage Wins||Playoff Points|
|5||Martin Truex Jr.||872||In||4||3||23|
Results of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard
|27||19||Martin Truex Jr||-4||156|
|31||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||-8||152|