Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN — July 5, 2020
The July 4th weekend would usually mean that the NASCAR Cup Series makes its return to Daytona. With the shakeup in the 2020 schedule that date went to Indianapolis. Yesterday the Indy cars ran the road course and Scott Dixon won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The Xfinity Series followed with an exciting event that saw Chase Briscoe put his Ford Mustang in victory lane for the 5th time this season.
The Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records features the Cup cars for 400 miles at the Brickyard. Joey Logano starts on the pole today with Kurt Busch on the pole beside him. The biggest pre-race news has the 7-time series champion, Jimmie Johnson, out after a positive COVID-19 test. Xfinity driver Justin Allgaier is subbing in the #48 Hendrick Motorsports entry. He starts in the 4th position today.
“NASCAR has outlined the steps for Johnson’s return, in accordance with the CDC’s current guidelines, which includes that Johnson is symptom-free and has two negative COVID-19 test results, at least 24 hours apart. NASCAR requires Johnson to be cleared by his physician before returning to racing. Jimmie is a true battle-tested champion, and we wish him well in his recovery. NASCAR has granted Jimmie a playoff waiver, and we look forward to his return as he races for an eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship.”
Johnson was granted a playoff waiver, just as Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth were provided earlier this season.
“Playoff eligibility hinges on drivers competing in all 36 Cup Series races and maintaining at least a top-30 ranking in the points standings. The waiver removes the first of those two requirements. Drivers qualify for one of the 16 berths by either winning a regular-season race or being among the top points earners without a win.”
Johnson currently sits 12th, Newman is 24th and Kenseth sits 30th. Johnson needs a quick recovery, Newman and Kenseth likely need wins to qualify for the postseason.
The defending champion of the race, Kevin Harvick, sits 11th on the start. A total of 160 laps around the 2.5-mile speedway make up the 400-mile distance. Stage lengths are 50/50/60 laps. Temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees today and a 20% chance of rain might give NASCAR a chance to get an uninterrupted race in.
The forecast was correct, no rain. However, a lightning strike in the area delayed the start for almost an hour. At the drop of the green flag, Logano outraced Kurt Busch through turns 1 & 2.
Side by side action produced sparks early. After being taken out of last week’s race at Pocono by a tap to the bumper from Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch made it know that he remembers. Busch drove into the side of Blaney’s car while passing him down the front straightaway.
Martin Truex Jr. had a problem that left his racecar down on power. He reported an ECU error displaying on the digital dash. With a competition caution after Lap 12, his crew may be able to correct the error.
As the field came to pit road, a pile-up at the narrow entrance brought traffic to a halt. While the leaders had passed safely, Christopher Bell checked up and was hit by Chris Buescher. Ryan Preece slammed on the brakes and was nailed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., he, Corey LaJoie, and Martin Truex Jr. blocked the pit road entrance. Justin Allgaier tried to squeeze by on the inside and got jammed up. Brennan Poole tried to follow Allgier and ran into the rear tire changer for Ryan Blaney pinning the crewman between the two cars.
NASCAR red-flagged the race while emergency crews tended to the injured crew member, transporting him to the hospital via ambulance as track crews cleaned up pit road. After an 11 minute stoppage, the yellow was displayed and crews began to work on damaged race cars.
Kurt Busch had a problem on pit road when the jackman dropped the car early and Busch ran over the air hose. They had to back up and finish the stop properly. He restarted at the rear of the field
Kevin Harvick led the field back to the green flag, he had pitted prior to the caution and stayed out while everyone else pitted. Logano, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, and Brad Keselowski followed.
Bell was able to continue with minor damage, the others involved in the pit road incident were retired to the garage.
With 10 laps to go in the Stage, Ryan Newman hit the outside wall when his right front tire went down bringing out the caution a 2nd time. The damage took Newman out of the event.
Pit road strategy swapped positions at the front of the field. William Byron, Erik Jones, and Austin Dillon stayed out to gain track position. Ty Dillon changed two tires and beat Harvick out of the pits.
With 4 laps to go in Stage 1 the green flag waved, the sprint for Stage points was on. Byron and Jones pulled away picking up valuable points in their playoff push. Drivers scrambled for position over the closing laps like it was the finish of the race.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Those cars that stayed out to battle for Stage points pitted on during the caution. So the lead swapped hands again. Chase Elliott and Harvick sat on the front row, followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch.
Elliott stretched the lead until Erik Jones cut a right-front tire and slammed hard into the Turn 3 outside wall with 26 laps to go in the Stage. The caution gave everyone a chance to pit for fresh tires and enough fuel to carry them to the green and white checkered flag.
Under green again and leading, William Byron blows a left front tire destroying the fender and a portion of the hood of his car. Fortunately, everyone avoids the incident but it still brings out a caution.
Austin Dillon, Hamlin, Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Chase Elliott lead the pack back to green with 13 laps to go in Stage 2. Down the backstretch, Harvick takes Hamlin and Dillon three-wide driving almost into the grass to take the lead. While Blaney was entering Turn 3 he got loose and spun to the top of the track contacting the wall. Another caution. Blaney’s crew was able to repair the damage and get him back on track, but his chance at the win is likely gone.
The yellow flag will again give teams an opportunity to play with pit strategies. On the restart, Harvick pulls away easily. Hamlin and Austin Dillon battle for 2nd when Elliott goes three-wide into Turn 3 and takes the 2nd spot for himself. The battle for Stage points is on again.
Harvick holds on for the stage win, some new names pick up valuable Stage points with a top 10 finish.
Stage 2 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Harvick and Elliott led Hamlin and Christopher Bell back to the start. Harvick drives off Turn 2 with the lead followed by Elliott. Just like the last two restarts its three-wide by the time they reach the end of the backstretch and Hamlin noses ahead. But, Harvick fights him off and has the clean air as they cross the yard of bricks.
Harvick and Hamlin turned the race into their personal two-man battle running away from the field. With one pit stop needed to get enough fuel to finish the race, Hamlin pitted first on Lap 123, Harvick followed on the next circuit. A little trouble changing the left side tires cost Harvick dearly as he returned to the track over a second behind Hamlin.
Matt Kenseth inherited the lead, Hamlin and Harvick will have to wait until pit stops cycle through to get back to the front.
With 26 laps to go, Alex Bowman crushes the wall in Turn 1 as a tire goes down. The caution is going to wreak havoc with the running order. Hamlin and Harvick will stay out, those who pit will line up with fresh tires and look to make a move on the leaders.
Hamlin drives to the lead as the race restarts with 22 laps to go. Harvick closes the gap quickly and appears to have a faster car. Clean air is king and Harvick will have to force Hamlin to make a mistake to make the pass.
With 7 laps to go, Denny Hamlin has a right-front tire go down and he slams the wall in Turn 1. A perfect day goes bad just 17 miles away from the win. A late restart is sure to produce a wild finish.
Harvick will inherit the lead, 48-year old Matt Kenseth taking over for Kyle Larson in the #42 car will join Harvick on the front row for the restart. Aric Almirola and rookie Cole Custer will follow them into Turn 1. Nine of the top 13 cars are Ford Mustangs as the race restarts with 2 laps to go.
Custer pushes his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate to a huge advantage and Harvick drives to back-to-back wins at the Brickyard. Ford Performance dominates with 4 cars in the top 5. Matt Kenseth pulls off an improbable 2nd place finish, just missing out on the win that would have put him in the Playoffs. Hamlin finished in 28th.
Playoff Point Standings
Probably the most surprising thing about the NASCAR Playoff Standings is last year’s champion, Kyle Busch, sits in 10th without a win yet in 2020. Aric Almirola has five top 5 finishes and could be the next driver to clinch a playoff spot with a win.
Matt DiBenedetto sits in 12th, a good spot for the Wood Brothers Ford Mustang. Young gun William Byron is 14th, Sidelined Jimmie Johnson is 36 points above the cut line, but that interval will shrink in the following weeks as he battles COVID-19.
Austin Dillon sits on the playoff bubble, having replaced Erik Jones who crashed out of Indy.
|Position||Driver||Points||Wins / + or –|
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||501||1|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|20||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||312||-48|
Clinched Playoff Spot *Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 from Indianapolis
|16||38||John Hunter Nemechek||16.677||161|
|36||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-141||20|
|38||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-145||16|