Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Speedway, IN — August 15, 2021
The NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today. Today’s race is far different than previous visits to the “Brickyard.” For starters, they are racing on the road course instead of the oval. The field will lineup facing the wrong way on the starting grid, drive the wrong way down the front stretch, and turn right entering the infield just prior to the exit of the oval’s Turn 4.
Some drivers expressed disappointment with the change, Denny Hamlin summed the sentiments up by saying, “We lost a crown jewel.” How will fans respond? Attendance has been dwindling for the Brickyard 400, so you can’t blame track owner Roger Penske for trying something different with today’s Verizon 200 at the Brickyard.
The real question is, will the winner still kiss the yard of bricks at the start/finish line, and which way will they face?
Part of a Tripleheader
The Cup race will cap off a full weekend of racing at the track which began Saturday with the Indy Car Series returning to the speedway for road course action. Will Power won his 40th Indy Car race but only his 1st of 2021. Driving for Team Penke, he gave the “Captain” the victory at Penske’s own track.
The NASCAR Xfinity cars took to the track later in the afternoon. Austin Cindric, also driving for Team Penske, proved he is the Series road-course wizard as he took the checkered flag. Action on the asphalt and the grass featured cars flying over moguls set on the course outside the main racing groove.
Cindric is also set to compete in the Cup race and is considered a favorite due to his skill turning right as well as left.
There is no shortage of storylines as the Cup drivers battle it out today with just three races left in the regular season. Denny Hamlin(11) and Kyle Larson(5) are tied for the points lead. Both want the 15 playoff points that are awarded to the regular-season champion.
Hamlin can clinch a playoff spot, based on points, as long as Kevin Harvick(4), Tyler Reddick(8), 15th and 16th in points respectively, or anyone outside the Top 16 does not post a win today. Austin Cindric(33) would be the exception to that statement. If he pulls off a Penske weekend sweep he would not be playoff eligible having run only a part-time schedule this year as a warm-up for his rookie season in 2022.
Then there is the fight for the last playoff position as Richard Childress teammates Reddick and Austin Dillon(3) continue their points battle. Reddick currently sits on the playoff bubble in 16th, Dillon is just 15 points behind. Again, if a surprise winner visits victory lane today it could eliminate both drivers from the postseason.
The Indy Road Course is 2.439-miles long, featuring 14 turns using portions of the oval track and pit lane. The Cup cars will run 82 laps, 200 miles, with Stage lengths of 15/20/47 laps. The fuel window today is expected to be between 34-36 laps. The orange “turtle” bump that caused so much trouble in the Xfinity race was removed after yesterday’s event.
Practice and qualifying were held with William Byron(24) winning the pole, Chase Briscoe(14) sits beside him on the starting grid. Seven-time Cup road course winner Chase Elliott(9) and Larson, last week’s winner at Watkins Glen, make up row 2. Road-course specialist AJ Allmendinger(16) lines up 8th, Cindric 13th, Hamlin 14th.
Keep an eye on Daniel Suarez(99) starting 5th, a good candidate to be the upset victor and playoff party crasher at the end of the day.
Byron led Lap 1 as drivers drove four-wide towards the first turn. On Lap 2 Byron took a turn too wide and allowed Briscoe to pass for the lead. Briscoe is one of those drivers who could throw a wrench into the playoff picture if he picks up a win today.
Martin Truex Jr.(19) had to pit on Lap 5 after contact with another race car created a tire rub on the sheet metal of the #19 car. Cindric over ran Turn 1 and spun while running in the Top 10, he returned to the race in 30th.
Aric Almirola(10) suffered the same fate as Truex. Contact with the Corey LaJoie(7) car sent Almirola to the pits on Lap 8 to repair damage on his Ford Mustang. Several drivers, including most of the leaders, chose to pit with three laps to go in the Stage seeking track position at the beginning of Stage 2.
Reddick won the Stage followed by Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell(34). Austin Dillon finished 3rd but lost important points to his teammate.
Stage 1 Results
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
After Stage ending pit stops the lineup shuffled again. Briscoe was the leader but dropped to 5th in the lineup because he was unable to maintain caution speed while he reset the computer module on his race car. Brad Keselowski(2), Elliott, Byron, and Larson heading to the restart green flag.
Elliott took over the top spot by the time the pack returned to the flag stand. Joey Logano(22) and Kyle Busch(18) joined the Top 5 for the first time.
Keselowski did not pit at the end of Stage 1 employing a strategy to attempt to make it on only 2 stops for the afternoon. He faded from the Top 5 quickly as cars with newer tires passed easily. Brad ended up spinning out of the final turn entering the oval and backed his car into the wall. Extensive damage ruined one of the contenders for a Team Penske sweep on the weekend.
The Joey Logano/Kyle Busch feud that has been simmering for years boiled over when Busch pushed Logano causing the #22 car to spin. Busch took over the third position, Logano dropped out of the Top 10 getting back on the track.
At the front Elliott and Larson separated themselves from the rest of the pack. It will be interesting to see how pit strategies sort out at the end of the stage.
All the leaders opted to come in before the pits were closed at the end of the stage. Reddick again inherited the lead with Dillon running a second and a half behind.
Winning back-to-back Stages helped Reddick extend his points lead over Dillon. Elliott and Larson staged a classic side-by-side battle over the last lap with Larson winning the spot and the opportunity to start ahead of Elliot when the Final Stage start.
Stage 2 Results
|4||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||7|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Larson, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Byron, and Cole Custer(41) lead the field back to green to start the final stage. Everyone will have to make one more pit stop for fuel and tires. When they make that stop is important especially if there is a late caution.
The caution waved on Lap 40 for debris on the track. It is probably too early for someone to pit and try and make a long gas run. But, the stakes are so high someone may take the risk.
Briscoe was the first of the leaders to pit with 31 laps to go, he had flat-spotted a tire after overdriving into a corner and locking up the brakes. With 30 laps to go, Larson had stretched his lead to over three seconds on Byron.
Elliott came in three laps later, Larson, Byron, and Kyle Busch one lap after that. When pit stops cycled through Larson was out front, followed by Elliott, Byron, Truex, and Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go.
The caution flag waved again with 10 laps to go for more debris on the track. The curbing in Turn 6 had been deteriorating all race long. Track crews had repaired it multiple times during caution periods. But it continued to rip pieces off the undercarriage of the cars.
Almost the entire field pitted with Hamlin, Kurt Busch(1), Matt DiBenedetto(21), and Briscoe opting to stay on the track. Trouble on the Elliott pit stop was costly. After changing tires on the left side and moving to the right side the jack dropped and had to be repositioned. Elliott exited the pits in 16th.
Back to green with 6 laps to go, they race three-wide into Turn 1. Hamlin and Briscoe drove off with some separation as the rest of the field scrambled for positions. Briscoe was side-by-side with the leader down the front stretch, but Hamlin held him off back into the infield portion of the course.
This time racing into Turns 5 and 6 the curbing comes completely apart after Hamlin, Briscoe, and Larson run over it. Byron in 4th hits the section that is damaged and it launches his car into the air. The cars following get caught up in the mess and begin spinning off the track.
Byron’s car is destroyed, Logano crashes into the tire barrier on the opposite side of the track. James Davison(15), Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell(20), Ryan Preece(37), Chastain, Justin Haley(77), and Suarez all suffer some degree of damage.
The race is red-flagged with 4 laps to go. Track crews remove the entire curbing, however it exposes a mogul on the inside of the corner. Drivers will have to avoid the bump as it is a launchpad that sends cars into the air with all four wheels off the ground.
The race is forced into overtime and will end with a green-white-checkered finish. No one dares to pit and be checked for damage. Those that know they have a problem come in and lose track position, taking them out of contention.
The Top 5 are Hamlin, Larson, Briscoe, DiBenedetto, and Ryan Blaney(12). Hamlin, Briscoe, and DiBenedetto go into Turn 1 three-wide, Larson gets squeezed and shuffled back.
Into Turn 5 and 6 the leaders make it through, but Michael McDowell hits the ramp and gets launched. Dillon and Reddick get caught up in the melee. LaJoie, Truex, Custer, and Alex Richmond(48) were also involved. The red flag is displayed again.
Dillon’s car was taken to the garage, Reddick was able to strip off the hood and repair some front-end parts to keep his car running.
Overtime Number 2
AJ Allmendinger moved up to 3rd in the scramble for positions behind Hamlin and Briscoe. DiBenedetto, Blaney, and Elliott are ahead of Larson in 7th. Into Turn 1 Hamlin runs Briscoe wide and forces him into the grass. Allmendinger gets beside Hamlin as Briscoe shortcuts through the grass and comes out into the lead.
Hamlin with momentum passes Briscoe as NASCAR immediately announced to crews that Briscoe would be penalized. Briscoe hits Hamlin in the rear and spins him out of the lead, giving the top spot to Allmendinger. AJ pulls away from Blaney for the improbable win.
Hamlin and Briscoe talked it out after the race, no punches were thrown. Briscoe claimed he did not know about the penalty until later in the lap. He said he was just trying to get the win and qualify for the playoffs.
Yes, Allmendinger and his team kissed the bricks, facing in the direction they raced.
Byron, Michigan native, Erik Jones, drove to a 7th place finish.
Allmendinger is also ineligible for the playoffs and Hamlin, despite finishing in the 23rd position, clinches a playoff spot based on points. Reddick’s 21st place finish paired with Dillon’s 31st spot opened the gap on the final playoff spot to 28 points.
|1||Kyle Larson||953||In Win(5)|
|2||Martin Truex Jr.||762||In Win(3)|
|3||Alex Bowman||653||In Win(3)|
|4||Kyle Busch||796||In Win(2)|
|5||Chase Elliott||784||In Win(2)|
|6||William Byron||790||In Win|
|7||Joey Logano*||763||In Win|
|8||Ryan Blaney*||747||In Win|
|9||Brad Keselowski*||696||In Win|
|10||Kurt Busch||607||In Win|
|11||Christopher Bell||572||In Win|
|12||Michael McDowell*||480||In Win|
|13||Aric Almirola*||416||In Win|
|14||Denny Hamlin||931||In Points|
|NASCAR Playoffs Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Larson finished 3rd and took sole possession of the points lead. Michigan and Daytona remain to sort out the final standings before the playoffs start at Darlington.
Results of the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard
|11||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||8.472||95|
|15||19||Martin Truex Jr.||11.359||95|