Storylines, we had a few going into the Indianapolis Brickyard 400. We wondered if the crown jewel race on the historical track would be worth watching. Sometimes it has not been. However, now that NBC has brought back meaningful commentary to the experience, we had high hopes. Hell, despite it being obvious no one was going to be racing for a while, I was glued to the television just to hear what everyone had to say. The network that once brought us Rusty Wallace now presents Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, and Steve Letarte. Now, that is the true meaning of being progressive, as Lord knows progress has finally been made.
Yet, the big story was the start of the race. When would that be? The wet cold rainy weather punted both practice and qualifying, thus nobody would have any laps in their car when the green waved. None. Zip. That had never happened before in NASCAR’s modern era. I mean, with defending race champ Kasey Kahne out of the car due to the after-effects from heat exhaustion in the Southern 500, Regan Smith was in a Cup car for the first time in 17 months. No practice, no laps, nothing before he takes the green flag on a green track known for grinding tires down to the nub.
Obviously, we also wondered if someone below NASCAR’s dividing line between contenders and pretenders might shock us all with a win. Someone who might actually put Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman in jeopardy of losing their spot in the season-ending party. Winning this particular race is a big deal. Winning it to steal a spot in the Chase would have been huge.
Sunday came and went, but when they waved the green on Monday we discovered tire wear and lack of practice was no big deal. The cars stuck and when Denny Hamlin ignored the competition caution after 10 laps, he went to the front and stayed there. So much for those storylines.
So much for the Sunday fans as many, if not most, were nowhere to be seen in the stands come Monday. Maybe they knew that being there was not as good as watching it all from home. As for the racing, the boys were stretched all around the track. If you love pack racing, you would have hated Indianapolis. Meanwhile, the NBC boys and girls kept it more than watchable due to the insight of their commentary. See, it all was not bad.
It was not a good week for Martin Truex Jr. First, we heard that his team is heading for the exits after this season. Then we saw in the middle of the opening stage that same car heading for the exits after shattering a left front brake rotor. When it rains it pours, at least it did at Indianapolis.
Lost brakes ended all hopes for Bubba Wallace when a failure caused his wreck. Johnson got some relief in the middle frame when A.J. Allmendinger crippled Bowman’s ride. That guaranteed Johnson was in the Chase, but it still meant someone on the outside had to win to beat Bowman out. The odds were not great, especially considering the fact the best of the rest with 60 laps to go was Stage Two winner Matt Kenseth, and he was not even eligible for a playoff run.
As the laps clicked off, it was down to a pair of drivers. Hamlin was up front, with Clint Bowyer trying to track him down. With seven to go, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Landon Cassill came together to bring out the caution. That set the stage for those two boys left hoping to hold off Brad Keselowski, with his fresher tires, sitting a row behind them. He was sitting beside Jamie McMurray, who is in final campaign in his current ride, needed a win to be in. Same for Ryan Newman, who started right behind him. Finally, this thing was going to get interesting.
On the restart, Bowyer spun his tires and sank from view. Keselowski came up to challenge Hamlin, and the pair did some beating and banging before Mad Brad took off to collect a second straight crown jewel, coming off of his win last week in the Southern 500. Erik Jones finished third, ahead of Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, and Bowyer. Three outsiders finished in the top 10, but McMurray, Newman, and Paul Menard came up short of the prize they were after.
Now it is off to the playoffs. Three drivers go in with a big cushion in playoff points. For the rest, a win would automatically launch them into the next round. The excitement begins next Sunday at Las Vegas, where there is always a story to tell.