NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2012 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis

Editor’s Note: Amy’s on vacation this week, so Phil Allaway is filling in. She’ll be back next Monday.

Who… gets my shout-out of the race?

Likely the quietest run to a top-10 finish on Sunday was that of Ryan Newman in the Quicken Loans Chevrolet. In a race in which very few drivers really stood out, Newman was very steady. He started in 11th and kept himself in contention for much of the race. Late in the going, Newman advanced as high as fifth before fading back to a seventh-place finish.

Don’t look now, but it appears that Newman is in the middle of a spate of good results. After winning the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville back in April, Newman then proceeded to go three months without a top-10 performance (his best run in that time was a 12th at Pocono). Sunday’s seventh gives Newman three top-10s in a row. The finish didn’t move him up a spot in the points, but Newman remains within striking distance of one of the wild-card spots for the Chase — perfect timing considering sponsorship and contract concerns surrounding him driving the No. 39 car for 2013.

What… was THAT?

That might be what Matt Kenseth asked to no one in particular after he was taken out in a crash with Joey Logano late in the race. However, there’s no blame to be thrown around in this incident. Logano simply got loose underneath Trevor Bayne and lost control. Had Bobby Labonte not been there to catch Logano’s spin and turn him back up the track, Kenseth would likely still have the points lead.

Where… did the polesitter end up?

For Denny Hamlin, Sunday ended up rather disappointing, despite the fact that he earned a decent finish. Hamlin led from the start without any issues, seemingly a strong contender right up until the first round of stops. However, Jimmie Johnson was able to force his way around Hamlin on the flat warmup lane exiting pit road. He was never able to regain the lead.

What really hurt Hamlin’s day even more was a slip on a restart that dropped him back to 13th. Indianapolis appears to be only getting tougher to pass at these days, the outside line causing irrecoverable losses so Hamlin spent the rest of the race getting back to sixth.

After the event, Hamlin expressed his thoughts via Twitter:

When… will I be loved?

Regan Smith finished a somewhat disappointing 18th on Sunday after having a shot to wind up much higher. However, about halfway through the race he restarted on the outside of the front row next to Brad Keselowski. After racing Keselowski hard through turn 1 and the South Chute, the two had contact in turn 2. There did not appear to be any malice in what happened, but both drivers never truly recovered.

Keselowski got very loose, losing track position and effectively dropped right out of the top-10. He had to spend the remaining 60 laps fighting back up through the pack and could only get back to ninth. That disaster was after his alternate pit strategy allowed him to lead 22 laps.

On the radio, Keselowski blamed Smith for his slip up the track, essentially saying that he wasn’t cutting him any slack. However, Smith was simply ascribing to the rule of “Get when the gettin’s good.” Indianapolis might be the toughest place in Sprint Cup to pass… and you need to take advantage of clean air. In my view, no fault on either side, but Keselowski is clearly looking to talk over the incident he blames on Smith this week.

Why… all the fuss about the Indiana 250?

Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to make of the Nationwide Series leaving Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in favor of a late afternoon date at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If we turned back the clock to 1993, people would be screaming things like progress for the series and that it would have been great! (They would have been saying that for almost any superspeedway being added to the schedule, let alone IMS.)

Nowadays, just having this race means stuff along the lines of “the end is nigh.” Yes, the place looked empty Saturday for the race. Heck, it looked pretty empty on Sunday as well. The place has so many seats that if you don’t get one of the five biggest crowds of the year for an American sporting event, it looks like Ghost Town U.S.A.

Apparently, NASCAR has tried to come up with some way to return the Nationwide Series (and likely, the Camping World Truck Series as well) to Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. It wouldn’t be on the same weekend as Sprint Cup at IMS, but there is at least some hope that the track could return. It is not like NASCAR officials physically urinated on the place when they left last year. A couple of users in the comments for Saturday’s race at Racing-Reference pitched the idea of an Indy Speedweeks in which the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series raced on the short track during Sprint Cup’s off-week (both series were at Chicagoland Speedway for a sparsely attended weekend this year), then have the current setup at IMS the following Sunday. I don’t think it could happen because NASCAR (or IMS, or both of them) would believe that it would cannibalize attendance of the Super Weekend, but it is worth a thought.

As for the racing, it was actually a little better than what we saw during the Cup event. For certain, it was better than what some people feared it was going to be. Drafting played a significant role and it was somewhat easier to pass. Of course, any racing on-track was overshadowed by the black flag that was given to Elliott Sadler late in the going for what was termed a jumpstart when it was really Sadler getting all but run over. Obviously, NASCAR needs to buckle down and make sure their rules are ironclad after that stupidity… but overall, their decision to race two at IMS wasn’t as bad as some would make you believe.

How… did the little guys do?

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway can be a tough place on the smaller teams. The compacted schedule with all of practice and qualifying being shoved into Saturday (the first of those sessions starting so early in the morning that teams couldn’t really learn all that much) made things that much harder.

Wood Brothers Racing (Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): The best of the smaller operations, the part-time Wood Brothers team had a decent run on Sunday, starting 18th (best of those who had to qualify on speed) and finishing in 17th. Overall, Trevor Bayne had a very quiet run and radio chatter/Twitter posts from the team indicated that they had a car that could have finished higher with better track position:

Furniture Row Racing (Furniture Row/Aurora Tribute Chevrolet): For Smith and Furniture Row, they left Indianapolis with an 18th-place result (see above). However, the team spent much of the first half of the race in the top 10 before a two-tire strategy, and that contact with Keselowski put them way back in the pack for the final laps.

Tommy Baldwin Racing (No. 10 TMone Chevrolet, No. 36 SealWrap Chevrolet): For the Baldwin team, you had the tale of two different squads. JJ Yeley drove the No. 10 in place of David Reutimann, mainly as a result of the partnership just announced between TBR and the shuttered MaxQ Motorsports. Despite last-minute backing from TMone, Yeley drove only 20 laps before pulling in with transmission issues and finished 39th.

Dave Blaney, in contrast, took advantage of a wave-around and a Lucky Dog to keep himself on the lead lap almost all day. He ran as high as 19th late in the race before being shuffled back to a 23rd-place finish. That’s now tied with Phoenix for Blaney’s best unrestricted result of the season.

Inception Motorsports (No. 30 Toyota): David Stremme‘s Inception team scraped together the funds (without a sponsor, mind you) to run the entire race on Sunday. The team did a decent job, with Stremme staying on the lead lap all day and finishing a season-best 24th.

BK Racing (No. 83 Burger King Toyota, No. 93 Burger King Toyota): For BK Racing, the weekend was a struggle. Travis Kvapil qualified better than Landon Cassill, but blew a right-front tire on lap 41. Kvapil’s Toyota hit the wall hard in turn 2 and was forced to retire for the day. Cassill, meanwhile took advantage of two Lucky Dogs to stay on the lead lap and finish 25th.

JTG Daugherty Racing (No. 47 Scotts Toyota): For Bobby Labonte, Indianapolis was not exactly the best weekend. Labonte qualified back in the pack and lost a lap to the leaders very early in the going. A wave around got the team back on the lead lap, but they were never able to advance much past 25th. Then, late in the race Joey Logano spun into Labonte before turning into Kenseth, damaging the No. 47. Labonte was able to finish on the lead lap in 26th, despite the damage.

Front Row Motorsports (No. 34 Scorpion Coatings/Al’s Liners Ford, No. 38 Big Machine Records Ford): Both of the Front Row Motorsports Fords were not exactly on pace on Sunday. They were both lapped relatively early, but took advantage of wave-arounds (and in Ragan’s case, the Lucky Dog) to finish on the lead lap in 27th and 28th.

FAS Lane Racing (No. 32 Special Operations for America Ford): Ken Schrader‘s day never really got started before a long stop on pit road (engine problems) put him two laps down before lap 15. Hampered with the slowest car in Indianapolis all weekend, it was all Schrader could do to ride around to 30th, four laps down at the finish.

LJ Racing (No. 33 .ing/LittleJoesAuto.com Chevrolet): Last-minute backing allowed Stephen Leicht to run the distance once again. However, Leicht was never really on pace, finishing six laps down in 31st, two laps behind Schrader.

Germain Racing (No. 13 GEICO Ford): A promising weekend early on devolved into a nightmare for Casey Mears. Mears was quite fast in the opening practice session Saturday morning, but could not parlay that form into qualifying or race pace. Mears was running 30th when a cut tire put him in the turn 2 wall on lap 94, bringing out the third caution. The team made repairs to the Fusion and Mears got back out. Additional attrition allowed him to gain a couple of spots and run 34th, 23 laps off the pace.

Phoenix Racing (No. 51 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet): Sunday could have been an exquisite day for Phoenix Racing and Kurt Busch. Busch qualified 13th and moved up into the top 10 early on, legitimately. However, on his second pit stop, the front tire changer was unable to get all five lugnuts on the left-front wheel. This resulted in NASCAR bringing Busch back in with the black flag, aggravating the driver and costing him previous track position. Busch was never in any contention afterwards, while engine problems ultimately relegated him to a 36th-place finish.

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