Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
Sometimes having the best car isn’t enough. Kasey Kahne had that on Sunday, leading a race-high 70 of 160 laps in Indianapolis, but in the end, he had nothing to show for it but a sixth-place finish. After the race, Kahne said that he should have chosen the outside line on the final restart, but that lane had been working for him and Jeff Gordon has had several bad restarts this year, so Kahne’s choice wasn’t really a terrible one. And even if he had gotten the jump on Gordon, he may not have had enough in the tank to beat the driver of the No. 24 in the end; he finished the race, but once he lost the lead, was conserving fuel. Had he had to race Gordon for the top spot, he had a good chance of not making it to the finish. Still, this race was the type Kahne has desperately needed, a day where he ran up front and luck was, for the most part, on his side. Being short on fuel is fixable. A bad restart is fixable. So often this year for Kahne, there’s been nothing to point to that the No. 5 team could have done differently. At least this week, there is.
What… beyond the teams’ control affected the action?
The better words here might be what affected the lack of action, because Sunday’s race, typical Indy fare, had far less of that than many events this year. And while tires and cars play a role, the fact that Indy itself is a big, flat track is what hurts the action the most. A racetrack can have all the history and prestige in the world for one type of racing, but that doesn’t make it an important place for everyone to race. Indy was built as a test track, and for Indy cars, it’s an ideal venue… but not for stock cars.
While Indy has produced some memorable wins, it hasn’t produced memorable racing. In 21 races, the margin of victory has been less than half a second just three times. But nine times, it’s been a second or more, and seven of those have been decided by more than two seconds. In the pack, green flag racing isn’t much better. There’s always more action than you see on TV, but in general, while Indy may have history (in another series), it’s produced some of the worst finishes in Sprint Cup in recent years. Sometimes, cashing in on someone else’s history and prestige doesn’t make much sense.
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Kevin Harvick started the day in the top spot but was quickly passed by Gordon. While he led a total of 12 laps on the day, Harvick and his team never hit on the perfect setup and they weren’t a threat to win. He finished a respectable eighth, but didn’t have the look he has earlier in the year, when he had the fastest car in the field at some point nearly every week.
Ryan Newman was the race winner a year ago, and while he moved to Richard Childress Racing, a team that’s done well at Indy in the past, he didn’t find that Hoosier magic again in 2014. Newman finished a solid 11th, but never led a lap and wasn’t a factor at the end.
When… did it all go sideways?
Sunday’s race featured lots of green-flag racing, and aside from a planned competition caution, no interference from NASCAR. Still, for a couple of teams, Indianapolis was a race they’d probably like to forget. Trevor Bayne smacked the inside wall hard enough to end his day after just 96 laps when a tire went down on his No. 21. Danica Patrick‘s broken rear gear left her frustrated in 42nd place, and Ryan Truex‘s too-slow car brought the yellow flag out, but Indy was as drama-free as they come, and the race evolved as it should have.
What was amiss, though, was the crowd. The stands, which were once packed to the rafters for the NASCAR race, were sparsely populated, and attendance looked to be the lowest yet for NASCAR at the track. It’s easy to blame the 2008 tire debacle (which actually had one of the closest finishes in Indy history), but that was six years ago. The bigger problem is the way the track races—since 2008, the finish has been decided by less than 1.391 seconds just twice, and three times, it’s been over two seconds. The finishes aren’t close, and it’s because of the track. It’s just not good in NASCAR, and the fans aren’t making the trip.
Why… did Gordon win the race?
Gordon’s Achilles’ heel in 2014 has been restarts. He’s lost a couple of races on late green flags this year, but on Sunday, Gordon nailed the restart when it counted most, passing teammate Kahne on the final restart and driving away from the field to win his fifth race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway—a number that drivers across all series that have raced at that venue only Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher has equaled. The driver of the No. 24 looked like the Gordon of old on Sunday. He gained 10 spots on restarts throughout the day, including the one that mattered most. His second win of 2014, combined with his points lead, mathematically locks Gordon into the Chase, where he’ll attempt to become the fourth driver in history to win five Sprint Cup titles.
Gordon’s win was the 90th of his career, and while that career is winding down (Gordon turns 43 in August), you have to wonder if David Pearson‘s 105-win mark, second on the all-time list, is within reach. 15 more wins is a stretch as Gordon ages, and he hasn’t won more than three times in a season since 2007. But he’s racing with a vengeance this year, and it’s not entirely out of the realm anymore. Plus, to win over 100 races in this era of competition would be a huge accomplishment, one which would force Gordon’s name to be included in the conversation with Pearson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt about the best of all time.
How… did the little guys do?
JTG-Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Kingsford Chevy): Allmendinger didn’t have a good qualifying session and struggled early on, but none of that mattered, because by the end of the day, the No. 47 was carting home another top 20 and another best-in-class finish. Allmendinger finished 18th, easily the class of this field.
Leavine Family Racing; Michael McDowell (No 95 K-Love Ford): McDowell is one of those drivers whose shot might have come too soon. When he drove for Michael Waltrip Racing, he was still gaining experience, and the team was also new, far from the contender it is today. Unfortunately for McDowell, it may have been the combination that got him labeled as damaged goods, and despite some surprisingly strong races in subpar equipment, including this one, where he finished a second-in-class 26th, McDowell remains a relative unknown. What could he do with a top opportunity? Nobody may ever know.
HScott Motorsports; Justin Allgaier (No. 51 Collision Cure Chevy): Even the best drivers in this group had a hard time Sunday. Allgaier had a quietly solid day among his peers, but he only has a 27th-place finish to show for it. That’s part of the frustration of a small team; having a good day go unrecognized because of the finishing number.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Curb Records Ford): This team continues to have a surprisingly solid first full season of racing. This week, Wise was fourth among the small teams, with a solidly contested 29th.
Circle Sport; Landon Cassill (No. 40 Carsforsale.com Chevy): Cassill’s teammate David Stremme in the No. 33 failed to make the race, but Cassill made the field and ran a decent race. Possibly the most underfunded team even among the underfunded teams, the No. 40 has been impressive at times, and this week, Cassill had a better day than some better-funded drivers, coming in 30th.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson & Bobby Labonte (No. 7 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 36 Zing Zang Chevy & N0. 37 Accell Construction Chevy): Annett was again the best TBR driver with his 31st-place finish. For Sorenson and Labonte, who joined Annett and Sorenson for a one-race deal, Indy was an exercise in patience as the pair struggled with handling issues, finishing four laps down in 38th and 39th, respectively.
BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Truex (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 Speed Stick Gear Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Whitt continues to be the strongest driver on the BK roster, but this week, that was really nothing to write home about as he finished 32nd. This team has backslid in 2014, and you have to wonder if part if that is the lack of a veteran driver in any of the team’s three seats. The youngsters have talent, but perhaps some guidance would have been helpful. Bowman and Truex finished 40th and 41st, respectively.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): Mears and Co. struggled with handling all day before limping to a 33rd-place finish, but that’s not the real concern. 2014 should be a breakthrough season for this team after inking an alliance with Richard Childress Racing, but the team hasn’t make the strides they should have so far. Mears fell to 26th in driver points, the lowest he’s been since Pocono in June 3013.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 MDS Ford & No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford): This team has been having some decent weeks, but Indy wasn’t one of them. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the pair was consistent with each other, finishing 35th and 36th, but that’s not much comfort this week.
GoFAS Racing; Travis Kvapil (No. 32 Keen Parts /tryandrozene.com Ford): Kvapil soldiered home in 39th, never running better than that all day.
Wood Brothers Racing; Bayne (No 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford): Bayne had the best starting spot in this group, rolling off 20th. However, he had a tire go down on lap 97 while running 19th, spun and hit the inside wall. “I think it’s killed,” Bayne said on the radio about his mangled car… and it was, leaving the No. 21 in 43rd for the day, one of just two cars who didn’t make it to the end.