NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard

Who’s in the headline – Feel free to stop if you’ve heard this one before: Kyle Busch just won a Cup Series race. If you haven’t been paying attention or lived under a rock for the last month, this win was his third in a row and fourth in the last five races. Three in a row is impressive in and of itself. Throw in the parity that is rampant in the Cup Series today, plus the fact that the three races each used different aero packages, and you have just witnessed something truly special.

What happenedCarl Edwards started the race on the pole, but outside polesitter Joey Logano snaked into the lead in the first corner of the first lap and stayed out front for 11 laps. Edwards passed him on lap 12 and held the point for the next 20 circuits. Kevin Harvick then took the lead from Edwards and ran in the top spot until the first caution flag flew. Logano led through the first and second caution before Harvick took the top spot from him for the second time of the race on lap 62. A series of differing strategy calls resulted in the lead switching hands another nine times before the end of the race, but they were all on restarts; Busch used the final series of them to take control and wrestle the lead from Harvick, who appeared to have the fastest car. Jeff Gordon, making his final Brickyard start, was caught up in an incident with Clint Bowyer on lap 51 and lost his chance to become the all-time winningest driver in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. At the end, 41 of 43 starters were running and, despite the forecast of 100% precipitation possibility at 5:00, the race ran to completion without a weather-related caution.

Why you should care – Busch was granted a medical exemption that will allow him into the Chase if he is able to climb inside the top 30 in points. When the exemption was granted, it looked like there was a slim chance that Busch could make the climb all the way to 30th. At this point, he is 23 points out of that spot and at his current pace will probably make it into that position next weekend at Pocono. While Busch was celebrating the victory, it was anti-climactic to see Gordon’s chances at a win go out the window so early. Having won the inaugural event, it would have been a storybook ending to see him take the trophy home in his final start at the hallowed grounds.

The race also marked the debut of the high-drag aero package that NASCAR is trying out to increase slingshot passing. While cars were able to draw up to a competitor they were following, the stability of the car was significantly compromised in the corners. Many drivers noted that the changes were a step in the right direction but few of them felt the lack of security in the turns was what they were interested in.

What your friends are talking about – Throwing a completely new aerodynamic package at the teams in the Cup Series can be a major challenge for everyone involved. Testing and simulating can take some time before the competition feels comfortable putting it into a race situation. This weekend, the teams took to the Brickyard with a package that had zero laps turned on it prior to practice on Friday. Going into the second-biggest race of the season blind like that was a risky proposition, to say the least. The fact that the man who made the call, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Gene Stefanyshyn, vacationed in the Bahamas for the weekend seemed to be a very sore spot for most of the crew chiefs in the series. There was a lot of grumbling from the head wrenches over the circumstances surrounding the implementation, but having one of NASCAR’s leaders absent was a particular sore spot.

Speaking of the new aero package, teams were given some five hours to practice with it on Friday. During that time, there was zero attempt by the teams or NASCAR to put a group of cars on the track together and simulate a race situation. The result was that, after the green flag flew on Sunday and the 43 cars barreled into turn 1, no one had a clue if they were going to make it to the exit. The crapshoot of unleashing this package untested prior to Friday was truly risky by itself, yet the fact that the teams didn’t want to take a chance on tearing up their cars so they didn’t test in a group setting was just short-sighted. Fortunately, everything went well during the initial stages of the race and the dice rolled by NASCAR did not come up snake eyes.

One interesting angle of this change was that NASCAR decided to go to single-car qualifying for the weekend. The sanctioning body felt that it would be unfair for some competitors to get runs on others during the sessions based on how the package was designed to allow cars to “suck up” to each other. The odd part of that logic is that is exactly what the drivers do at Talladega and Daytona with group qualifying. Whether NASCAR was worried about people wrecking due to lack of practice in a group or concerned over the newness of the package, that is the decision that was made. It is confusing that there is a double standard for qualifying at Indy with this package versus the plate tracks but that was the call NASCAR made.

Hot on the heels of the stupidity that is running the July Daytona race at night, Sunday’s Brickyard took the green flag at 3:49. Similarly, although not as clockwork as the rains in Daytona, afternoon showers on a hot summer day in the Midwest will usually happen late in the afternoon. Instead of starting the race at 1:00 or 1:30, like the series did when fans asked for standard start times a couple of years ago, NASCAR chose to start the race at the requested time for NBC, having it work into their schedule for the sports network. Luckily for the sanctioning body, fans, and the network, the rain held off until just after the checkered flag had flown and the teams were able to get packed up. Had the forecasters been right, the race would have been held on Monday. While racing in the heat of the day is uncomfortable for the fans and the drivers, it produces a far greater product and reduces the potential for weather interruptions.

Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway proved a couple of things that race fans have known forever. Racing on short tracks is better than racing on big tracks and you don’t have to go ridiculously fast to put on a great race. The consensus from most everyone who watched the festivities in Rossburg, Ohio was that it was one of the best NASCAR races anyone had seen in quite some time. That happened despite the fact the racetrack is a half-mile in length and the average speed was a tick over 44 mph. Short tracks inherently put the competitors close together which is what fans like to see and the lower speeds make it easier for drivers to take chances and recover when things go wrong. Hopefully, the people making the decisions on the schedules going forward will take note and start putting more races back on short tracks. It is the right thing to do.

Who is mad – Gordon had to be mad about the way the weekend unfolded for his final run at Indianapolis. The qualifying effort was less than satisfactory, as it was for most of the Hendrick teams. After starting 19th, he was making little progress forward, as most of the cars did in typical Indy fashion. Then, before his race really had a chance to even develop, he was caught up in an incident with Bowyer, wound up torn up and 42nd in the final rundown. While Gordon initially sounded like he might do one-off races after this season, that no longer appears to be the case. The finality of the end of the event has to have stung a little after occurring just a quarter of the way into the race.

Harvick looked to be the dominant car, leading a race high four times for 75 laps. He was in the lead on the seventh restart of the race only to spin his tires, dropping three spots and never recovering. Looking to become the fourth driver to win multiple Brickyards, plus having a car that appeared to be capable of making that happen, a third-place result had to be a major disappointment.

This weekend, it really looked like Tony Stewart was going to be in the happy category rather than the mad category. Unfortunately, when the laps wound down to the final 60, Stewart ended up back in the now all-too-familiar 20s rather than Victory Lane. As the field prepared for the final restart, Stewart came on the radio and thanked everyone on the team for their hard work and apologized for not finishing the deal. The struggles for Smoke continue; after laying down the fastest lap in the first round of qualifying and starting fourth, this one has to sting especially bad.

Who is happy – Bowyer spun and ultimately caused Gordon’s incident that crushed his hopes for a win. However, Bowyer had minimal damage thanks to avoiding any walls and bounced back to a sixth-place finish. After three straight top 10s, Bowyer had a 19th at Kentucky and a 34th at Loudon. Knowing that Busch is going to be in the top 30 soon, it had to be a relief for Bowyer to put some distance between himself and Aric Almirola in 15th position in the points standings. Unfortunately, he’s 20 points behind Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard for what appears to be the last spot that will qualify for the Chase so the happiness is a little tempered.

Speaking of a bounce back after some disappointing results, Martin Truex Jr. started the season with a record setting run of top-10 finishes. Since that streak was broken at Sonoma, he had not notched a top 10 in four straight races. A fourth-place result had to be a big boost to a team whose confidence was most likely shaken over the last month.

Kyle Larson is looking to recapture the magic of 2014 but it has been fleeting. He had just five top 10s coming into this weekend but they were all posted in the first 14 races of the season. The last five events, Larson’s best finish was 15th and three of those five results were in the 30s. While top 10s is not what Larson or his No. 42 team is happy with, running solidly (ninth) after more than a month of running poorly had to feel great.

When the checkered flag flew:

Busch won his 33rd career Cup Series race in his 374th career start. Sunday was Busch’s first victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Busch is now tied with Fireball Roberts for 20th on the all-time wins list for the Cup Series. Busch is four wins behind Bobby Isaac for 19th. Indy marks Busch’s fourth triumph of 2014, which ties him with Jimmie Johnson for most in the series.

Logano finished second for the second time this season. It is the fourth time in his career that he’s crossed the finish line in the runner-up position. It ties Logano’s best career finish at Indianapolis and his second top five in a row. Logano has three top-two finishes in 2014. He is tied for 92nd on the all-time list with four career second-place runs.

Harvick crossed the line in third for his fourth podium run at Indianapolis in 15 career starts. This was Harvick’s 12th podium of the season and second consecutive third-place run. Harvick has finished in the top three 91 times in his career, which ties him with Junior Johnson for 23rd on the all-time list.

Busch’s win is the first triumph for Toyota at Indianapolis. The win now means that Toyota has won at every venue on the current Cup schedule.

Matt DiBenedetto came home in 32nd to claim Rookie of the Race honors.

Harvick, Logano, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kurt Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins. Kyle Busch will be locked in assuming he can make it into the top 30 in points, which would mean down to 14th in points would make it in.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 20 races without wins and their standing in points:

9) Jamie McMurray

11) Jeff Gordon

12) Ryan Newman

13) Paul Menard

14) Kasey Kahne

15) Clint Bowyer

Takin’ it to the Bank:

Cup winners this year have pocketed $7,227,103 in 20 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,659,712.

In the XFINITY Series, it has been $1,403,964 for the winners and $257,518 for last place following 18 races.

After 11 Truck races the winner has $592,603 and the last loser has banked $109,559.

What is in the cooler

Indianapolis is all about history, prestige and spectacle. The racing there, in any series, is seldom spectacular. Sunday’s Brickyard was no exception. While there were four on-track passes for the lead that did not occur on a restart, the amount of passing in general and the primarily single-file parade was uninspiring. Three restarts in the last 12 laps provided some excitement, which is where most of the excitement in the Cup Series comes from in general these days. As a result, we’ll give it three Dragonfly IPAs from the Upland Beer Company. That was the top selling beer at the craft beer stands on the grounds at Indianapolis this weekend.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – From one predominantly flat oval to another, the series heads off to the Pocono mountains for their second visit of the season. The green flag flies on the isosceles triangle at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 2. The action can be seen on NBC Sports Network. If you prefer to listen, don’t have NBCSN or won’t be in front of a television, it can be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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Bill B

The new package definitely did not make the racing any better. It was a typical Indy race. Yawn inspiring.

Balloons on the fence cause a caution? Someone please tell me why they were a danger to anyone on the track.

I can’t believe they started the race so late. It could have easily burned them if the predicted rain would have come to fruition. Do they even understand the concept of making the window for getting the race in as large as possible? What a bunch of idiots.

I’m still not a fan of drivers missing races and still being chase eligible. Personally, I think the line should be much higher than 30th in points. However I have to admit that Kyle Busch is more chase worthy than half the guys that have already qualified for the chase given the way he’s been running.

janice

are you serious about balloons in the fence causing a caution?? i guess i missed that one.

GinaV24

oh yes it was definitely balloons, When I saw it I thought of the big orange balloon that got loose on the track in Chicagoland one year. Now THAT was a balloon.

Charles Jenkins

Bill B, re the starting time: I have to remind myself over and over that what we see now is not real racing. Sr. was right although he was speaking of plate tracks only at the time. It is nothing but the business of motor sports entertainment. NBC could care less about a window for the race. Even if they broadcast it on a Monday because of a rain delay, NBCSN would have better ratings than a repeat of some game or bicycle event Sad for us guys and gals who use to enjoy racing.

DoninAjax

Back to the drawing board for Brian and his geniuses.

janice

i was so hoping that dark cloud would had opened up and the downpour come prior to the end of the race. i think if i heard the commentators say “champion” with kyle busch one more time i would have had to pitch something through the tv. i know change the channel.

guess the 15-20% increase in fans purchasing tickets let after gordon got wrecked, and the rest of the place started to empty out for a head start home after jr had his issues and stewart was in the back of the pack. still lots of empty real estate at indy. i know the place holds a herd of people. but they didn’t even try to cover it up with advertising banners.

i loved stewart’s comment when asked multiple times about the heat. he didn’t think it was that hot. come on boys…..it’s summer time and it’s typically hot and humid in the summer. pull on your big boy/girl pants and deal with it fans don’t have a/c in the stands. from the post race i saw none of the cup drivers were running for fluids or sitting down from heat exhaustion.

as usual, best racing was at the end, and that was due to wreck that caused g/w/c. bet harvick kicked the dog after that one restart that allowed busch to take off.

oh well, on to steamy pocono next weekend.

Jim

Sure is hard to figure how the purse topped $9 million yesterday….I was at NHMS last week and while that crowd was disappointing (maybe 65,000?), there looked to be less than that on hand at Indy yesterday.

The shrinking attendance is really something to witness, and I’m afraid that it is going to continue. Sure, the quality of the racing is a factor, but there is still nothing like going to a race, and it’s how you make casual observers fans. NASCAR is going to have to figure out how to get the younger fans back at the track or the attendance will continue to dwindle until only the die hards show up.

I wonder if local blackouts would be an answer? Not that you’d need to sell out 100%, but if 70% of the tickets were not sold by noon on Friday, draw a 100 mile circle around the track and black out coverage within that radius?

Bill B

Blackouts only work when people near the track WANT to watch the race on TV. Given the ratingsdecline that mirrors the decline in attendance, I would think a blackout would have absolutely no effect on ticket sales.

russ

Think Bill is right. Unlike the stick and ball sports, who do get most of their attendance locally, Nascar is dependent on people being willing to travel. So a local blackout wouldn’t have much effect.

janice

when i first moved to GA almost 20 yrs ago the spring race at ams was always blacked out. then tv deals started to change and all races were broadcasted.

i can’t even get races on a prn station any longer here.

Shane

The best way to get people in the seats is lower the ticket prices. The least expensive seats suck, people can’t afford NASCAR anymore. Besides you can pay $10-$15 at a local short track and see better racing.

russ

I may be wrong but I dont think lowering the ticket prices by even a significant amount is going to seriously increase attendance. You already have places where if you test drive a new car you get free tickets, or buy x dollars worth of groceries.
Maybe its just easier to sit at home and do something you really want to do.

Chuck

Shane, the best way to get better ratings and attendance is to put a better product on the race track. How do you do that?

1. In 1976, NASCAR used street versions of the approved vehicles to develop the template for that model of race car and the car had to fit them.

Today, the cars bear nothing in common with their street car counterpart. They are almost the same as the original funny cars used in NHRA years ago.

Solution: get rid of all the aerodynamic crap and make the car fit the moldlines of their street counterparts. I remember Bobby Allison crashing his Pontiac LeMans at Richmond and taking the nose out of his rental car to put into the race car.

2. Cut the spoiler down to 3″ just like they ran in NASCAR in the 70s. Make the drivers actually drive.

3. Get rid of the air dam/splitter under the front of the car… let airflow do its thing.

4. Enough of the double secret probation. Your car doesn’t pass tech after the race, your finishing position is disallowed and the first legal car in the running order wins.

Yesterday’s race was a farce! It was a 180 mph parade and an insult to race fans. Had Jeff Gordon not gotten caught up in an accident not of his doing, I have $5 saying he’d have somehow won the race. Now, I’m not saying NASCAR fixes races but NASCAR fixes races when a particular result is good for the “show.”

JohnQ

As to number 1; I’m finally starting to admit to myself that I like stock car racing and that NASCAR is now nothing more than another spec racing series. One car, three sets of decals to choose from. I can certainly understand why people would find spec racing entertaining, it just doesn’t interest me. Blatant race manipulation (fixing), a tame press and drivers forced to act like corporate Ken dolls certainly doesn’t help. Look for the fan abandonment to accelerate as more and more of us finally admit to ourselves that NASCAR isn’t NASCAR anymore.

GinaV24

I don’t think that would work because as said, most races aren’t made up of local crowds. Of course once upon a time when NASCAR was a regional sport, the walk up crowd was bigger.

Funny how all the NASCAR “important people” are never around to see what a mess they make of things. I liked the spin the wheel, see what kinid of rules pkg we’ll run this week”. Pretty much sums up what NASCAR is these days. Spin the wheel, will it be a decent race to watch or just another single car parade? I thought it was interesting that Mike Skinner from MRN was tweeting how great the racing was — well, I watched some of it on TV and all I saw was single cars except on the restarts.

Fed Up

A caution for balloons? What’s the next manipulation, sweeping up hot dog wrappers? Thank goodness for the
early baseball games and thanks NA$CAR for a great nap!

DoninAjax

The hot dog wrappers that cause cautions disappear by the time the flag comes out.

Every time I hear the commentators talk about the driver hitting his marks, I remember reading about a race in the country using the local roads. A driver missed a corner and wrecked his car. When he was asked what happened, he said “The cow moved.”

Carl D.

I saw the balloon caution. It was baffling. At least there was no competition caution. I can’t remember the last time that happened, or maybe I should say “didn’t happen”.

New aero packages that make drivers work a little harder has to be a positive thing for a wheelman like Kyle Busch. Sorry, Janice, but “champion” may be KB’s title when this season is done. I wouldn’t bet against him.

I was vacationing in NYC last week and missed the Eldora race Wednesday night. Maybe they will replay it. I hope so; I’d like to see it.

janice

carl d – i know, it’s all but a done deal with the champion. again a rules change, you know that grey area the world talks about. i keep waiting for another chase provision change to be made so the 24 can be eligible for championship in his final year, since we’re getting close to cut off time.

i doubt the eldora race will be rebroadcasted….it was on foxsports1 but here in ga it was moved to foxsports2 cause of world cup soccer game that night that was sell out in downtown atlanta.

Richie

It’s been nice these last 3 weeks to remove my tinfoil hat and stop wondering if NASCAR was going to eliminate all competition for Hendrick Motor $ports and their satellite teams. With this latest run by Kyle Busch, I hand over my tinfoil hat to all the Busch haters. Please be careful with it, I’m sure I’ll be needing it back.
Oh, a stat NBC ran during postrace yesterday: Kyle Busch completed his 8th career weekend sweep this weekend, the most of any driver.

Bill B

Funny how when our favorite driver wins all is right with the world.

Richie

Nail on the head, Bill!

dh

HAHA so – true – i was all set to be a happy camper when harvick was out front. :) All in all – i know i’ll get hate daggers of people wishing they could dislike this – but kudos to NASCAR for finally doing something mid season. The odd part is that there was minimal practice for this package, while Kentucky got lots of time (albeit rained out) – i wonder if that’s the writing on the wall that it’s the one that’ll be adopted longer term, but they just had to try this out. Racing at IMS will always be this way, no matter what (IMHO) – michigan should prove interesting with this package, but that too will be seen. Goodyear still needs to come with tires that wear out, and I think they need to give more flexibility to CC’s to do more on gear ratios, etc – but well, we’ll see. As much a Harvick fan as I am – i’m pretty impressed by Kyle B’s return – i mean, that dude is hungry, i’m not crowning him at all – but he’s hungry – his own (or his crew chiefs) arrogance will be the thing that kills them (meaning – don’t talk about preparing for a championship until you’ve locked in your spot!).

Still more work to get it back to what sells tickets – and makes a better on television product, but — i’m sticking with it, even if it makes me semi-crazy on the inside. #4therepeat

GinaV24

I’m not sure that Brian cares about selling tickets to us, the unwashed masses of fans because we don’t provide that big income like TV does. Reading Jenna Fryer’s article and it reiterated that this package was a big fail but that immediately after the KY race, when the drivers were reasonably happy with the racing and so were the fans (or at least there was enthusiasm). BZF came out with a statement saying “pack races, pack races, pack races). I swear its like Beetlejuice, ugh say it 3X and the devil appears and that seems to be what this poor excuse for a race package was.

Certainly I agree that something needed to be done because the racing overall for the past several years has been sleep inducing, why not use the same package as KY and see if it works on more than one track instead of waiting until September at Darlington?

kb

Kyle Busch can have his wife be Penelope Pitstop and he could save her from an oncoming train or not, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound or fall flat on his face, he can win races, he could not win races. No tinfoil hat needed, don’t like him, never did never will. His personality is all it took for me years ago, and I do not believe for one second this leopard has changed his spots. Tis amazing how memories flee and amnesia takes hold, even just a few short weeks ago.

Robin1

With a supposed 15-20% increase in ticket sales this year, I certainly saw a LOT of empty grandstands. It must have looked like a ghost town last year.

Joe D.

Unless it’s been reconfigured in the last few weeks Pocono is still not an isosceles triangle.

janice

i just remembered……

those kfc commercials that air every 5 minutes have got to be the most annoying commericals. why do i think that michael waltrip is behind them?!

allisong

Mike – RE Single Car Qualifying – You may have missed it, and I know the July Daytona qualifying was rained out, but NASCAR has changed the way the do qualifying at all plate races. They are now using the single-car method they just used at Indy.

JDinNC

Racing on this weekend always makes me mad these days. Not too long ago this was a weekend for one of the most exciting, must see events of the whole year. I’m talking about the Busch series race on Saturday night at IRP. Great short track racing. However, BZF and his underlings, in a move that was more stupid than average (even for them), decided to move that race to IMS, home of the most boring stock car racing in the world. I get the tradition and prestige of the (big) track in Indy, but it appears the physics of good racing works for open wheel cars only.

Bud sudz

2nd biggest race of the year? Probably not At least not according to any fans I know. Who looks forward to watching The Brickyard?

Earner

Sure its the race where they stick on a Whole Bunch More Krappp off the cars…Just like the showroom lol..It was always a prestige race ..Then the downforce car made it worse…Big Bill & Bill JR are probably rolling in their graves at what this has become

JohnQ

I was watching and bitching at the TV when my wife walked in. She introduced me to NASCAR and gave it up when the COT was introduced. She gave me that wife look (you know the one) and said. ” Every week all you do is bitch about NASCAR. You don’t enjoy it anymore so why don’t you turn it off and like the rest of America find something you actually like.” I turned it off and had a very pleasant day. God I hate when that woman is right.

Carl D.

I know that wife look well. I get it every time I mention that I might like to have a dog. From that look alone, I’m absolutely certain I will never get to have a dog.

Earner

If you like fuel mileage races this was for you..Yes on occasion there was “slingshot” straight away passing ,but of course you couldn’t get close to anyone in a corner…Agree with John Q’s wife ..brian saw the comments & entertainment value at Kentucky (which since its start has been dull) & decided that Hold it we are not going to give these people what they want…After that race was most positive Monday & Tuesday comments I’ve seen & heard for 4-5 Years..So the smart thing to do was enforce even more of brians ego ways of I’m Right & all you fans are wrong…We just watched a race(?) of engineering fuel & engineering handling & it was DULL..Let the drivers control the races not the engineers or get the engineers to drive..I’ll bet the entertainment value is better..Can’t see even watching Pocono if this package is there..Maybe we’ll try & hang out with John & his wife

janice

i thought they said that the “indy package” would be used at michigan.

it’s kind of like package roulette….spin the wheel to find out what amount of downforce the cars will have.

Upstate24fan

High Drag Package = Fail. Pretty bad that the NASCAR design chief is on vacation for this race.

Steve

How sad what this sport has become when Kyle Busch needs to hold a package of Skittles in his hand to get a sponsor plug when they kiss the bricks. Guess the prestige of the race (which isn’t nearly as prestigious in my mind as the Indy 500) is a higher priority than the crappy racing. And I guess Nascar doesn’t mind how horrible attendance looks every year at that track either. It looked like nobody was there for the Xfinity race. But does it really shock anyone that the person who made the call to use this package wasn’t even around for the weekend? My suggestion for a better race package at Indy: Move the race to IRP. Problem solved.

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