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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: Monday Afternoon Racing at Indianapolis

For the second week in a row, Brad Keselowski parked his Team Penske Ford Fusion in Victory Lane in one of the crown jewels of NASCAR, winning the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The race was delayed until Monday afternoon because of pouring rain, just after the XFINITY Series ran the Lilly Diabetes 250 on Monday morning. Several drivers pulled double duty and ran both races.  The good news was that the delay avoided a direct conflict with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, holding their home opener just down the road at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Keselowski slipped past Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin on the final restart to take the win, and he was followed by JGR’s Erik Jones in second, while Hamlin ended up third.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was fourth, while his teammate Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.

SHR’s Kurt Busch, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray, JGR’s Kyle Busch, Wood Brothers Racing driver Paul Menard and flat-track expert Ryan Newman finished in the positions six through ten.

Bowyer claimed the victory in Stage One.

Matt Kenseth won Stage Two for Roush Fenway Racing, leading five laps in his best race this season behind the wheel of the No. 6.

Filling in at the last second for an ill Kasey Kahne, Regan Smith drove the Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Chevy to 20th place, a solid result for that team.

There were 10 cautions overall and 14 lead changes among nine different drivers.

HOT

Jimmie Johnson has now made the playoffs in every year of their existence. That is something no other driver can claim. Could he have won any of his seven titles under the old points system? That’s a debate that could be argued for a while, but part of an athlete’s job is to maximize their success within the current rules, and Johnson has certainly succeeded at that. However, he is still looking for sponsorship to replace Lowe’s in 2019.

The bad news is that he’s on his way to career lows in top-fives (2), top-10s (8) and laps led (29), after setting previous lows in 2016.

NOT

Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t been able to catch any luck for about the past month. Smoke billowed out of the hood of the No. 78 late in Stage One, ending his day on lap 41 for a last-place finish of 40th. His previous recent results? 15th at Pocono II, second at Watkins Glen, 14th at Michigan II, 30th at the Bristol night race and 11th at Darlington. It was his fifth DNF of 2018, and the second in the past three races.

For his career, Truex now has three top-10s in 14 starts at Indy, with a best finish of fourth and an average finish of 20.9. Also, his team is shutting down at season’s end.

HOT

Kurt Busch has now reeled off top-10s in the past eight races in a row, including a win in the Bristol Night Race, which is excellent for momentum heading into the playoffs. The No. 41 has three poles, four top-fives and 17 top-10s in the regular season. Yet SHR as a whole is so strong this season that Busch is arguably the organization’s third-best driver, which could explain why he might be on the move for next season.

NOT

Richard Petty Motorsports surely expected Darrell Wallace Jr‘s rookie season to be difficult at times, but surely they didn’t expect it to be this tough. His brakes failed again at Indy, leading to his fourth DNF of the season, with his best finish since the July Daytona race of 24th at New Hampshire. His average starting position is 23.3, slightly better than his average finish of 24th.

HOT

After winning Rookie of the Year last season, Erik Jones has a win (July Daytona), six top-fives and 14 top-10s so far this season in his sophomore effort. Since the first Pocono race, he’s finished outside of the top-10 only three times.

NOT

Outside of both trips to Daytona and the spring Martinsville race, this season for AJ Allmendinger has been hideous. The road courses resulted in runs of 38th (Sonoma) and 15th (Watkins Glen). His crash at Indy was his sixth DNF of the year, his average finish is 23.1, and he’s only completed 85 percent of the laps this season. His JTG-Daugherty Racing seat is getting very warm.

Paint Scheme of the Week

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. overcame at least two penalties on pit road, only for his engine to expire with about 40 laps to go, ending his race in the garage at 34th. But at least his Roush Fenway Racing Ford looked sharp, decked out in the yellow and green of John Deere for the second week in a row. The yellow as the dominant color is a bit odd, and the green is slightly darker than usual, but it’s still not a bad-looking design.

Predictions

The playoffs begin this weekend in the Cup Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in their return to the desert.

At the moment, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch look like the drivers to challenge Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr as serious title threats – I’m going to say that Harvick, both Busch brothers and Brad Keselowski are the final four drivers gunning for the championship at Homestead.

With FRR’s impending closure looming over the rest of the season, I’m going out on a limb here and saying that Truex will not get past the second round.

The South Point 400 will go green around 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16, with TV coverage on NBCSN.

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About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music, OKC Thunder basketball and superhero TV/movies. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma.

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One comment

  1. Hope you are wrong on Chase Elliott. Spoiled brat.