(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2020 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis

The Headline(s): Kevin Harvick notched his fourth win of the season and third Brickyard 400 victory on Sunday (July 5) at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, continuing to keep pace with Denny Hamlin as the two dominate the 2020 season. Harvick also successfully defended his status as the winner at the Brickyard after taking the checkered flag last year, as well, taking advantage of Hamlin crashing from the lead late in the race.

Harvick’s third victory comes after the aforementioned win last year and his 2003 kissing of the bricks, although he breaks his streak of winning there from the pole, which he did in both of his previous two victories.

Harvick and Hamlin split wins (and 1-2 finishes) last weekend at Pocono (Harvick on Saturday and Hamlin on Sunday), and the two drivers had the best cars at Indianapolis as well. The race also marked the second straight event to conclude on the verge of sunset; last Sunday’s race at Pocono also ended just as the sun was disappearing over the horizon.

A host of hard hits marred the race, with the likes of Erik Jones, Alex Bowman and Hamlin all suffering crashes at sharp angles. Hamlin’s incident came with less than 10 laps left, opening the door for second-place Harvick to inherit the lead and sail away with the victory on the restart.

How it Happened: Pre-race ceremonies and the start of the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 were delayed about an hour due to a pair of lightning strikes, but things finally got moving just after 5:15 p.m. ET.

Joey Logano drew the pole position and led every lap until the competition caution flew, where the first of many incidents that left crashed cars in their wake occurred. With nearly the entire field coming to pit road, a check-up by a couple of drivers near the back caused a huge pileup that eventually took out six cars.

The blockade on pit road also resulted in a red flag, as Justin Allgaier (substituting for Jimmie Johnson) ran out of room and nearly hit Ryan Blaney‘s car in its stall, pinning Blaney’s rear tire changer between the two cars. Falling to the ground and scooting out of the way, the crew member – Zachary Price – was taken out on an ambulance and to a local hospital for further evaluation. Price was alert, however, and had a big smile on his face as he was lifted into the ambulance.

As for the drivers involved, the pileup ended the race for Allgaier, Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie, Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brennan Poole. Stenhouse and Poole failed to meet the minimum speed, while Allgaier attempted to go back out but the damage proved too severe.

William Byron won the first stage, but not before the first of the day’s four tire failures – Ryan Newman had a tire go down, sending the No. 6 into the wall and out of the race.

About 30 laps later, the NBC broadcast was on a side-by-side commercial break when Jones’ No. 20 car crashed violently into the outside wall and slid into the infield grass. Jones got out under his own power, but the hit set an unfortunate precedent for cautions to come.

Harvick won stage two a little while later, continuing his stranglehold on the field. Bowman suffered a tire failure of his own and crashed hard, and on the ensuing green-flag pit cycle Hamlin pitted a lap earlier than Harvick and came out in front, taking the lead for the first time.

Hamlin led for 19 laps before his No. 11 blew a tire with just six laps left, sending the FedEx machine hard into the outside wall. The Chesterfield, VA native seemed to be okay afterward, but his streak of frustration at the Indiana track continued with the 2020 race.

Harvick used help from teammate Cole Custer on the restart to jump out in front of second-place Matt Kenseth, setting sail and winning the race by just over seven-tenths of a second.

Drivers Who Accomplished Something

The obvious frontrunner here is Harvick, who won his fourth race of the year and 53rd in Cup Series competition. He led 68 laps, the most of any driver. Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers had tried to play strategy early on, short-pitting in the first stage, but that plan was thrown off when the caution flew for Newman smacking the wall. It didn’t matter.

He fell behind Hamlin, but kept Kenseth at bay long enough to inherit the lead with Hamlin’s misfortune and grab the win, his second straight at the track.

Speaking of Kenseth, he may have accomplished the most of anyone. Leading 12 laps late in the race, Kenseth was third when Hamlin wound up in the wall. He restarted on the front row with Harvick after running well all race but wasn’t able to get the push he needed from Aric Almirola. Still, Kenseth finished second, his best result of the season.

Kenseth, who of course joined Chip Ganassi Racing to replace the fired Kyle Larson, finished 10th at the first race back in Darlington. He hadn’t ended a race inside the top 10 since then, and Indianapolis should be a big confidence booster for him.

Almirola and Custer also scored top-five finishes, rounding out an all-around solid day for Stewart-Haas Racing. Although Clint Bowyer finished 16th, he was 10th in both stages, while Custer’s fifth-place effort was his first top-five Cup Series finish and Almirola recorded his fifth straight top-five run. Lots of fives there.

Other notable names inside the top 10 include Michael McDowell, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, who respectively finished seventh, eighth and ninth. It’s McDowell’s tenth top 10 of his career and second in three races, and the latter two drivers had much-needed solid finishes.

Additionally, Christopher Bell and John Hunter Nemechek both finished inside the top 15, and Ross Chastain came home 17th in Spire Motorsports’ No.77.

Drivers Who Accomplished Nothing

The first four on this list didn’t even make it 15 laps, with Truex, Preece, Stenhouse and Allgaier all crashing out in the pit road pileup. JTG Daugherty’s entire day was done within 20 laps, and Allgaier didn’t make it far in his first Cup Series race since 2016. Substituting for Jimmie Johnson, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, Allgaier was at the mercy of the mayhem in front of him.

Byron, Blaney and Chris Buescher all had various issues over the course of the race, while Jones, Newman and Bowman had their tire failures end their days.

Hamlin, of course, suffered the late tire failure and another heartbreaker at Indianapolis after running so well. Already a four-time winner this year, Hamlin sliced his way through the field to get to the front, all to have it come crashing down in the waning laps.

Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto had nearly put together top-10 runs, but both ended up in the wall on the final lap. DiBenedetto drove his car in deep in the final turns, making contact with Dillon and junking both cars.

As a side note, Quin Houff scored the best finish of his Cup Series career with a 23rd-place run. A number of contenders did crash out, but it’s certainly worth noting.

Insights, Opinions and Fake News

The Xfinity Series made its debut on the IMS road course the day prior, and was the best race of a jam-packed and fun weekend of on-track action. A spectacular last few laps gave the Cup Series a lot to live up to, which it did more in terms of chaos than competition. The final laps of Saturday’s race saw the lead swap hands between Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric and back again, with Justin Haley and Noah Gragson in the mix as well. Hamlin and Harvick were pretty much in their own zip code most of Sunday. Although the IndyCar race won by Scott Dixon wasn’t super competitive towards the end, the three-race weekend between two of the world’s major motorsports divisions was thoroughly entertaining.

Add some right turns to Cup at Indy in 2021. I vote we take the Cup Series road racing next year at Indianapolis. They can still cross the yard of bricks, it’ll just be going the other way, and the race would be guaranteed entertainment. Briscoe outlasted experienced road racers (and winners) Allmendinger and Cindric to win on Saturday, so who’s to say we wouldn’t see something just as exciting with Cup?

NASCAR can’t get a break with the weather. It seems like weather affecting races is pretty much the norm at this point, since four of the last five events (and most of the races this season) have been impacted by rain, lightning or other weather. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s way of telling us something about racing during a pandemic, especially considering Johnson’s diagnosis of the coronavirus last week. Given that it’s gone on almost since racing returned, we haven’t been listening.

Politics have officially arrived in the Cup Series once again. Schemes promoting or based around political causes have been prevalent this year, but not in the Cup Series until Sunday and LaJoie’s PAC-backed No. 32. I’d personally like to focus on racing and not be reminded of contentious topics during the time I’d rather be enjoying a NASCAR event.

SAFER barriers were a blessing. The aforementioned crashes for Newman, Jones, Bowman and Hamlin were all pretty hard hits – Jones and Hamlin especially. Over the radio, Bowyer reportedly said Jones’ hit was the hardest he’d ever seen anyone hit the wall, but the SAFER barriers softened what could’ve been much worse hits for those drivers. Jones’ angle of impact was eerily similar to Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s hit there a couple of years back.

Coronavirus finally reaches its tendrils into NASCAR. Yes, there were the few lower-profile cases with team members a few weeks back, but nothing had impacted any of the drivers that anyone knew of… until Johnson. When NASCAR was set to return, I remember discussions that a high-profile driver getting the virus would be what changes things for the sport. Well, the first driver to contract COVID-19 was arguably the highest-profile individual it could’ve affected.

The pit road catastrophe (and blown tires) will be what defines this race. The race wasn’t 15 laps old before chaos ensued, the pileup at the entrance to pit road marring stage one. Thankfully, Blaney’s tire changer didn’t seem to be too badly hurt, but it brings up the question of pit road safety. How long before something severe happens on pit road anywhere? Indianapolis has one of the narrowest pit roads on the Cup circuit, so maybe it’s time to move the pit wall back a few feet or something.

To paraphrase the great Ray Charles, “just an old sweet song keeps Daytona on my mind.” Daytona, the usual race on or near the July 4 weekend, was mightily missed by myself and many others. The race was postponed to Sunday last year, but normally was held on Saturday night and would’ve been on the holiday this year. Instead, Daytona and Indianapolis were switched out, with the superspeedway now the race ending the regular season. It’s a move I still think will end in disaster, with desperation to make the playoffs winding up in a crash fest on the high banks in Florida.

Finally, late start times continue to be kryptonite for NASCAR.

Don’t get me wrong, races ending at sunset (re: last Sunday at Pocono and this race at Indianapolis) make for pretty beautiful images. But NASCAR continues to test fans’ patience with these super-late start times. Starting at almost 5:30 p.m. ET was bad enough due to weather, but that was delayed only an hour. The originally scheduled start time was still at roughly 4:24 p.m. ET.

I understand that 1 p.m. might be a bit too early for West Coast folks, but there should be a limit. Unless weather delays the race, no start time should be after 3 p.m. or so. That’s noon across the country, which is pretty reasonable. As much as I love racing, I don’t want a race ending super late when it could’ve been started much earlier.

And besides, Indianapolis doesn’t have lights. If there had been another red flag or two – or even cautions – the race very well could’ve been shortened by darkness. The way things have been trending, NASCAR is playing with fire in starting races so late at tracks without lights.

Paint scheme of the race goes to Austin Dillon by roughly a mile. Patriotic schemes are usually hit-or-miss, overdone or lazy, but the designers of the DOW car for Richard Childress Racing nearly knocked it out of the park. The stripes and number flow incredibly well and it looked quite the part for the July 4 weekend.

Runner-up to Dillon is Chastain, who debuted his “Melon Man” apparel brand on a car for the first time. The black, pink and green scheme looked incredible and he’s never gone wrong with the watermelon branding on a car (or truck).

Special mention to both Front Row Motorsports cars: Fire Alarm Services schemes are usually well-executed and Nemechek’s was no exception this week.

The Auto-Owners Insurance patriotic scheme for Truex was also cool, and Kenseth’s McDonald’s McDelivery livery was great as usual.

Where it Rated: Big Machine Vodka began manufacturing hand sanitizer when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the fan in the country, so the race receives three hand sanitizer bottles out of five. Entertaining at points with three-wide passing and strategy at work, the race also featured some violent crashes and dull interludes. The end, though, was thoroughly compelling, with Harvick and Kenseth seemingly closing on Hamlin, although Hamlin’s crash dashed our hopes of a three-way battle for the lead.

What’s the Point(s)? The fourth win of the year for Harvick ties him with Hamlin atop the victory charts, but nothing else changed in the top 10 other than the final spot. Kurt and Kyle Busch swapped spots, Kyle leapfrogging his brother to jump into the top 10.

Elsewhere, Buescher fell outside the top 20 and Wallace entered, sliding up to 19th and getting past Stenhouse in the standings. Johnson dropped three spots with missing the race, while DiBenedetto moved up two spots to 12th. Jones and Austin Dillon switched spots as well, Dillon moving up into the final spot for the playoffs.

Up Next: It’s a NASCAR quadruple-header this week at Kentucky Speedway! The Xfinity Series will hold back-to-back races on Thursday and Friday, while the Truck Series races on Saturday and the Cup Series on Sunday. Last year’s Cup event in the Bluegrass State ended with an enthralling, contact-filled battle to the checkered between the Busch brothers. Meanwhile, Tyler Ankrum will look to defend his surprise win there in Trucks last year with his new GMS Racing team, and the Xfinity Series will for sure have a different driver in victory lane since last year’s winner, Custer, moved up to the Cup Series after 2019.

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Entercom Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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26 comments

  1. Avatar

    “I’d personally like to focus on racing and not be reminded of contentious topics during the time I’d rather be enjoying a NASCAR event.”
    Too late for that. There have been many sponsorships for contentious topics through the years that have shown up on cars’ hoods. You can’t allow some and not others.

    When weather issues affect the race I don’t think “it’s the result of racing during the virus”, I think “it’s the result of stupidly starting the race at 4:00 instead of 1:00 and losing 3 hours of viable day light”.

  2. Avatar

    UR ANALYSIS OF LAJOIE’S PAINT SCHEME SEEMS TO FORGET THAT IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS BUBBA AND RYAN PREECE RAN POLITICALLY MOTIVATED PAINT SCHEMES. DOUBLE STD TO ARGUE LAJOIE’S CAR IS CONTENTIOUS WHILE HAVING NO ISSUE WITH CIRCUS OF THE LAST MTH.

    • Avatar

      Well, I could have stated it more directly too but I said it without mentioning BLM or Trump :)

  3. Avatar

    What a reactionary piece of “journalism”!
    The Xfinity race was lame race with a extraordinary finish. The Indy road course is flat and boring and doesn’t have a memorable section in the infield.
    Johnson has asymptotic COVID 10 races after they restarted and we’re not even sure he contracted it anywhere near a track.
    Moving pit road at Indy would require a Herculean effort. Grandstands, the Pagoda and infrastructure are involved.
    Indy is just a failure as a stock car track. Plain and simple.

    • Avatar

      Bud Sudz, thanks for some truthful reporting there. BTW, I went to a dirt track show this weekend, just checked in here with the na$car scene briefly.

    • Avatar

      Bud Sudz, good, accurate news, I agree. My first comment was removed. I just mentioned that I attended a dirt race, really enjoyed it. I just checked in here briefly for news on the series they focus on. Didn’t know that would trigger the scribes.

    • Avatar

      Thanks Bud Sudz! It’s amazing that your comment is still up.

  4. Avatar

    I thought the cup race was a little better than most we’ve endured at the track. There was more passing, even up front. As for the tires, my guess is that the affected teams were running with low air pressure; plenty of teams had no problems at all.

    The “Big Three” from last year’s Xfinity season all finished in the top 12 positions yesterday. This year’s rookie class is starting to show their stuff. And it’s J.H. Nemecheck finished 15th. Not too shabby. When these guys start winning races, the status quo is gonna change.

    The accident on pit row involving the #12 tire changer brought back memories of Bill Elliott’s tire changer Mike Rich who was killed in a similar accident in 1990 (yeah, I’m that old). So happy to hear that he will be okay.

    Kyle Busch finished sixth, but was the only driver at JGR to actually finish the race. Chase Elliott finished 11th, the best finishing HMS driver.

    Bubba Wallace scored another top ten. And thankfully there were no evil racist garage door pull-downs reported in the garage.

    I too missed the Firecracker 400 in Daytona yesterday, but there’s nothing to be gained by me whining about it. Que sera, sera.

    • Avatar

      I agree, that race might have been the best Indy race in the last 10 years, but that’s not really saying much. The wreck in the pits and tire failures (especially when it’s the leader) added some strange drama and attrition. That’s the stuff you can’t manufacture.

      Regarding the tire failures, I didn’t think they were necessarily Goodyear’s fault either. I’d like to know if the teams that had issues noticed any excessive tire wear before the tire that failed.

      I agree, it felt weird not having a Daytona race the first week of July, especially since it would have actually been run on the 4th. We’ll see if it was worth it in a few weeks. Daytona as the last race before the chase could be very interesting/messy, or it could be neutered if the majority of the field adheres to the “I don’t want to be THE GUY that ruins someone chances of making the playoffs” code that neutered Bristol and Richmond.

      • Matt

        Once again, I think given a little practice time for the Cup teams the tire issue would probably have become apparent and teams would have adjusted their air pressures to address the issue. Other stuff like ballast falling out of race cars on first laps of races would have been caught as well. Or engines running on 7 cylinders because a header pipe burnt through a spark plug wire. I’m not sure letting teams practice is going to increase the chances of team members getting the virus. But if a driver wrecks his car in practice that means more hours at the shop for the team member. What do you think they’re doing back at the shop right now anyway? Playing cornhole and drinking some suds waiting to see if their primary car comes back from the track intact?

        • Avatar

          I actually kind of like no practice. The same 10 guys aren’t always running up front the whole race… well, except for Hamlin and Harvick. I think the uncertainty has the potential to make the race more interesting as a spectator.

          I am guessing there aren’t as many guys at the shop right now (layoffs?) and I am sure there is still work to be done to tweak each car for the next track. But I’d bet the overtime hours are way down. And yes there are probably a few days where they are playing cornhole or, more likely, sitting at the computer surfing the internet. I doubt that suds are in the mix during normal working hours though.

        • Avatar

          Thought that the reason they had all these expensive pull down rigs and simulators was so that all these gliches could be ironed out at the shop. Perhaps I’m wrong.

  5. Avatar

    THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE CUP ( LACK OF A ) RACE WAS WHEN NBC FINALLY SWITCHED FROM THE IMPOSSIBLE TO FOLLOW BANNER SCORING SYSTEM AT THE TOP OF THE SCREEN AND CHANGED TO THE PYLON MODEL SO SUCCESSFULLY USED BY FOX AND EVEN BETTER BY F1 !!

  6. Avatar

    I watched all three races and I thought the Xfinity race was the best and the Cup was next. I would like to see the Cup cars run the road course.

  7. Avatar

    i still managed to snooze through the race.

    nbc has nothing of substance on prior to the race broadcast.

    so are they going to broadcast races on the new peacock network too?

    why are we back to fox next week?

    i still think we need to start a pool as to mother nature and what she will throw out next weekend? lightening? downpours? sleet? a plague of grasshoppers?

    • Avatar

      Because they are still making up races. As long as NASCAR is planning on running 36 races, FOX has a contract to broadcast 16 of them (and the All Star race and Whatever Clash). Until they’ve made up all 16 races, Fox will still be in the picture. They’ve done 15 so far so there is 1 more plus the All Star.

      BTW, it only took half-way through the 2nd stage for me to have to mute Latarte.

  8. Avatar

    I prefer the 1pm/3pm start times too, but what was the weather like at Indy between 1pm and 4pm? If there was lightning and bad weather during those times, then the race would not have started on time then, either.

    • Avatar

      Doesn’t matter. If you have an event that is 100% dependent on good weather, common sense dictates you make that window as large as possible by starting the race as early as possible. Given the fact that no fans are allowed so you don’t have to worry about allowing enough time for everyone that paid for a ticket to get into the track, they could start them at 10AM if they wanted to and have a 10 hour window. The problem is their number one priority is to maximize the possible ratings, actually getting the race in is secondary. Tell me that isn’t backassward.

  9. Avatar

    I think NASCAR should stick to racing instead of kissing butts, if NASCAR thinks that banning the Confederate flag will start bringing more blacks to races their are in for a big surprise
    To bad Richard Pretty in my opinion should now be call king of butt kissing. Toe he sold his sole for money

  10. Avatar

    I had to mute the coverage within the first five minutes. Junior’s voice is nasal and he sounds like a hick. Rick Allen screams about everything as if the world is coming to an end. And as usual for NASCAR in general and Indy in particular, there was zero passing for position. The only excitement was the mess on pit road and the exploding tires. And I sure didn’t plan on a race that went into the evening yet again. It’s time to pull the plug on Indy for stock cars. Anybody who wins a championship in this f’ed up year needs an asterisk!

    • Avatar

      “Anybody who wins a championship in this f’ed up year needs an asterisk”

      Really? Ya think?
      Everything in 2020 will have an asterisk after it. Especially sports.

  11. Avatar

    “Politics have officially arrived in the Cup Series once again. Schemes promoting or based around political causes have been prevalent this year, but not in the Cup Series until Sunday and LaJoie’s PAC-backed No. 32. I’d personally like to focus on racing and not be reminded of contentious topics during the time I’d rather be enjoying a NASCAR event.”

    Seriously? No mention of Bubba’s much celebrated BLM attire?

    • Avatar

      Funny isn’t it? They couldn’t stop talking about Bubba’s car and apparel, but when it goes the other way, they’d rather just “focus on the racing” Do they even realize how hypocritical that is?