NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2021 Verizon 200 at the Brickyard

Who … should you be talking about after the Verizon 200?

Is there any question about AJ Allmendinger‘s ability on a road course?

Through all the carnage, crashes, penalties, bumps and dumps, Allmendinger was there to part the Red Sea and sail his way to a second career NASCAR Cup Series win in Sunday’s (Aug. 15) Verizon 200. It was also the first for Kaulig Racing in just their seventh Cup start, a part-time effort revving up for full-time competition in 2022. In just four Cup starts this season, Allmendinger has two top fives and three top 10s, including the victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

He could very well be one of the most popular winners of the year – if not the most.

See also
The 'Pure Enjoyment' of AJ Allmendinger's Indianapolis Cup Win

Spire Motorsports also earned its third top 10 of the season with Justin Haley after the 22-year-old finished eighth. That was no fluke as the youngster spent the entire day in contention, also placing eighth in stage one and sixth in stage two.

On a different note, it would be a crime to not mention the efforts of Chase Briscoe and his new best friend Denny Hamlin.

Briscoe has struggled in his first full-time Cup year, earning only three top 10s (all of them at road courses) and being scored over 200 points out of the playoffs going into Sunday’s race (Aug. 15).

So when the Stewart-Haas Racing driver qualified second, many realized Indy may be his best chance at winning his way into the playoffs.

On the final restart, Briscoe was battling with regular season championship contender Hamlin for the lead. Hamlin sent the Hoosier wide into turn 1, and after being awarded a stop-and-go penalty for cutting through the grass, Briscoe continued to race the No. 11 Toyota for that first career win.

Before he finally stopped, though Briscoe sent Hamlin spinning into the grass, killing all hope of a first win of the season for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

On pit road, the two shared their opinions with each other – no fists required.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Did Chase Briscoe Intentionally Dump Denny Hamlin?

What … is the buzz about?

If it’s not Hamlin vs. Briscoe, it’s the curbs. It’s definitely the curbs.

With five laps to go, it was a thrilling battle between Hamlin and Briscoe for the lead in the closing laps of the event.  Hamlin was doing everything in his power to hold off the Hoosier, but when the field sped through turns 5 and 6, slamming the blue and white curbs for the 77th time, the metal buckled, making clear it wouldn’t hold up for time No. 78.

The curb buckled and cracked as the top five cars snaked their way through. When it did, William Byron smacked its pieces, sending the No. 24 spinning on the backstretch. Then, Kyle Busch spun behind him, followed by another car, and another and another…

The red flag waved and the curb was completely removed in a 20-minute reconstruction project before the overtime restart.

Then, they went through the curbs again.

Michael McDowell hit the turtles and took flight, causing him to spin and collect Austin Dillon in his crash.

The red flag was displayed again.

It’s not the first time this year NASCAR has seen track surface failures. With issues occurring at both the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Race and Circuit of the Americas, one has to wonder if more testing and planning is needed at all of these inaugural Cup Series races.

Where … did the other key players wind up in the Verizon 200?

Pole sitter Byron was competitive early on. After staying in the top three for most of stage one, Byron appeared to be a contender for the win. After crashing out during the curb fiasco, however, the Hendrick Motorsports driver had to settle for a 33rd-place finish.

Chase Elliott continued to show he is a force to be reckoned with on the road course. After leading 14 laps and battling teammate Kyle Larson for the lead most of the day, Elliott pitted late in the race and finished fourth – his fifth straight top-five result on a road course in the Cup Series.

Watkins Glen International winner Larson had only four hours of sleep banked after winning the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday night. The No. 5 pilot sure didn’t drive like it, leading the most laps of the day with 28 while recording a third-place result. If it weren’t for the track literally falling apart in the closing minutes of the 82-lap race, there is little doubt Larson would have been in position to win his third road course event of 2021 and post a second consecutive Cup Series win.

After winning the Xfinity race the day before, Austin Cindric showed speed early in the Verizon 200 after starting 13th. On lap 7, he spun but was able to stay out of enough trouble to finish ninth when it was all said and done. It’s a career-best finish and his first Cup Series top 10.

When … was the Verizon 200 moment of truth?

With 10 laps to go, Larson’s name was all but already engraved on the Verizon 200 trophy. He was more than three seconds ahead of teammate Elliott and had no intention of looking back.

And then, the caution for debris came out.

Suddenly, Hamlin and his four fresh tires had a view of the lead once again, as he and Kurt Busch were the only ones that chose to stay out with six laps to go. While Hamlin already had enough of a point lead to be almost locked into the playoffs, he is in the hunt for the regular season championship, which means an extra 15 playoff points, a must-have for somebody with no wins this season.

Then the curbs attacked, and chaos ensued.

In restart after restart, it was Hamlin and Briscoe dogfighting for the lead but ended with neither one of them coming out on top, as Briscoe was penalized for cutting the corner on the final restart and spun Hamlin moments later.

While Briscoe served his penalty and the white flag waved, all Allmendinger had to do was hit his marks and keep his No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet ahead of Ryan Blaney.

Even with Larson breathing down the neck of the leaders and seemingly on the verge of earning his sixth victory of 2021, Allmendinger’s win goes to show that you can’t turn away from an event until the checkered flag waves.

Why … should you be paying attention this week?

There are only two races left in the regular season before the playoffs begin, and there are now only two open spots left in the playoffs that are up for grabs. One of those is occupied by Kevin Harvick, who is 95 points above the playoff cutline. Mathematically, Harvick is not locked in, but he’s over a race’s worth of points ahead of the pack. Not to mention, we’re talking about the guy that swept both Michigan International Speedway races last year.

So, wild circumstances aside, let’s just assume Harvick is already in the playoffs.

That leaves one playoff spot left, and the fight is certainly on.

Michigan has not been known to be a wildcard race, so it’s unlikely we’ll see a new winner entering the playoffs. That means, realistically, only one spot is left heading into the final two races. That 16th spot in the standings is currently occupied by Tyler Reddick, and if it weren’t for being involved in the final curb crash, Reddick would have had a superb day.

The two-time Xfinity Series champion won not one, but both stages after choosing pit road strategy and remaining on track until each stage break. That gave him an extra 20 points at the end of the event, expanding a slight edge over his point standings rival and Richard Childress Racing teammate Dillon.

Reddick finished 21st when it was all over while Dillon ended his day in 31st. That being the case, Reddick is now 28 points above his RCR teammate in the fight for the final playoff spot.

When it comes to points, those are the only two mathematically eligible to race their way into the postseason. All other challengers will have to win their way in and, realistically, that win will come at Daytona in two weeks – if at all.

How … will NASCAR test new tracks in the future?

Last week, INDYCAR raced at the Nashville Street Circuit for the first time. Despite its mixed reactions, the race reignited the conversation of NASCAR racing on a street course in the future.

Are we sure this series is ready for that?

This year has seen plenty of controversial races because of poor preparation. Another example was prevalent Sunday when we saw the IMS road course curbs break apart in the closing laps of the race because of not one, but two massive pile-ups that ended in a lot of carnage.

See also
Indy Road Course Turn 6 Curbs Cause 2 Wrecks

At the Bristol dirt race, NASCAR had to have the field start single file because of the poor visibility from dirt clouds that formed after 40 heavy stock cars raced on it as the track surface dried out. That’s not mentioning the tire issues that forced them to have controlled pit stops as well.

At Circuit of the Americas, the Cup Series got to race in the rain for the first time. As fun as that sounded at first, the heavy mist caused violent crashes and forced NASCAR to end the race early.

After three races where fans have seen tracks cause big wrecks due to an unprepared race surface and race control, we have to ask ourselves, are we ready for something as challenging as a street course through downtown Chicago?

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: INDIANAPOLIS

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6 Comments
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Echo

Get rid of the curbs on road courses. Race on the surface only, no crutches.

Echo

If not for the curb, Kyle Larson could have wrapped up a fantastic weekend. Knoxville Nationals is a big one. He sure does love to race.

John McManus

Roger Penske owes Nascar and its fans an apology.

DoninAjax

I didn’t think AJ is going to be in the final 16 because he isn’t in the top 30 in POINTS.

DoninAjax

But then again, NA$CAR changes rules like a baby changes diapers, like for Baby Busch.

Jill P

He gets Xfinity points so he is going for a title in that series.

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