NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2021 Verizon 200 at the Brickyard

Verizon 200: What happened?

AJ Allmendinger won the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard on Sunday (Aug. 15) after a chaotic conclusion to the first NASCAR Cup Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto rounded out the top-five finishers. 

How did it happen?

Pole sitter William Byron led the first lap on this new, 14-turn configuration for Cup before Chase Briscoe took over the top spot on lap 2. Briscoe, Byron, Elliott and Larson separated themselves in the top four positions, creating a sizable gap over the field. There were a few unexpected incidents early, including Martin Truex Jr. pitting with a tire rub and Austin Cindric spinning in turn 1.

Briscoe led for 12 laps until just before pit road closed, as the leaders all pitted to maintain track position for stage two. Tyler Reddick, trying to salvage all points as he races for a playoff berth, stayed out and passed Michael McDowell for the stage win.

Brad Keselowski stayed out under caution to get up front, putting him just ahead of Elliott, Byron, Larson and Briscoe. Byron briefly passed Keselowski on the first lap after the restart, but Elliott worked his way around both of them to lead across the yard of bricks.

The battles behind Elliott were intense as Keselowski essentially served as a roadblock. DiBenedetto and Christopher Bell got into the grass at one point while Ross Chastain later went for a spin. Keselowski’s fall through the field ended mercifully when he backed it into the wall off turn 11.

Late in the second stage, Larson slowly chipped away at Elliott’s lead. He got to his teammate’s back bumper as they both pitted with two to go in the stage. Elliott exited ahead of Larson but was unable to hold him off once they got up to speed.

Reddick again stayed out and picked up his third stage win of the season for more crucial points. Austin Dillon did the same as the two teammates continued their battle for the final playoff spot.

Larson took over the lead for the final stage after the first eight cars pitted under caution. The race only stayed green for one lap after the restart before a debris caution was thrown due to a massive piece stuck on the curb in turns 5 and 6.

With 39 laps to go, the race went green again, and Larson began to pull away from Byron and Elliott. Final green flag stops went smoothly for the leaders, with a handful of drivers stretching it in hopes of a caution. Denny Hamlin pitted from the lead with 20 to go, giving DiBenedetto the top spot before Larson quickly gained it back.

As the laps wound down, Larson consistently maintained a four-second lead over Elliott and appeared to be on cruise control. But with just nine laps remaining, another debris caution came out. Most of the leaders pitted, with Hamlin, DiBenedetto, Briscoe and Kurt Busch staying out in a bid to steal the victory.

The following restart with six to go was madness, as some drivers entered turn 1 four-wide and Truex spun after contact exiting turn 6. The next time around, with debris on the track, the curb between turns 5 and 6 fully broke and sent a number of drivers flying.

Byron, Bell, Chastain, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Ryan Preece, Daniel Suarez, Justin Haley and James Davison were all involved.

NASCAR red-flagged the race to remove the curb, leaving just one turtle on the track in that corner.

On the first overtime restart, Larson — who was second — had a bad restart and dropped while Hamlin and Briscoe got away out front. In the dreaded turns 5 and 6, McDowell ran over the turtle and went airborne, collecting a number of other drivers. McDowell, Reddick, Dillon, Truex, Alex Bowman, Cole Custer and Corey LaJoie were officially involved.

After another brief red flag, the second overtime restart came with more controversy. Briscoe was bumped off course and rejoined just behind the leader. The rookie, unaware of the stop-and-go penalty he was assessed, raced hard for the top spot before spinning Hamlin.

See also
Indy Road Course Turn 6 Curbs Cause 2 Wrecks

The race stayed green as Briscoe served his penalty and third-place Allmendinger emerged as the leader. Allmendinger finished without much pressure from Blaney for his second career win and first since Watkins Glen in 2011. Despite not running for Cup points, Allmendinger earned Kaulig Racing its first win in the organization’s seventh Cup start.

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

Who stood out?

Allmendinger is an all-world road course talent, and I’m still shocked he won with Kaulig Racing. Let’s start with Allmendinger. The 39-year-old driver had one win in his first 374 Cup starts — Watkins Glen International in 2014. He hasn’t run Cup full-time since 2018, and Indy was just his fourth start this year. While the seas parted for Allmendinger to win it, he was still in position to take advantage of the chaos. To do it on the big stage at the Brickyard makes win No. 2 that much sweeter.

Now
 about Kaulig Racing. The team has run full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series since 2016 and made just seven Cup starts ever (six this season). They already have a win at one of the sport’s crown jewel racetracks while Kaulig has secured charters to run two full-time Cup teams next year. Clearly, the organization has the speed to be more than just a backmarker.

Will this win change the trajectory of the program? Kaulig has already said Allmendinger won’t race full-time in Cup next year. But if the schedule remains littered with road courses, why wouldn’t ‘Dinger join Haley in the full-time lineup?

Even though he didn’t win again, Larson was the fastest car all afternoon in Indy. Just hours after winning the famed Knoxville Nationals, Larson flew to the Brickyard, qualified fourth, led the most laps and finished third. It’s getting sillier and sillier watching Larson pull off these feats.

The No. 5 would’ve won race No. 6 this season had the caution not come out with 10 laps to go. And for the first time this season, Larson is in sole possession of the overall point standings lead and all-important 15 playoff points that come with it. He has two weeks to hold on, with one of those races coming at Michigan International Speedway, a track where he’s won three times in 12 starts.

Blaney is picking up his performance at the ideal time. The early summer stretch wasn’t kind to Blaney. From Dover International Speedway through Nashville Superspeedway (six races), he had just two top 10s and no top fives. The speed just wasn’t there for him. But while it still might not be a race-winning team, the No. 12 group is capitalizing at the right time. Blaney has finished top five in three of four races and top 10 in five of the last seven.

This playoff run is critical for Blaney as Keselowski exits the Penske organization. He’ll take on more of a leadership role with Austin Cindric joining the No. 2 as a rookie in 2022. If Penske wants to continue having the success it has had during the Keselowski era, Blaney will need to step up. One win per year, which is what he’s earned every year from 2017 to 2021, won’t cut it.

Who fell flat?

It’s starting to look like Hamlin is destined to go winless during the regular season. Winning not just once, but multiple times, seemed inevitable back in March. Hamlin started the season with eight top-five results in nine races, leading a series-high 694 laps. In the last 15 races, he’s led just 110 laps (27 at Indy) while earning four top fives. Hamlin is still quick — holding a share of the points lead all season until this week — but the lack of victories has to be frustrating. Wins slipped away late at Martinsville Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Pocono Raceway and now Indy.

The No. 11 is still a huge playoff threat, but losing this many races in heartbreaking fashion is tough for team morale. Indy was the worst of the bunch, getting spun by a driver who wasn’t even competing for the win. The veteran was rightfully upset with Briscoe on pit road and handled the situation well despite his obvious displeasure.

Briscoe made a costly rookie mistake in what was an otherwise incredible day. The Hoosier led 12 laps in the first stage before giving up the stage win to pit early. Then, he gave up what would’ve been second place after failing to maintain speed under caution. Later on, Briscoe had trouble with locking up entering hard-braking corners, forcing an extra pit stop. He found himself back near the front and in position to potentially steal a win before the final overtime restart went awry.

Hamlin was right — Briscoe should’ve known a penalty would be called, even if his crew hadn’t told him yet. The rules on all road courses are pretty clear in that you have to serve a stop-and-go penalty if you cut the course. While I understand wanting to race for the win, there was no need to be racing Hamlin like that at that moment. Part of it is on crew chief Johnny Klausmeier for not telling him, but Briscoe should’ve had better situational awareness. It’s a shame this bad judgment call becomes the memorable moment after another solid road course run for the rookie.

What did this race prove?

NASCAR race control made mistake after mistake over the final 10 laps. It was incredible how badly everything went wrong for NASCAR after a relatively smooth first 73 laps. The debris caution with nine to go was called correctly — even though the piece was slightly out of the groove, cars were racing up there almost every lap. My problem came when the curb clearly broke, sending debris everywhere and Truex spinning. Officials, moments after calling that earlier caution, allowed the race to stay green and the field to run through it without warning. Countless cars were totaled when it all could’ve been avoided.

Sadly, it didn’t stop there. The first red flag lasted just under 20 minutes. The time from yellow to green after that lasted more than double that time, as the officials discovered fluid and debris still sitting throughout the track. It was as if no one was paying attention to anything besides the curb area while the rest of the road course still needed work. Luckily, the race started at 1 p.m. ET and not 3:30 p.m. ET, or it could’ve come close to being called for darkness.

The Indy road course had its obvious issues, but it was a helluva lot more entertaining than the oval. Did the race feel as prestigious as the oval? No. But is prestige more important than good racing? For the first 73 laps, the Indy road course delivered intriguing battles, both for the lead and throughout the field. The Brickyard 400 isn’t the Indy 500. It was a crown jewel event, sure, but it wasn’t a traditional NASCAR staple like the Southern 500 or Daytona 500. I’m fine with the road course being the new normal at Indy, as long as they get the curb issue figured out before next summer.

Paint scheme of the race

Aric Almirola officially clinched a playoff spot with Allmendinger winning this weekend, and he did it in style. The No. 10 traded in its usual Smithfield scheme for the Mobil 1 colors at Indy. The design brought back memories of Jeremy Mayfield, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart’s old Mobil 1 cars. As much as I like Harvick’s current black Mobil 1 scheme, this sponsor just fits better with white as the base color.

Better than last time?

Last year, the Brickyard race ran on the oval, and it was a memorable event. 12 cars didn’t finish the race due to wrecks while six drivers led at least 12 laps. Hamlin was cruising to victory with seven laps to go, leading Kevin Harvick by nearly a second when his tire blew and he slammed into the outside wall. Harvick held on for the win in overtime ahead of Matt Kenseth (!) for his third Brickyard win (2004, 2019, 2020).

The first year on the road course will go down as memorable, too. I’m not quite sure how else to describe it. The first two stages were intense, with Elliott, Larson, Byron and Briscoe all flexing their muscles. Cars got strung out in the final stage and Larson had a clear win before the caution, one that set in motion a crazy series of events. I was more entertained with the road course, and I think it should return next season, though I think the oval last year was a slightly better race, just because of the purity of it. 

Playoff picture

Allmendinger’s win doesn’t impact the playoff picture, as he’s declared for NASCAR Xfinity Series points and is not running Cup full-time. This means that Hamlin (+293 on the bubble), as well as all 13 full-time race winners this season, are officially locked into the playoffs. Just two spots are up for grabs with two races remaining at Michigan and Daytona International Speedway.

Larson now leads Hamlin in the overall standings by 22 points. The regular season champion will receive 15 playoff points, while second receives 10, third receives eight, fourth receives seven, and so on.

On the bubble, Reddick (+28) gained 13 points on his teammate Dillon (-28) for the final playoff spot. Kevin Harvick (+95) has to be feeling better with Allmendinger’s victory, as it would likely take two new winners to boot him from the field. If there is one new winner, Reddick could theoretically make up the 67-point deficit, though it’s a tall task for just two races.

DiBenedetto (-145), Chris Buescher (-146), Chastain (-176) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-187) are the next closest drivers to the points bubble. No driver outside of Harvick, Reddick and Dillon can qualify for the playoffs on points — winning is the only way.

Here’s a look at the full standings with just two regular season races left:

What’s next?

The penultimate race of the 2021 regular season has arrived as the Cup Series visits Michigan International Speedway. This weekend will be the only trip to Michigan this year, marking the first time since 1973 the track has only hosted one Cup race. The FireKeepers Casino 400 will go green on Sunday (Aug. 22) at 3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: INDIANAPOLIS

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24 Comments
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kb

Hey, I like AJ just fine, MR. TICKLES TOO! But come on, NASCAR screwed up so bad and cost some serious coin to those r’ked’ cars that had a shot to win! Shame on this shit show. But a win is a win….truth but a big YAWN. Congrats Mr, Tickles! and his Cat Dad…..

Carl D.

I don’t particularly care for Hamlin, but I have to agree, he had a right to be upset, but handled it professionally. I don’t think Briscoe spun him on purpose, but it cost Hamlin a win nevertheless.

I don’t know why Kaulig wouldn’t put A.J. in a cup car next year. Seems like a no-brainer.

Bill B

RE: “I don’t know why Kaulig wouldn’t put A.J. in a cup car next year”

Only reason I can think is that maybe whoever they are putting in the car is bringing significant $ponsorship with them.

Carl D.

Good point. I’ll be interested to see who that turns out to be.

Echo

Not sure why my post didn’t show up up on this thread. But, try again. Heck yes he dumped Denny. And now Larson has a sizeable lead for regular season champion. Which is fine with me.

Bill B

I liked everything except the last 5 laps of the race. It turned the race into a total crapshoot. Guys that had run a good race and should have earned a good finish were randomly removed from the race or damaged to the point they weren’t competitive. Any race where the failure of the track becomes the deciding factor of the finishing order is a problem. And what was the point of making them run laps under caution while they were still cleaning up the track? Shouldn’t they have just left the race under a red flag until everything was cleaned up? Sometimes NASCAR’s race control team seem like a bunch of buffoons.

Briscoe’s punt of Hamlin sure looked intentional to me. I can’t say it didn’t make me smile though.

It doesn’t look like NASCAR is going to get the compelling battle they want for that last playoff position this year.

Bill H

It looked intentional, I would say, because it was intentional.
If it looks like a duck…

Carl D.

RE: “It doesn’t look like NASCAR is going to get the compelling battle they want for that last playoff position this year.”

Yeah, but the crap shoot at Daytona May provide some drama. Maybe a DiBenedetto, Stenhouse or Chastain win.

Bill B

Those guys are more likely to cause a big one trying to win than to actually win, but your point is well made and that is exactly why NASCAR moved the Daytona race from July 4th to the final race of the regular season.

Kevin in SoCal

“And what was the point of making them run laps under caution while they were still cleaning up the track?”

There were 4 laps left in the race at that point. Any yellow was going to take at least 2 laps, so the race was going into over time no matter what.

Bill B

I think you missed the point. They red flagged the race while they removed the curbing and cleaned up that area. Then they restarted the race under caution and took almost another 30 minutes to clean up oil and speedy dry while the cars circled the track under caution. Why not just keep the race under a red flag until the entire job was completed?

John Dawg Chapman

3 things stuck out for me about this race, & it was a race. Unlike the parades that we were used to seeing on the oval. #1, both NASCAR race control, & the IMS earned huge black eyes for the way things were handled. #2 What the hell is up with the 2 car on road courses? I know Brad is a capable road racer, but it’s like his crew had never set up a Road course car before. #3 Kaulig has 2 charters for next season, & they’re not going to run the Dinger fulltime with one of them! What’s up with that? looks like they’re planning to waste that charter. They’re smart people, it’s time to rethink that decision.

Kevin in SoCal

“Allmendinger finished without much pressure from Blaney for his second career win and first since Watkins Glen in 2011.”

Allmendinger’s first win was WG in 2014, as you said later.

“Harvick held on for the win in overtime ahead of Matt Kenseth (!) for his third Brickyard win (2004, 2019, 2020).”

Harvick’s first Indy win was 2003.

I don’t understand all the hate for Hamlin. The posts on Facebook about this race were horrible towards him.

Carl D.

I don’t dislike Hamlin. He’s a damned good race car driver. I respect his talent and his work ethic and his drive to succeed. That said, there are a lot of drivers I’d rather pull for. After his comments yesterday, which were particularly gracious considering what the contact from Briscoe cost him, I like him a little bit better.

Iceman202290

He bumped and dumped the fan favorite Chase Elliot at Martinsville.

Bill B

Anyone else been getting those annoying ZEDO pop up ads every time they come to this website? I don’t seem to see them on any site but this one so I don’t think the problem is on my computer.

David Russell Edwards

yep. almost make it unwatchable

Carl D.

So annoying.

David Edwards

I’ve been wondering what Briscoe was thinking. Did he really think that he could get away with missing the corner as badly as he did and almost coming out in the lead? Think that by letting Hamlin past all would be forgotten? I must say that given nascars history that is possible.
Yet it seems like the proper thing would have been to not confound things by doing something silly like, oh I don’t know, dump the leader.
But i guess that’s why they call it the red mist.

Fed Up

The 23 cut the corner behind the curb and moved up after the big debacle. Burton even called it a penalty on the air. Crickets from NA$CAR!! Wonder why? Oh yea.

DoninAjax

I saw that too but then realized who it was. I think NA$CAR should give an explanation on the lack of a penalty, just to see the spin they put on it.

DoninAjax

Then why did he restart in 13th for the final restart. If he went to the rear there is no way he got to 13th for the final restart with all the cars on the lead lap.

Fed Up

He didn’t go to the back. I believe he restarted in 10th.
I would like to hear what Nascar says. I know why. LOL.

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