Who… should you be talking about after the race?
He’s a lame duck, they said. His team will give up on him, they said. But nobody gave up as Tyler Reddick wheeled his Richard Childress Racing machine around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Reddick led a race-high 38 laps on the day, taking the lead for good on lap 62 to win Sunday’s (July 31) Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. Reddick had to endure a pair of late restarts on which he had to hold off two of NASCAR’s best road racers, first Chase Elliott and then AJ Allmendinger as well as a charging Ross Chastain. In each case, Reddick navigated them with maturity and grit for his second career win and second road course win in a row.
Reddick will leave RCR after the 2023 season, and there’s certainly been plenty of speculation about his immediate future. But right now it’s in RCR’s best interest to give Reddick everything needed to succeed as he’s currently the team’s only hope in the playoffs.
If Austin Dillon should win his way in in the next four weeks, Reddick could quickly find himself in a different situation with the team’s attention on Dillon. But for now, it would be foolish to throw away a chance at a championship because of a move that’s over a year away.
And don’t forget… the rookies. Austin Cindric led the rookie charge on Sunday with his runner-up finish. Cindric has a road racing background and is the Daytona 500 champion, so seeing him up front wasn’t a huge surprise.
Cindric didn’t lead that charge by much, though. Harrison Burton finished a career-best third, just one spot in front of Todd Gilliland, who led the first four laps of his Cup career and also scored his career-best result.
All three drivers show promise, perhaps Cindric the most because he’s in a secure, well-funded ride controlled in part by his father. The trio continued a trend overall this year that’s shifted toward the younger generation of drivers, with the youngsters putting up plenty of wins.
What… is the buzz about?
Will NASCAR return to the storied Indianapolis oval anytime soon? It’s certainly possible. The NASCAR Cup Series will run the road course in 2023, but track owner Roger Penske says a return to the oval is possible in 2024 and that a scenario such as alternating years at the oval and road course is certainly a possibility.
Both races on the road course layout have produced chaotic finishes, with the second running featuring an improved track that did not cause the issues we saw in 2021 with torn-up cars from the curbing.
The racing on the oval is generally a much tamer affair. The Next Gen car could change that, as it has seen improved racing at some bigger ovals this year, but the track has never produced the kind of racing that open-wheel cars do at their marquee track.
So oval, road course, or a little of each? That remains to be seen; my vote goes to either an annual swap or the road layout because the historic oval just doesn’t seem to play well with stock cars.
Where… did the other key players wind up?
Defending race winner Allmendinger got the weekend off to a good start with a win in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race. His team elected to try a different fuel strategy, giving him the lead in the final stage, but needing to pit from that spot.
Allmendinger then did Allmendinger things in the late laps, getting as close as second for the final restart of the day. He wasn’t feeling well in the car as the race wore on with his cooling shirt broken and his water bottle empty. That could have been a partial cause to him fading on that restart, falling to seventh at the finish.
After the race, Allmendinger climbed from his car on his own but collapsed against the pit wall. He was taken to the infield care center for treatment.
Defending Cup champ Kyle Larson suffered suspension damage early, relegating him to race a couple of laps down and hope that some other cars would fall out before the checkers. But a scary issue for the No. 5 ended Larson’s day, and Ty Dillon’s as well. Larson suffered a mechanical failure, barreling through turn 1 at speed and slamming into the right side of Dillon’s car. Both drivers walked away under their own power; Dillon said afterward it’s the hardest hit he’s ever taken.
And it could have been worse. If Dillon hadn’t been unfortunate enough to be in his path, Larson would have sailed off course until he hit something, a la Jimmie Johnson at Watkins Glen International. Johnson got lucky that day; he hit styrofoam blocks. Larson might not have had that same safety net.
When… was the moment of truth?
Can you or can’t you? That was the question on just about everyone’s mind after Chastain overshot turn 1 on the final restart, using the access road NASCAR told drivers to use if they blew the corner to take the lead away from Reddick briefly. Reddick got back by Chastain for the win, with Chastain crossing the line next followed by Cindric.
Turns out, though, that you can’t just miss the corner. While drivers can use the access road to rejoin the field, NASCAR ruled that Chastain used it to gain position, which comes with a 30-second time penalty. The consequences dropped Chastain to 27th in the final running order.
Austin Dillon suffered the same fate, finishing 30th as a result.
It was the right call. Chastain, in particular, didn’t run out because he was punted by another car or suffered a mechanical issue; he ran out because he bailed on the tight-quarters turn. He slowed only enough to safely navigate the return trip to the racing surface and gained positions in the process. Had he or Dillon given up positions or been bumped off course by other drivers, NASCAR might have let it stand, but flying through ultimately didn’t fly with officials.
Why… should you be paying attention this week?
The Cup Series heads north to Michigan International Speedway this week for what should, if recent races are an indication, be a tamer affair than fans were treated to at Indy.
As for that possible 15th winner? Ryan Blaney won at MIS last year and Kevin Harvick has four wins in the last six MIS races. The only other active drivers with Michigan wins since 2012 are Joey Logano, Larson and Kurt Busch.
Speaking of Busch, after missing his second race in a row at Indianapolis following a concussion in qualifying at Pocono, the elder Busch is still questionable for the upcoming race. Ty Gibbs has done a solid job subbing for Busch, but waivers aside, Busch’s chances for a title run are waning by the week. If he’s not back in the car this week, it’s time to ask some more difficult questions about the 2004 champion.
How… cool would more NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheaders be?
The NASCAR-IndyCar weekend at Indianapolis certainly fuels the argument to expand – and capitalize – on it.
Not only should the two series add a few more tandem weekends (Texas Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and Iowa Speedway are easy choices to add to the slate) but they should add a joint incentive to entice drivers to enter both events in a weekend. Be it in the form of a bonus to any driver who can score a top 10 in both races, a series deal where crossover drivers earn points for their finishes in both races, or something else to get the entries flowing.
Hello, old friend. pic.twitter.com/JyzarsEEIH
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) July 30, 2022
NASCAR could assist by allowing teams maxed out on charters to enter open cars only for IndyCar drivers running both races, which could create seats for veterans like Johnson. Kurt Busch has raced Indy cars before, and a few drivers from both series have expressed interest in having a chance to drive each race. If four drivers attempted the doubles, which would max out the NASCAR field at 40, it could bring new interest to both series and allow drivers to have a lot of fun in the process.
IMS brought out past winners from both IndyCar and NASCAR this weekend for a photo shoot. A handful, like Johnson and the legendary AJ Foyt, have raced the track in both series. Johnson stopped by his old stomping grounds between his IndyCar obligations, clearly enjoying his trip down memory lane. Finding a way to get him, and others, in cars for doubleheaders would be a fantastic opportunity that should be explored.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.