In a weekend jam-packed with exciting races from both the NTT Indycar Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, the Cup Series didn’t fail to further add fuel to the fire, in its debut on the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course configuration. With bright blue skies, and the playoffs looming in the distance, calamity lurked around every turn.
Qualifying for the race took place in the morning, and although many drivers proved to have fast cars, it was William Byron who would start on the pole, alongside rookie sensation and hometown hero Chase Briscoe. Byron had good company behind him as his two teammates, most popular driver Chase Elliott and points leader Kyle Larson began the race in third and fourth. Two Xfinity Series drivers were entered into the cup field including yesterday’s Xfinity race winner Austin Cindric and Kaulig Racing’s AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger would start the race in eighth while Cindric would start in thirteenth. Other notable starting positions included Kyle Busch in 21st. Tech faired well for all drivers, as everyone passed through without having to start at the rear. It’s also important to note that NASCAR removed the orange turtles around the track after they caused multiple incidents in the Xfinity Series race the day prior.
The green flag dropped at 1:13 P.M., with William Byron quickly having the edge over Briscoe to take the lead. Meanwhile, drivers were four wide throughout the field, resulting in brief contact between Martin Truex Jr., Ross Chastain, and Daniel Suárez. Although Byron held the lead in lap one, it didn’t take long for Indiana’s own Chase Briscoe to get around the Hendrick driver and take the lead at lap two. Austin Cindric locked it up and went for a spin on lap seven, but quickly was able to gather it up and get back in the race. Not even a lap later, Corey Lajoie and Aric Almirola made contact with one another, leaving Almirola’s nosed caved in towards the right front, forcing him to take a ride down pit road. As the laps of stage one began to wind down, race leader Chase Briscoe found his water and oil temps going up due to grass covering his grill. At lap thirteen, on a strategy call, drivers began to come down pit road to take four tires and fuel, including leader Briscoe, Byron, and Chase Elliott. Daytona 500 winner Michael Mcdowell would obtain the lead with just two laps to go in the stage, but Tyler Reddick chased after him hungrily for the lead. With a pass just before the last lap of the stage, Reddick would take the lead and go on to win the stage.
Although Briscoe was supposed to be in second upon the start of stage two, NASCAR docked him five positions for not maintaining pace with the other leaders (this was the result of a complaint from Larson, as Briscoe was off pace due to resetting his ECU). Brad Keselowski stayed out as everyone else pitted, giving him the lead at the start of stage two on lap twenty. It didn’t take long though for the “Road Course King” Chase Elliott to make his way to the lead, passing both his teammate, Byron and Keselowski by lap twenty-one. Keselowski’s road course struggles continued further at the Brickyard, as he went off course on lap twenty-three. Meanwhile, Christopher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto made contact going off course, with Bell obtaining a tire rub in the scuffle. One lap later, Ross Chastain went for a spin out of turn one, but quickly gathered it together. Bad luck at the road courses only continued further for Brad Keselowski as he hit the wall exiting turn 14, getting heavy damage, but not bringing out a caution. Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano went for a spin after making contact with Larson, not gaining any damage in the process. Just before the stage end, we saw drivers using the same strategy as used in the previous stage, as the leaders came down pit road to service their car, leaving Tyler Reddick with the lead once again, ultimately resulting in yet another stage win for the Richard Childress Racing driver.
The final stage got underway with Larson having the edge over Elliott, taking the lead going into turn one. Almirola took a spin coming out of turn six after contact with the JTG machine of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The caution flag dropped a lap later after it was discovered that one of two drivers’ radiator pans was found wedged under the curbing in turn six. Soon the green flag was out again and Larson was quickly able to regain his lead over teammates Elliott and Byron. Drivers bumped and banged throughout the field as the window for final pit stops opened up. Chase Briscoe was first down pit road, looking to service a flat-spotted tire and vibration. Austin Cindric was quick to come to pit road too, after he spun as a result of contact with Kurt Busch. It didn’t take long for Larson, Elliott, and the other leaders to come down the pit lane to service their vehicles, leaving Denny Hamlin with the lead. Despite his best efforts to stay out for as long as possible, Hamlin eventually came down pit road on lap sixty-five, giving the lead back to Kyle Larson
As the laps began to wind down, it seemed as though Kyle Larson was poised to continue his dominating run this season with yet another win. However, turn six, the turn that had already caused so much drama for the drivers, hadn’t had enough fun just yet, as the caution flag waved yet again with ten laps to go. Track safety crews quickly began working on the curbing in the turn and removing more debris. A majority of the leaders decided to come down pit road, but still searching for a first win this season, Denny Hamlin took a gamble and decided to stay out. Chase Briscoe also found himself back at the front of the field after having to come down pit road just before the caution had come out to service yet another flat-spotted tire. Pit road served no issues for the leaders, except that of Chase Elliott, who lost a ton of positions, after his car fell off the jack. The green flag came back out with Hamlin and Briscoe battling hard for the lead, both determined to win. Turn six had other plans though for the drivers trying to make their way towards the two at the front, as the curbing came up, making a handful of drivers spin and crash. Multiple drivers were involved including William Byron, Kyle Busch, Ryan Preece, Daniel Suárez, and Joey Logano, who arguably got the worse damage out of everyone, slamming hard into the tire barrier. The red flag was displayed with just four to go and track workers (even including track president Doug Boles) quickly got to work on replacing the curbing that had caused so much calamity as well as replacing the tire barrier that Joey Logano had slammed into.
Engines were refired as drivers entered into overtime to decide the winner of the first-ever road course race at the Brickyard, but the old track had one more trick up her sleeve as drivers once again went spinning in every direction in turn six. The red flag was once again displayed as repairs needed to be made to the curbing, and another tire barrier needed to be replaced after Austin Dillon collided with one, in the chaos that ensued. After everything was back in place, a second attempt at a green-white-checkered was made with AJ Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, and Chase Briscoe going three-wide into turn one. Briscoe, with nowhere else to go, was forced to have to cut through the grass ahead of Hamlin, but was quickly penalized for short-cutting the track. Unaware of being penalized, Briscoe battled with Hamlin as though he was competing for the win, before accidentally spinning out driver #11. Finally being made aware of his penalty, Briscoe backed out opening up the lead to Allmendinger, who held off Ryan Blaney on the final lap to score Kaulig Racing’s first-ever NASCAR Cup Series win. Ryan Blaney finished second, with Kyle Larson in third, Chase Elliott in fourth, and Matt DiBenedetto in fifth. Hamlin and Briscoe had a tense conversation after the conclusion of the race about what had happened on track between the two of them, and although it was indeed a tense conversation, the two drivers appeared to settle things, without getting violent. As a result of not serving his penalty right away, Briscoe was parked and scored finishing the race in twenty-sixth. No issues in tech except for Blaney’s car having one loose lug nut (monetary fine to crew chief). The NASCAR Cup Series will return to racing next Sunday at Michigan International Speedway at 3 P.M. EST. on NBCSN.
Featured image from @KauligRacing on Twitter.