Locusts, frogs and boils might have been the only three plagues missing from Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There were fires, lightning, torrential rain, crashes, overtime, red flags and six hours of utter and total chaos, before Kasey Kahne took a surprising victory in the wildest Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in a very long time.
It was a crazy outcome after a long day of racing, with checkered flag not falling at the Brickyard until past 8:30 p.m. And it wasn’t just one big day, it was a big week, with the announcement that Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season.
Here are seven takeaways from the Brickyard 400 and the week in racing.
The last time Kasey Kahne won a race was at Atlanta in 2014, but he prevailed in the final restart, passing Brad Keselowski to win this race for the first time. Kahne, who is rumored to be on his way out at Hendrick Motorsports, has now has punched his ticket to the Cup playoffs, becoming the 12th driver to lock in a playoff spot with a win. This will have huge playoff implications.
For the second consecutive year, Kyle Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was in its own zip code, far and away the fastest car in the race. Last year, Busch led 149 of 170 laps to drub the Brickyard field and win his second consecutive Brickyard 400. This year, he led all 50 laps of Stage 1 to win it from the pole, and led 35 of 50 laps to take Stage 2.
But in a truly stunning moment, on a restart during Stage 3, Martin Truex Jr. got loose in Turn 1 and got into Busch, taking them both out of the race. Truex’s wrecked Furniture Row Racing Toyota spectacularly burst into flames, although he was able to escape without injury
For Busch, it meant his quest to be the first driver to win this race in three consecutive years would not happen and his winless streak would be extended to one full season.
“Just chalk it up to another one that we figure out how to lose these things by,” said Busch. “It’s very frustrating and I hate it for my guys, they build such fast Toyota Camrys and the Skittles Camry was really good again today. Had wanted to go out there and put ourselves in the record books for three in a row, but not happening.”
“I just got loose and wrecked him, I guess,” said Truex. “Totally my fault. … I hate it for Kyle. He had a great car and we did as well, but that’s racing. Glad I was able to get out, fire was bad.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Brickyard 400 came to an early and unhappy ending, as he made it less than halfway before being ensnared in contact deep in the field, as the field stacked up and he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne, damaging the radiator of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Earnhardt’s best career Brickyard 400 finish was a fourth in 2012.
“There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping and it was a chain reaction and we got into the back of the No. 6 (Bayne) and I guess they were all kind of running into each other and it just knocked the radiator out of it,” said Earnhardt. “We hit the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) earlier in the race kind of doing the same thing and it damaged the front end and I think it knocked the bumper bar out of it then, so we really had no protection after that.”
Elliott’s engine goes
A rare engine failure in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet meant a 39th-place finish and a terrible points day for second-year driver Chase Elliott.
“I’ve been racing Hendrick engines since 2013 and this is the first engine problem I’ve ever had,” Elliott said. “So, I’ll take those odds all day long. We still have the best engine shop in the business and stuff’s going to happen. We’re pushing it as everyone is. So, we’ll move on to next week and see what we’ve got there.”
The good news for Elliott is that other good drivers who are winless in 2017 had bad days, too, including Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and, of course, Kyle Busch.
See the air
There was some great racing in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, and you can bet that NASCAR officials picked up a few ideas on how to tweak the Monster Energy Cup Series cars next year, which they clearly need. The Brickyard 400 is still one of NASCAR’s flagship races, and there is no question that fans want and deserve top-flight competition, with a lot more passing than they saw on Sunday. Here’s hoping the XFINITY race is a preview of what’s to come in 2018 for the Cup Series.
Byron’s bright future
William Byron, who won Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, has had a torrid summer, winning three of the last five races in the sport’s AAA division. Byron drove like an old pro on Saturday, holding off a ferocious charge from Paul Menard in the final laps to win.
Great showings in the XFINITY Series does not guarantee success at the Cup level — Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are still looking for their first victories and two-time XFINITY champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got his first two Cup wins this season.
Still, it’s hard to look at Byron and not see someone with a huge upside. Rick Hendrick is quietly reloading his dream team with top-notch talent.
The Bowman announcement is likely to trigger a flurry of driver/team/sponsor moves in the days and weeks ahead. This could be the most volatile Silly Season we’ve had in NASCAR in quite some time. We already know Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports will each have one new driver next season, and changes are likely to follow at other contending teams. Stay tuned, it’s about to get interesting.
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