INDIANAPOLIS – Once again, the Brickyard 400 victory was stolen in the end. That’s not entirely surprising though. But, it left two drivers fuming when it was all said and done. Over the final half of the race, it appeared that Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer were going to have a battle amongst each other for the win in the rain delayed race. They dominated all day and were running 1-2 in the closing stages.
Then, a debris caution fell.
Instead of setting up a thrilling battle between the two for the win, the field was now bunched up. Some drivers even hit pit lane for fresh tires in the meantime. After the race went back green, we’d see another caution for a crash. Again, another late restart. This time, it hurt Hamlin and Bowyer. It helped those who took tires on the last stop and set up a wild restart for the win.
Brad Keselowski, a driver who took tires on that pit stop, benefited from being in the right lane at the right time and used his fresher tires to hunt down Hamlin and pass him heading to the white flag for the win. Bowyer, spun his tires from being in the worst lane for the restart meaning neither he nor Hamlin won.
“What I needed was not having meaningless guys in the back wreck,” Hamlin said after the race. “I don’t know what they’re doing crashing with a couple laps to go, multiple laps down. Meaningless.”
He’s referring to Jeffrey Earnhardt and Landon Cassill wrecking with seven to go. Both cars were four laps down at the time. Had they not crashed, Hamlin likely would have beaten Bowyer for the win in the Brickyard 400. Instead, he lost because of another restart.
“Besides that, all those cautions allowed the guys who took tires and save their strategy which allowed them to come back up there. Obviously it allowed (Keselowski) to kind of rough us up there at the end. Very unfortunate, but it’s what happens sometimes.”
What’s even more frustrating for Hamlin, is that he felt that he did everything right. He said he didn’t spin his tires and fired off the way you need to in the end. He just didn’t have the speed for Keselowski because his tires were definitely older than Keselowski’s was.
Bowyer, was frustrated too.
He called the ending of the race a “game of luck” and that there wasn’t really any strategy. He said that you can’t strategize for cautions that you don’t know will happen.
“That’s the nature of the beast here,” he said.
Kurt Busch also said that this is the “new NASCAR” at Indy where late race restarts and picking the right lane will get you further than pure speed. With passing so difficult, as long as you position yourself up front in the end, anybody can win this race. He was surprised Keselowski won in fact. He was happy for him and Team Penske but shocked that Keselowski’s lack of speed prevailed.
This was the second straight Brickyard 400 and fifth in the last six years that the driver or drivers who led the most laps didn’t win the race. Hamlin and Bowyer led 37 laps a piece. Last year, Kyle Busch led 87 laps but crashed out and finished 34th. In 2015, Kevin Harvick led 75 laps in a third place effort. Twice had Kasey Kahne led the most laps but didn’t win. He led 70 laps in a sixth place finish in 2014 and 48 in an 18th place run in 2011. Jimmie Johnson led 73 laps in 2013 but could only muster a runner-up. Juan Pablo Montoya led 116 laps in 2009 and 86 more in 2010 but finished 11th and 32nd respectively.
That’s eight times in the last 10 years that a driver dominated the Brickyard but didn’t win.
Keselowski, well despite winning, he agreed. He said though that this is how Indy has always been and said that he watched a past Indy 500 race from the 90s and that race played out the exact same way.
“Yeah, I knew we’d have a shot to run with Denny (Hamlin) and on the last restart the inside line just had incredible grip, and we drove from third to second entering Turn 1, and then I knew it was just a matter of settling in,” Keselowski said in his post race winners news conference. “I was extremely loose, and so I was kind of nervous about that being so loose and around Denny because I knew I was going to have to pass him on the inside, and when you pass somebody on the inside, you get even looser. I had almost spun out right before the yellow came out before that. I got a little bit of a run on him off of Turn 4 with 2 to go and got right up behind him through 1 and 2 and eventually as able to just barely take a peek underneath him off of 2 and try to get a run. We held each other pretty tight entering 3, and I knew going into Turn 3 underneath him that with no air on the right side of the car, I was just going to wreck us both. I had to let him go and try to make another run at him for Turn 4, and that’s what we were able to do. I was able to just get in there and kind of dig position into Turn 4, and it stuck. I was able to clear him, and gosh, that was one of the best things I ever heard in my life was clear off of Turn 4 at Brickyard coming to the white flag. To me, what a day, it was a great finish, and like I said, we weren’t good enough to beat him straight up, and we didn’t. But we put ourselves in position to do it with great strategy and timing all the moves right on pit road and on the racetrack. I’m really thrilled for that.
“Yeah, I mean, Indy has always been this way. Before I came here this weekend, I sat down and watched the 1994 Indy 500, and the announcers were talking towards the closing stages how Indy always changes right at the end, and that’s always been how this race seems to play out. There’s always something that happens with 20 to go that completely shakes everything up.
I don’t know why that is. That particular race, Emerson Fittipaldi was going to win it hands down, and he got caught up in lap traffic, spun out in a wreck and Little Al did. But with that in mind, that’s been the story of this race forever, and it’s burned us, and today it probably worked in our favor. So like I said, you’ve got to take the ups with the downs, and appreciate when you’re on the upswing and put yourself in position to be on the up swing but know sometimes those things aren’t going to work out. Today it did, and we’re very proud of that and thankful for it.”
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