The Rundown: Indianapolis
July 28, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com
1. Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet SS. Hollywood couldn't have written a better script: Gordon got his record fifth victory at Indianapolis, clinched a berth in the Chase (provided he attempts to qualify for the final six races), joined Richard Petty and David Pearson as the only drivers with at least 90 premier-series wins and did it all on "Jeff Gordon Day."
Gordon led 40 laps, but it was the restart with 17 laps to go that catapulted him to Victory Lane. Gordon went outside after Kasey Kahne, the race leader, took the inside lane, and Gordon squeezed past in Turn 2 and never looked back. Gordon, who admitted to having problems on restarts, made the perfect restart at the right time en route to kissing the bricks.
2. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. You can't blame Busch if he felt like the bridesmaid again. For the third time in the past four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, Busch was good enough for second place but not quite good enough for the win. It prompted him to say over the radio, "It's our goal to finish second … just kidding."
More than 90 laps into Sunday's race, Busch was frustrated about not getting the car to turn correctly. But by the caution on Lap 138 he was in position to make a run for the victory by being one of seven lead cars to stay out. But he couldn't catch the No. 24 and finished 2.325 seconds behind. (Sign up for RaceView to hear race-day comments from drivers such as Busch.)
3. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. In a game of pit strategy, it looked like Hamlin was cooked after his team had a "chugging problem" with the gas can on a cycle of green-flag stops around Lap 90. "How many gallons are we short?" Hamlin asked crew chief Darian Grubb. "Too many, buddy," Grubb replied.
After a Lap 97 caution for a wreck involving Trevor Bayne, Hamlin returned to the pits and added fuel, and with 50 laps to go, Hamlin had worked his way back into the top 15. By the final pit stop, Hamlin was back in the top five and passed Matt Kenseth and Kahne for third after the final restart. Hamlin led 18 laps and had a car fast enough to win but was left to think of what could have been after the fuel mishap.
Then, post-race, it was announced that there were possible issues with several rear firewall block-off plates for Hamlin's car and that the parts would be taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina for further inspection. Stay tuned.
4. Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth started the weekend fast by finishing first in the opening session of Sprint Cup Series practice. However, he qualified 13th, which meant he had some work to do to get his first win of the 2014 season. Alas, he fell short but still got a strong result, despite some drama on Lap 96 when a wrapper stuck to his grille and caused the engine temperature to rise.
Luckily, a caution on Lap 97 allowed Kenseth to pit and get the garbage removed, and he racked up his seventh top-five (without a win) in 15 starts at Indy. Those stats sound similar to his overall 2014 effort: Eight top-five finishes (without a win) in 20 starts.
5. Joey Logano, Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Logano made the first strategy play when he stayed out during the competition caution on Lap 20. That caused teammate Brad Keselowski to say over the radio, "Twenty-two must be treating this like a road-course deal. Stayed out."
The move allowed Logano to lead 10 laps, but then he pitted on Lap 32 as part of his strategy to get ahead of the field on stops. In the end, the strategy didn't prevail, but with seven top-five finishes this season, Logano equaled his total in 2012 and is on pace to scoot past the 11 top-fives he had last year. He also clinched a Chase spot with this performance.
6. Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet SS. Kahne led the most laps with a total of 70 and appeared on his way to notching that all-important first win of the season. But things started to unravel on Lap 128 when Kahne was one of the first to come in on a round of green-flag stops. The early stop meant he might have to conserve fuel, and when the leaders stayed out on Lap 138, Kahne's fuel shortage appeared worse.
Ultimately choosing the inside lane on a restart with 17 laps left turned out to be a bigger issue than fuel. To Kahne's credit, Gordon got loose on the key pass after the restart and Kahne could've helped his teammate out of the way, but that isn't the No. 5's style. However, Kahne's spotter summed up the post-race feelings over the radio: "Alright, let me go throw up, see you on the plane," he said.
7. Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 42 Chevrolet SS. The Sunoco Rookie of the Race led five laps during Sunday's race when he stayed out while several race leaders pitted on Lap 38. That might have seemed like a fluky way to lead laps, but the fact Larson ran in the top 10-15 drivers for most of the day wasn't. Larson showed he can race at the highest level by posting his ninth top-10 finish and was in a Chase spot (15th place) by the end of the day.
8. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet SS. The pole-sitter looked like he had the goods to give Gordon a run for the checkered flag. Despite putting up a fight and leading 12 laps, Harvick dropped to 12th on the final restart and couldn't make up enough ground to get back into contention for the win. According to pit road stats, Harvick had some of the day's best stops, so that problem area seems to be in the process of being cleaned up. (For more pit stats, subscribe to RaceView premium.)
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet SS. Dale Jr. started 23rd and had a relatively quiet race, showing up on the race scanner a few times saying his car felt tight. By the end of the day he had snuck into the top 10 and managed to get his fifth top-10 finish in 15 career starts at Indy. What's more impressive, though, was the consistency of the No. 88, scoring seven top-10 finishes in the past eight Cup starts. With the Chase nearing, the team appears to be hitting its stride.
10. Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet SS. Dillon made it two Sunoco rookies in the top 10. And Dillon did it despite experiencing communications problems with his team early in the race. It wasn't until a pit stop after the Lap 97 caution that Dillon's crew finally got the issue resolved. Now hear this: Dillon's three top-10 finishes this season have come at the two Daytona races and Indianapolis. Not bad places to make a splash.
11. Ryan Newman, Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet SS. The 2013 race winner started fourth, giving hope that the Indiana native would make another magical run en route to an all-important victory to improve his Chase chances. But that never materialized and Newman just missed notching his fourth top-10 finish at Indy. Despite the missed opportunity, Newman sat comfortably in 13th place in the Chase standings, 51 points ahead of the 17th-place driver (Kahne).
12. Brad Keselowski, Team Penske No. 2 Ford. As strong as the No. 2 looked in recent races, a 12th-place result was disappointing. Keselowski finished in the top-five in both practices and qualified third, but that didn't translate into a top-five finish on Sunday. A series of bad-luck moves, including a minor tangle with Kyle Busch's No. 18, put Keselowski far back in the field early in the race. The fact he managed a 12th-place finish speaks to the driver's strength at dealing with adversity.
13. Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 Ford. Following news that teammate Carl Edwards was on the way out at RFR, Biffle failed to finish in the top 10 at Indy for the sixth time in 12 races. Biffle remained without a win and was nine points behind Austin Dillon for the final Chase spot. Biffle has posted one top-10 (Sonoma) in his past 10 races, so unless that trend changes, it might be hard for him to make up ground.
14. Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet SS. Johnson was on the radio throughout the race complaining of a tight race car and ended up posting the worst finish for Hendrick Motorsports. Despite his strong history at Indianapolis, Johnson qualified 11th and dropped out of contention before the final restart. Still, Johnson clinched a Chase spot with this performance.
15. Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing No. 99 Ford. Edwards revealed he wasn't coming back to RFR next season, and rumors quickly were circulating that the winner of 23 Cup races would take his talent to Joe Gibbs Racing. But Coach Gibbs was mum on JGR's plans. On the track, Edwards' 15th-place finish was good enough to clinch a Chase spot (provided he attempts to qualify in the final six races).
16. Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 Toyota. Bowyer had a brief, albeit confusing, moment in the sun during the Brickyard 400. It came after a Lap 97 caution when it was erroneously reported that Bowyer would benefit from the caution because he had already pitted. But he hadn't come in for service as first thought, and by staying out on old tires he quickly went from first to fifth on the restart as Kahne and Kyle Busch were the first to blow past him with ease.
17. Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet SS. The Indiana native couldn't build on a strong history at the Brickyard that included 11 top-10 finishes in 15 starts. During his 16th start, he battled an ill-handling race car, finally saying on Lap 104 that things were improving. But on Lap 118, Stewart sensed a flat tire and came in for a stop that put him a lap down. Eventually, he was the beneficiary on a caution and earned his 17th-place finish. Stewart was 30 points out of the final Chase spot and still in serious need of a win.
18. AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet SS. Considering he qualified 36th, an 18th-place finish was respectable on a track that historically has been difficult to come from the back. For his efforts, Allmendinger jumped three spots in the points standings to 23rd place.
19. Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing No. 55 Toyota. Vickers qualified fifth and raced in the top 15 cars throughout, but the last restart ended his chances for a top-10 finish. Vickers dropped from eighth to 18th and finished 19th. It was a disappointing result, but Vickers still managed to take home the Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap award.
20. Jamie McMurray, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates No. 1 Chevrolet SS. McMurray couldn't recapture his Indy magic, where he had a victory and five top-10s in 11 starts entering Sunday. He dropped to 17th before the final restart, then slipped three more spots to his final result in his 12th start at the track.
21. Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford. Almirola had to start at the back after going to a backup car, so the fact he moved through half the field to get to this result was respectable. He is in 10th place in the Chase standings thanks to his victory at Daytona, but only Kurt Busch has a lower points total among drivers currently in the Chase field.
22. Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports No. 9 Ford. Ambrose had to start at the back of the field because of a transmission change, and for the third time in seven tries at Indy he finished 22nd. He was the green-flag pass leader with 108, but his position dropped from 17th to 22nd in the final 20 percent of the race.
23. Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske No. 12 Ford. Not even Indy car ace Montoya could end Roger Penske's drought at Indy. (Somewhere, Robin Williams is saying in a sad voice, "Oh captain, my captain.") Montoya and his crew were worth a few funny, but unprintable, moments on RaceView's driver audio, though. (Did we mention you could sign up for RaceView to hear such saucy language?)
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford. Stenhouse was coming off a top-10 finish at New Hampshire but couldn't build on the momentum, taking 24th at Indy after qualifying 21st. Stenhouse did move up one spot in the point standings to 27th.
25. Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Chevrolet SS. Truex Jr. was in 12th place on Lap 100, but he slipped to 25th place on the final restart on Lap 143. After a strong run in the top 15 for most of the day, the finish had to be a disappointment for the team. Truex finished in the top 20 in his previous four races. He dropped to 24th in the points standings after this one.
26. Michael McDowell, Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Ford. McDowell had a top-10 finish at Daytona prior to his outing at Indy, where he beat his average finish of 30.3 for the season. McDowell stays at 38th place in the points standings.
27. Justin Allgaier, HScott Motorsports No. 51 Chevrolet SS. Allgaier gained four positions from where he started the race, and he equaled his average finish for the season. Allgaier's best finish remained his 16th-place effort at Michigan.
28. Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet SS. Busch started seventh and was in contention despite an ill-handling car -- until an untimely caution for teammate Danica Patrick's car led to Busch being scored a lap down. Busch fell to 34th place and couldn't recover completely as extended green-flag runs dominated the later part of the race.
29. Josh Wise, Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Chevrolet SS. Wise finished one spot higher than where he started and bested his average finish of 31.4. He has finished in the top 29 in four straight races and hasn't had an incident since crashing at Charlotte.
30. Landon Cassill, Hillman Racing No. 40 Chevrolet SS. With different pit strategies being employed, the typical race leaders were mixing with some cars usually farther back in the pack. It caused Kyle Larson to comment, "It's not very often that you see Landon Cassill pass Jimmie Johnson." Ultimately, the No. 48 would overcome the No. 40, as well as a few others, and Cassill was left with a 30th or worse finish for the 10th straight race.
31. Michael Annett, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 7 Chevrolet SS. Annett was in the top 20 near the midpoint of the race, but after that, he found himself toward the back half, where it's hard to make up ground at Indy. Annett completed 158 of 160 laps; his best finish of the season remains 16th place at Talladega.
32. Cole Whitt, BK Racing No. 26 Toyota. Whitt improved seven spots on his starting position, but it still couldn't prevent him from his second finish of 30th or worse in the past three races.
33. Casey Mears, Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet SS. Mears dropped to 41st place on Lap 4 and complained of tightness under throttle throughout the day, particularly when the sun was out. He managed to rebound from the early slippage to finish 33rd, but his worst two finishes of the season have come in the past two races.
34. Paul Menard, Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet SS. Menard got into the wall on Lap 33 after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya. He came to the pit area with both rear tires rubbing, and the crew worked furiously to hammer out the right-rear fender. The unfortunate early incident led to Menard's worst finish since Darlington. He fell five spots in the point standings and out of the Chase field.
35. David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford. Ragan was on the radio saying the balance of his car kept changing and was "sideways" at one point. The unstable ride might have contributed to his worst finish in four races. Ragan will try to bounce back at Pocono, where he had a season-best finish of 18th. (To hear all the drivers' radio calls, subscribe to RaceView.)
36. David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford. Gilliland got the wave around after the Lap 97 caution involving Bayne, but couldn't stay on the lead lap. He finished 157 of the 160 laps for his worst result in nine races.
37. Bobby Labonte, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 37 Chevrolet SS. The former Sprint Cup champion competed in his third race of the season, the others coming at Daytona (where he finished 15th and 26th). Labonte completed 157 of 160 laps.
38. Reed Sorenson, Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36 Chevrolet SS. Sorenson has managed three top-25 finishes this season, but Sunday wasn't one of them. He completed 156 of 160 laps and finished running for the seventh time in the past eight races.
39. Travis Kvapil, FAS Lane Racing No. 32 Ford. Kvapil finished 30th or worse for the 12th time in 13 races this season. He completed 156 of 160 laps at Indianapolis.
40. Alex Bowman, BK Racing No. 23 Toyota. Bowman completed 156 of 160 laps and finished 40th for the third time in the past eight races. Two races ago he had his best finish of the season (13th at Daytona).
41. Ryan Truex, BK Racing No. 83 Toyota. Truex lost fuel pressure on Lap 138, forcing a caution flag. Truex's car was running when he passed the entrance to pit road, but he lost power entering the back straightaway, and by then there was nowhere for him to go. Truex completed 149 of the 160 laps.
42. Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Chevrolet SS. Patrick ran 34 laps in the top 15 before a rear gear broke when she exited the pit box on Lap 69. Smoke billowed from the back of the No. 10 and NASCAR was forced to throw a caution flag. Patrick returned to the race on Lap 101, 28 laps down, and completed 114 of 160 laps.
43. Trevor Bayne, Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford. A tire went down on Bayne's car as he entered Turn 3 on Lap 97 and the No. 21 slid into the inside retaining wall, causing lots of damage in the front. Bayne was unable to return to the race after the incident and suffered his third DNF of the season.