The Top Five: Breaking down the Brickyard 400

Five thoughts following Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway…

1. Saving Kahne

A few hours before the race, Rick Hendrick sat in the media center for a news conference and deflected questions about Kasey Kahne’s future. It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for the driver of the No. 5 car.

A potential replacement for Kahne — William Byron — had kissed the bricks a day earlier. Kahne, meanwhile, hadn’t won in nearly three years and entered Sunday 22nd in the series standings. His future didn’t exactly seem bright.

But after catching a lucky break on pit road and inheriting the race lead, Kahne found himself racing for his career — and delivered.

By excelling on two key restarts — one in which he held it wide open in the middle of a three-wide battle with Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski; another in which he out-dueled race leader Keselowski in overtime — Kahne reminded everyone of his talent.

After all, the guy has now won 18 career Cup races (ninth among active drivers), so that ability is there somewhere. It’s just been buried under a lack of confidence in himself and his team, a snowball effect that’s only gotten worse in the last couple years.

There’s no doubt he’s been mired in a terrible situation and could use a change of scenery despite having a contract through next season. But where could he land if he does part ways with Hendrick?

Well, winning the Brickyard and getting himself into the playoffs will do wonders for his prospects. He remains a popular driver despite his struggles, and now he won’t be an afterthought when it comes to top candidates to fill an open seat.

2. Follow the rules

NASCAR has an overtime rule, the point of which is to try and give fans a finish under green. But it appeared officials basically used the rule to make sure the race finished under yellow — and thus ended — on Sunday.

That’s the second time in a month this has happened, and it’s a disturbing trend in my view.

Darkness was quickly falling and there had been multiple big wrecks and long red flags. So when Denny Hamlin and others crashed on the backstretch, NASCAR waited to put out the caution until Kahne had crossed the overtime line (thus making it an official attempt).

Here’s a picture of what I’m talking about:

In this screenshot, you can see the wreck has started to take place (actually for a couple seconds at this point) and there’s still quite a ways before Kahne reaches the overtime line (the white line at the bottom).

NASCAR could have called a caution there, but they would have had to clean the track and might not have gotten the race restarted before it got dark (maybe, maybe not). So Kahne might have won anyway.

But here’s the thing: That’s not the rule! Whether it was dark or not shouldn’t have mattered at all. If it was dark, then let THAT end the race (like a rain-shortened event) instead of using the overtime line to do it.

NASCAR’s explanation for not calling the caution is it officiates the end of the race differently in hopes of getting a finish. That logic doesn’t hold, though, because it wasn’t the end of the race.

If it was the white flag lap, then sure. I get it and we’ve seen that plenty of times. But just like in the Daytona Xfinity race (where there was pressure to get it over with and move on with a doubleheader race day), the overtime line shouldn’t be used as an out.

At this point, I’ve come full circle and given up on any kind of overtime rule. Just forget the whole thing and go back to finishing races at the scheduled distance if the rule isn’t going to be used as intended.

3. Rowdy restart

Much ado was made of the restart when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. collided while racing for the lead, moments after Busch had nixed a deal the drivers had kept all race.

Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn were miffed Busch wanted to race for it after Truex had played the good Toyota teammate in the first two segments. That may have played into how hard Truex raced Busch into the corner, but it was also likely because both drivers knew it might have been their final chance to get the lead (even though there was still more than one-quarter of the race remaining).

For that very reason, Busch didn’t even want to wait until the restart in question. On the prior caution (the break after Stage 2), he was in the midst of a conversation with crew chief Adam Stevens about what to do when NBC suddenly interrupted to talk to Stevens. The driver and crew chief never had a chance to address the issue again until the next restart — when Busch called off the agreement.

So even though scrapping the deal ultimately resulted in a crash, Busch shook his head when I asked if he had any regrets.


“Dude, hindsight is 20/20,” Busch said. “Do I regret it? No, because you race for the win. You’re supposed to race hard. If I would have done the (deal), he gets a three-second gap on me…he wins the race (and) I’m going to be thinking about it then, right? So you do what you’ve gotta do.”

4. Matt D. does it again

Did you notice? Matt DiBenedetto, who is sort of the ultimate underdog with his GoFAS Racing No. 32 car, scored an eighth-place finish after surviving all the insanity on Sunday.

Incredibly, DiBenedetto is one of four drivers — Kahne, Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger are the others — to score top-10 finishes in both the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 this year.

“My crew chief, Gene Nead, always tells me before every race: ‘Stand on the gas and hope for the best,'” DiBenedetto said. “That’s pretty much what I did today. Just hoped we were in the right position, hoped it was our day and it was our day. That was pretty intense.”

DiBenedetto said he didn’t simply survive the race and cruise to a finish. He got “clobbered” in Turn 3 at one point — he didn’t even know who — and “made the greatest save of my life.”

Not bad for a team with only 15 employees.

5. Late start

I’m going to be totally honest with you: I was on the verge of tears at one point during the rain delay on Sunday.

Spending my own money to get to races this year has really provided some additional perspective on what fans who travel from out of state go through each weekend.

Back when I was at USA Today, a rained-out race meant a lost day at home (which sucked). But at least I didn’t have to spend my own money to pay an airline change fee or extra day of rental car/hotel/etc. That was on the company’s dime.

Now, though, that money is coming out of my pocket. And though my amazing supporters through Patreon have put me in a great position to get to races this season, spending extra money just isn’t in the budget. So I’m pretty sure I would have had to go home instead of changing my flight to attend a postponed race.

Because of that, it was incredibly frustrating when there was no rain at 1 p.m. (when NASCAR races traditionally start) and the skies were dry until 3 p.m. NASCAR could have gotten a couple stages in during that time, which would have meant an official race.

And while a shortened race wouldn’t have been ideal, it would have been a lot better for fans who spent their hard-earned money to travel there without flexibility in their plans.

Luckily for everyone, the race eventually finished on Sunday. But there was about an hour there where another big storm cell had formed and was heading right for the track — and if it had hit, that would have meant a Monday race. I was seriously sweating that scenario.

At some point, NASCAR isn’t going to be so fortunate. A late start time in the name of better TV ratings will force a postponement when the race could have gotten in had it started earlier — and a lot of fans will have to either eat their tickets or spend money to change their plans.

And when that happens, they’ll have every right to be pissed.

32 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Brickyard 400”

  1. Only issue I have is in the past people have complained about the caution being thrown too quickly. They got it right here. It was too dark to let them continue to race or for another restart.

    1. The end does not justify the means. You don’t bend the rules to get the desired outcome, that is unfair to the competitors. In a competition fairness requires non-arbitrary execution of rules.

  2. If only there was a safer way of allowing the leaders to race back around to the caution to finish a race. I’ve had bad feelings toward freezing the field and ending the race at the moment of caution (and using previous scoring loops) ever since the original caution rules changed. Maybe allow the top five cars or the top ten cars to race back to the start/finish line (or even to the OT line as it stands now)? My own 1 AM rambling.

    1. They changed the racing back to the yellow because Dale Jarrett damn near got killed at New Hampshire years ago. I see what you’re saying but Im thinking they made a great change there.

      1. Love the ARCA gwc rules. If a caution falls on the last lap, they clean it up and race one lap with unlimited attempts. Wouldn’t have been practical last night with the darkness but this is a big picture thing.

        1. Yes I like the ARCA approach, “the leader will take the white flag under green flag conditions & the checkered flag under green flag conditions”

  3. Race postponements stink no matter what time the race start time is. I live in San Diego and my husband and I and a friend drove to Phoenix for the November race ( over 300 miles). It rained ALL day. The later it got the more frustrated my husband became. We had to drive home that night and if it was delayed to Monday we could not stay. The race finally started that evening and ended when more rain came and the race was called. We headed home about 11 pm.

    I know that the later race times are frustrating for many. But being a West Coast fan, it is nice to be able to go church and not miss the race. I am glad you did not have to miss out. I am a proud patreon of your and am happy to know you get to do what you love. God Bless!

  4. 1) I believe this was the only time I’ve ever rooted for KK to win.

    2) I saw your tweet and it looked like the majority was on NASCAR’s side this time.

    3) Of course Kyle said he had no regrets but….. if the situation had of been reversed he would have cried fowl. You even tweeted a pic of Joe keeping an eye on the situation.

    4) Yes I noticed Matt DiB finishing position. I also tweeted about his, Daniel, Chris, AJ, Danica and Cole all in the top 12.

    5) Seems like a LOT of people, driver’s included (see Dale Jr tweet) are not happy with the late start times.

    1. >>3) Of course Kyle said he had no regrets but….. if the situation had of been reversed he would have cried fowl.<<

      Yup, just like Truex and Pearn did on the radio.

  5. Thanks Gluck for always giving Matt D the support after he does what he does! Dude takes not so great equipment to the top consistently now! Hope a big team takes notice.

  6. Well, I have no problem with when NASCAR called the caution! I waited 3 years for this win! 😀

    Whenever I go to a race, including Sonoma, which is about an hour away from me, but I stay in town, I plan for an extra night’s stay in case the rain shows up.

    I was pretty sure Kasey was going to pass out there for a few minutes. Between the dehydration and the cramping, he was hurting.

  7. On 3) I think you have the restarts mixed up. They did play nice on the restart after stage 2 (approximately lap 104/5?) and Truex, Jr. ducked down in front of Busch. On the restart at about lap 112 (from 17 wreck), Busch was the lead car on top and was bounced into the outside wall when Truex, Jr. became loose in the corner and they both wrecked. NBC was talking with the 18 team before the restart on 104 from Stage 2.

    (I only knew this because I am finally watching the race on DVR. Thanks for the great coverage today!)

    1. Paul, after that convo with Stevens on TV at Stage 2 break, there was a quick exchange over the radio to “do the deal”, but KB was already concerned about doing it again at that point. (I was listening to KB in-car audio.) Jeff had them right, though he didn’t state it clearly. The “next restart” he referred to was the one you’re talking about. Chalk it up to 1 am writing, maybe?

      1. Thanks, Sue. I only happened to catch it because I had read Jeff’s piece and was then watching it. A minor thing, really, and easy to confuse without over analyzing it.

  8. In my book a “deal” with another driver is NOT racing, be it with a team member, friend, or manufacturer.

      1. I have come up with a new NASCAR term — “encumbered wins that count.” A fuel mileage race is an “encumbered win that counts.” Same with most plate track wins (some are won on skill), wins on lucky pit calls, and in honor of last night, a race win where all better cars are eliminated is an “encumbered win that counts.”

        Does anyone in their right mind think Austin Dillon (fuel mileage winner), Ricky Stenhouse (plate track winner), or Kasey Kahne (elimination winner) are going anywhere in the playoffs? “Encumbered wins that count.”

  9. Yep, the 3:00 start times defy common sense and logic. The only reason for starting that late is greed by the networks. They are willing to take the risk of total ratings failure if it rains in order to possibly gain some west coast viewers by starting later. Plus the later start time have to result in fewer fans at the track because not everyone can take off the Monday following the race and if you drive more than 3 hours then you aren’t getting home before midnight.

  10. Straight up manipulation of the rules, just like when they told Austin Dillon he couldn’t get back in his car and bring it to pit road bc they wanted the car off the track so they could get the race finished. Thats called manipulation. Telling drivers who can and can’t attempt to finish the race is straight up controlling who finishes and who doesn’t. There is no way around that.

  11. With Byron’s win on Saturday and Kahne’s win on Sunday, the 5 car is suddenly my favorite Silly Season rumor mill du jour. Mr. H is certainly in an awkward position about the future of the 5 now — but I’m sure kissing the bricks made everybody feel a lot better about their prospects for 2018, even Kahne if he ends up somewhere else. Could be a late career renaissance for him.

    1. Prediction: Byron stays in Xfinity. Menard leaves RCR. Ty Dillon to RCR. Kahne to #13. Kenseth to #5 for one year deal to keep seat warm for Byron.

      Hendrick has a habit of capitalizing on the knowledge of retiring masters, ie. Mark Martin.

  12. I 100% agree with every one of your comments! Racing back to the start finish line would be great but it depends on where the wreck happens. So that would be a judgment call every time. I also mentioned to my husband the delay in calling the cautions, both when Brad K and KK restarted the 1st time and again when KK was ahead at the end. But do the officials talk about that beforehand, and who decides when to throw it. Just curious. But so happy for KK and Matt D!!!!

  13. NASCAR has a long history of manipulating race outcomes. How many debris cautions have happened with less than 10 to go? Honestly, they should just go the race distance and end the race under yellow.

  14. Stop whining about TV start times. TV ratings are down. Team sponsorships are down (related to TV ratings). Title sponsorship value is down 60% (related to TV ratings). Attendance is down. The only bright spot is the value of the TV contract ($8.2B through 2024). TV rules!!!

    Sunday’s start time was dictated by the final round of the British Open. If it had gone to a playoff – it could might have lasted until 1 PM ET or later. NBC worked to keep the Brickyard on the main line network (bumping it to NBCSN would result in few viewers).

    Be happy that every Nascar races is broadcast live on major networks. The alternative is smaller networks with few viewers (does anybody know the cable channel for TNT —- or even remember the Nashville Network).

  15. It was a very good race, at least I was satisfied. But at the end it got sloppy and a lot of good costly equipment got tore up . I am glad K K won although I am not a Heindrick fan by any stretch of the imagination. I would like to see KK with a good team next year I have not been a fan of Heindrick since he was charged for Tax Fraud. But anyhow congrats Kasey.

    1. >>I have not been a fan of Heindrick since he was charged for Tax Fraud.<<

      Well, I'll be! I thought I was the only one! And he gave $250,000 to the Clinton Library and got a pardon. AND he was diagnosed with Leukemia mysterious before sentencing so to get home incarceration, but after the pardon it just as mysteriously went into remission! When he was diagnosed positive he ran stickers on his car is support of treatment. After remission, he stopped. Nope, no fan of Hendrick here.

  16. Congrats to Kanhe on the win.Go Fas Racing driver of the Ford Fusion 32 Matt D finished 26 spots better Patrick Carpentier finish in 2016 at the Brickyard ! Second top ten of the season after a 9th place at Daytona you are an underdog doing miracle taking a top 25 car & getting a top ten …

    Keep going you are the reason this team is improving.Looking forward to see you at Pocono.

  17. Indy is one of the tracks where double-file, late-race restarts just don’t work. The track has one groove – that’s it. During the restarts drivers have to muscle out competing cars for position or be forced to following them around the track lap after lap. This led to most of the wrecks, most of the cautions, some of the race delays and a controversial finish. However, the driver has to win the restart to make it to the front. Once there (and provided they are on equal tires), they know they can quickly check out, thanks to “clean air” and dumb NASCAR-mandated aerodynamic devices.

  18. Discipulus –
    “Does anyone in their right mind think Austin Dillon (fuel mileage winner), Ricky Stenhouse (plate track winner), or Kasey Kahne (elimination winner) are going anywhere in the playoffs? “Encumbered wins that count.”
    All I know is that they will be going farther than Dale Jr.

  19. Surprised nobody is talking about the controversial restart that gave Kes the lead. He certainly jumped the start even though Letarte kept rambling that he didn’t.

    I’m not sure why everyone is surprised that Kahne has struggled in the 5. It the experimental car with Hendrick and nobody has really done much with it. Glad to see him get a win though. Him losing his job when he is a better driver than half the field would be sad to see.

    I see your point about the overtime line, but in this case, the race was over at that point regardless of when they throw the yellow and it didn’t change who won the race. I just don’t see how they clean up that mess and get back to green before its too dark to finish to warrant an outrage about how it ended. Maybe after all these years I have simply given up on complaining anymore about Nascars rules. It doesn’t seem to change anything anyway.

    A postponement is just waiting to happen with these late start times and Nascar will deserve all the criticism that comes with it. If football can start at 10am on the West Coast, why can’t Nascar?

  20. Jeff,

    re the start time ….. In the San Francisco area the pre race show on NBC was all but nonexistent as the golf ran over. I am thinking NBC was unable to start Indy any earlier than they did due to this ‘conflict.’

    I also think NASCAR fans are fortunate NBC stayed with Indy as long as thye did – something about their $20m investment in Megan Kelly delaying her new show.

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