Three Big Stories: Indianapolis

Well this past weekend at The Brickyard gave us nothing to discuss.

Snarcasm aside, Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway delivered a NASCAR Cup Series race with good and bad points. AJ Allmendinger capitalized on chaos up front to win for the first time in six years. Meanwhile, Chase Briscoe cost Denny Hamlin a shot at his first win of the 2021 season. Moreover, the closing laps turned into a clown show.

So let’s delve into the Three Big Stories of Indianapolis.

Three Big Stories: Indianapolis

1. The Dinger takes the checkered flag

INDIANAPOLIS – AUGUST 15: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Hyperice Chevrolet, (L) and Matt Kaulig, owner of Kaulig Racing celebrate by kissing the yard of bricks after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 15, 2021, in Indianapolis. Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Now I could be a party pooper and note that Allmendinger probably doesn’t win this, if Briscoe didn’t turn Hamlin. But as the old saying goes, “They don’t ask how. Just how many.”

The driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet overcame a speeding penalty and the two multi-car pileups in Turn 6 to score his second NASCAR Cup Series victory. Furthermore, it came in Kaulig Racing’s seventh Cup Series start, which is the second-fastest a new team reached victory lane.

And Allmendinger did this with a car that he thought didn’t have the speed to win.

“I thought we probably maybe would get in the edge of the top-10 and have a solid day,” he said. “For a makeshift really pit crew — I shouldn’t say makeshift, but a crew that we don’t work with all the time, they did a fantastic job, great pit stops.
But yeah, once that chaos started happening and we started getting close to the front, I had a really good restart on the front. I think we were restarting 17th with eight to go and was able to get to seventh through all that mess and thought, ‘All right, now we’re at least in shouting distance of it.'”

Of course, Allmendinger’s declared for points in the XFINITY Series. So this win doesn’t grant him a spot in the Cup Series playoffs. It’s just for bragging rights.

Three Big Stories: Indianapolis

2. Chase Briscoe turns Denny Hamlin

INDIANAPOLIS – AUGUST 15: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, drives as Ross Chastain, driver of the #42 Clover Chevrolet, spins during the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 15, 2021, in Indianapolis. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Be honest. You thought a fight was coming, when Hamlin walked down pit road towards Briscoe, didn’t you?

On the second overtime attempt, Hamlin drove wide in Turn 1 and pushed Briscoe off into the grass. Briscoe thought for a second if he should slow down to avoid a penalty.

“I don’t know if there would have been a penalty if I had gone through it slow,” he said, “but that was my only chance to win the race at that point.”

Which he did, and took the lead for a moment.

In doing so, however, he got a stop ‘n go penalty.

As the field worked its way through Turn 9, Briscoe clipped Hamlin’s right-rear and turned him. Which let Allmendinger steal the victory.

After the race, both talked it out on pit road. One contentious point was whether or not Briscoe knew he had a penalty.

“If I knew I had a penalty, there was no need for me to even try to pass him for the win,” he said. “If I would have known that earlier, I would have done my stop and go and went on.”

Hamlin, however, contradicted this, saying his team told him Briscoe had a penalty. NBC played this audio snippet on the broadcast, seconds before Briscoe turned him.

“If you cut the racetrack and end up in the lead, you’re going to have a penalty,” Hamlin said. “Lack of awareness. Race me for a lap. He went right in the back of me.”

Whatever comes of this, only time will tell.

Three Big Stories: Indianapolis

The fustercluck of those closing laps

INDIANAPOLIS – AUGUST 15: William Byron, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 15, 2021, in Indianapolis. Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images

File this under “Only in NASCAR.”

As the field snaked its way through Turns 5 and 6 with five laps to go, the Turn 6 curb came apart and sent cars either spinning or into the tire barrier along Hulman Boulevard.

Even a day later, I’m still having troubling processing what happened.

In all my years of watching and following various disciplines of auto racing, I’ve never seen a curb come apart like we saw, Sunday.

I don’t know how much you can apportion blame to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Track president Doug Boles told reporters after the race that the track had had no issues with this curbing, prior to Sunday.

I found nothing that contradicts what Boles told reporters. So I’ll take him at his word.

NASCAR, however, dropped the ball.

The lap prior, Martin Truex Jr. hit debris from another car that clipped the curb and spun into a tire barrier. In the race broadcast, you can see debris just bordering the racing lines in Turn 6.

To NASCAR’s credit, the folks in race control called the turn spotters, asking if they saw debris.

Well either someone in the tower missed the debris in Turn 6, however, or someone didn’t see the race broadcast. Thus, you got a fustercluck that shouldn’t have happened.

And it’s two races removed from another officiating blunder.

I don’t know what can be done to rectify this, going forward. It’s easy to say what, with the benefit of hindsight, but I don’t know if I do any different, in the moment, either.

TOP IMAGE: Stacy Revere/Getty Images