Photo: Jim Fluharty for Chevy Racing

MORGAN: Five Takeaways from the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

For the 24th time, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolled into Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400 and it was a story filled race from start to finish. Just what were some of the top storylines from Indianapolis? NASCAR editor David Morgan is here to break it all down.

What Winless Streak?

Though he had not won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race since August of 2014, Kasey Kahne drove like a man possessed in the waning laps of Sunday’s Brickyard 400, holding off Brad Keselowski to break a 102-race winless streak and punch his ticket into the playoffs.

The win for Kahne was his first at the storied 2.5-mile track, allowing him to etch his name in the history books alongside other legends that have won at Indianapolis.

In addition to the win being his first at the Brickyard, it also comes at a time when rumors have been flying on what Kahne’s future is behind the wheel of the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, making Sunday’s win even more meaningful.

“To win at this track is unreal,” Kahne said. “We used to always be really close. Today’s strategy got us here. This Farmers Insurance Chevrolet was great once I got out front. I just had to get there. I’m exhausted. But, an unbelievable win. The team just kept working. We had great pit stops. Farmers Insurance, Great Clips, and Chevrolet have been huge to us. To win at Indy is unbelievable.”

To illustrate just how hard Kahne was driving to try and win the race, he exited his car in victory lane and after a quick celebration, slumped down beside the car, trying to regain his composure. Kahne would complete the victory obligations before heading to the Infield Care Center to get checked out and was released a short time later.

“I feel really good now.  I went and got some IV, a huge bag of fluid.  I feel great.  I feel like I could probably go racing right now (laughter).”

“I was struggling there.  Before the first red, my left leg was cramping.  I knew then I was out of fluids.  My calf, my left calf, had started long before that under braking.  After the reds, my right leg started, my chest, my rib and my left arm.  It just kept getting worse.”

“But I’ve cramped before, so it wasn’t like the end of the world or anything.  But like on the restart, as soon as I get to wide open throttle, my leg would cramp out.  So then it was kind of like to back pedal and stuff was a bit annoying.”

“But it was what it was.  I just sweated way too much, I guess.  I didn’t drink near enough fluid.  I work out really hard, I bike, I train, run, do a lot of different things, swim.  Didn’t really help me today, I don’t think.”

Two Dominant Cars Make Early Exit in Fiery Crash

Through the first half of the Brickyard 400, it was the Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. show, with the two drivers combining to lead 95 of the first 110 laps. Busch led 87 of those laps.

However, a restart on lap 111 changed everything for Busch and Truex.

As the two drivers went into Turn 2 side by side, Truex got loose under Busch and washed up the track, turning Busch into the outside wall and slamming the wall himself. Both cars sustained major damage, with Truex’s car bursting into flames after impacting the wall.

Both drivers would escape unharmed, but were left wondering what if after their dominant days ended hours before the race was finished.

For Busch, the wreck hurt much more as he has yet to win a race in 2017, and his winless streak has now reached a full year as the 2016 Brickyard 400 was the last time Busch won a race. Though Busch likely has enough points to make the playoffs on points, the No. 18 team certainly would like to get the monkey off their back before then.

“I guess we could have continued to play the teammate game and try to settle it on a green flag pit stop, but he could be that much faster than me and yard me by three seconds on a run with the clean air then I would never be able to get the opportunity to pass him back even if we had to settle it on a pit stop,” said Kyle Busch.

“That’s the way it goes, just chalk it up to another one that we figure out how to lose these things by. 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.”

Meanwhile, Truex took complete responsibility for the crash after being checked and released from the infield care center.

“I just got loose and wrecked him (Kyle Busch) I guess, totally my fault,” said Truex. “Didn’t really know what to expect in that position and didn’t really realize that he was going to drive in that deep and suck me around. I will take the blame for that and obviously it was my fault. I hate it for Kyle (Busch), he had a great car and we did as well, but that’s racing. Glad I was able to get out, fire was bad. I had no brakes and I had to run into the wall a second time just to get it to stop so I could get out. Fortunately I’m okay and we’ll live to race another day.”

Mixed Bag for Hendrick Motorsports

While Kasey Kahne ended the day in victory lane, the other three cars in the organization ended up in the garage area early either due to mechanical issues or crashing out of the race.

Chase Elliott was the first to exit the race, with engine troubles near the end of the first stage, leading to a 39th place finish and a hit to his points cushion over 16th place with just six races remaining in the regular season.

“We don’t know but it was some type of motor issue,” said Elliott We went down a cylinder and then started blowing smoke out the pipes. I don’t know what it was. We’ll dig into it and see. But, I’ve been racing Hendrick engines since 2013 and this is the first engine problem I’ve ever had. 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.”

Making his final Brickyard 400 start, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was optimistic that he would have a good day entering Sunday’s race, but the bad luck that has plagued them all season long followed him to Indianapolis as well.

Earnhardt started 13th and finished the first stage in 10th place before issues with the air gun on pit road dropped him to 20th for the start of the second stage. As he continued to run mid-pack, a restart on lap 76 would put an end to his day after cars got stacked up in front of him, causing him to run into the back of another car and damage the radiator.

The damage sent steam spewing into the air much like it did at Martinsville earlier in the year, signaling an end to Earnhardt’s day and a 36th place finish.

“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 (Trevor 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. But, we had a great car and I was having a lot of fun. The car was fast. We had a top 10 car for sure. It’s kind of frustrating because I was really enjoying being out there. Hopefully our luck’s going to turnaround. It’s been pretty tough and this is a difficult one to put up with.”

Jimmie Johnson had his work cut out for him to start the Brickyard 400 after a rear gear change forced him to forfeit his fourth place starting position and start at the back of the pack. Even with the terrible track position to start the race, Johnson climbed into the top-10 by the end of Stage 1, finishing ninth. Stage 2 would result in a 17th place finish.

As the laps wound down, Johnson found himself as one of a few cars that stayed out on track trying to push their fuel mileage as far as possible during green flag pit stops and caught a lucky break when a caution flag flew with 10 laps to go.

Johnson came off pit road in third to start the race in fifth when it restarted with seven laps to go, climbing to third place when the yellow was displayed again a lap later.

Restarting the race with two laps to go in regulation, Johnson’s car started pouring smoke on the restart, but that didn’t stop the seven-time champion from making a bold three-wide move on the top two cars of Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne in Turn 3. Three-wide just doesn’t work at Indianapolis and Johnson was the one that paid for it, getting loose on the bottom and spinning out and into the outside wall, ending his race just short of the finish.

“I’m not sure I was blowing up,” said Johnson. “I was definitely smoking and it was definitely engine oil smoke, I could smell that. I didn’t know where it was coming from and I had decent grip through (Turns) 1 and 2, and so I went into Turn 3. I had a shot to win the Brickyard 400 for the fifth time; and I was hoping one, the engine would live, and two, we would make it through Turns 3 and 4. And, I got really loose going into the corner, so I don’t know if I spun out in my own oil or if it was an aero situation, but I was so close to my fifth win here at the Brickyard.”

Brickyard 400 Overshadowed by Xfinity Race

It’s not often that a NASCAR Xfinity Series race overshadows a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, but this weekend at Indianapolis, it did.

Though Sunday’s Brickyard 400 had its moments, overall it was more of the same for the Cup Series early on before the race turned into a crashfest as the laps wound down and the sunlight faded. Overall, the first half of the race was typical Indianapolis as Kyle Busch led 87 of the first 110 laps with relative ease, keeping a steady gap between himself and those behind him.

It wasn’t until Busch and Truex crashed out that the race devolved into a caution filled crashfest that included five cautions and two red flags over the last 16 laps, including the final caution that ended the race in overtime.

While the late race drama with all the cautions may have turned a few heads, Saturday’s Xfinity Series race provided action from start to finish and a better race overall.

The Xfinity Series employed a new aerodynamic package to remedy the issues that have plagued stock car racing at the famed speedway over the years. That race featured two and three wide racing, 16 lead changes among eight different drivers, doubling the numbers from years past, as well as the closest margin of victory ever in a NASCAR race at Indianapolis.

The successful test of the new aero package shows that stock cars can race competitively on the historic track, something NASCAR has been looking to accomplish for years. Will the next stop for the aero package be next year’s Brickyard 400? One can only hope.

Playoff Picture

With Kahne’s win, 12 different drivers have now notched victories in 2017, making the final six races before the playoffs start even more interesting. Before Indianapolis, Kahne was outside the top-16 in points with virtually not shot at making it in on points, so a win was a necessity.

Now that Kahne has won, Clint Bowyer drops out of the top-16 in points following his () place finish after a violent crash on lap 151.  Bowyer now sits 33 points behind Matt Kenseth, who moves to the bubble at 16th, with Joey Logano falling to 18th, 51 points back. Rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez sit 19th and 20th, with points gaps of 126 and 132 points, respectively, meaning they will need wins to be able to make the playoff field.

Not to mention other drivers outside of the top-20 that have yet to win, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and others, that have as good of a shot at winning a race as anyone else in the next six weeks.

The points battle between now and September will definitely be something to keep an eye on as the race to set the playoff field continues to heat up.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.