Photo: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Previewing the Big Machine Vodka 400 at The Brickyard

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes down to this. One final race to set the field for the Playoffs. By the end of Sunday’s Big Machine Vodka 400 at The Brickyard, the 16 drivers competing for the championship will be locked in and ready to battle it out over the final 10 weeks of the season.

First joining the circuit in 1994, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has provided some classic moments and some that the powers that be would rather forget. The track’s relatively flat surface, combined with narrow corners and high speeds, makes passing a premium on the 2.5-mile circuit.

Even though the racing at the Brickyard can be sleep inducing at times, as the track was built for IndyCar and not big, heavy stock cars, drivers still have a win at this track high on their list because of one thing – it’s Indianapolis.

This year, the new rules package that first made its successful debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series a couple of years ago at Indianapolis before being adapted for the Cup cars this season will get its first laps on track this weekend. Hopefully, the same results we have seen with the Xfinity cars will translate over to the Cup Series and Sunday’s 160-lap main event.

Just two spots remain up for grabs in the Playoffs, with Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez currently holding onto 15th and 16th in points, respectively. Bowyer has a 15 point advantage over the cut off line, while Suarez and Ryan Newman are tied for 16th. As a result of holding the tiebreaker, Suarez is slotted into 16th, with Newman in 17th.

Also lurking behind them is seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who sits 18 points back, as well as a host of others who would have to win in order to claim their place in the Playoffs.

By the Numbers

What: Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race No. 26 of 36

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Indianapolis, Indiana (Opened: 1909 – First Cup race: 1994)

When: Sunday, September 8

TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 pm ET / IMS Radio Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  2.5-mile quad-oval

Banking: Nine degrees in turns, flat straightaways

Race Length: 160 laps, 400 miles

Stage Lengths: 50 laps (Stage 1 and 2), Final stage: 60 laps

2018 Race Winner:  Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started sixth, nine laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (47.647 seconds, 188.889 mph – 07/25/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

  1. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 106.7
  2. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 101.3
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 98.6
  4. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 98.6
  5. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 94.1
  6. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 93.4
  7. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 91.6
  8. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 90.2
  9. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 86.0
  10. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 81.9

From the Driver’s Seat

“For me, I grew up in Bakersfield, California, as a Rick Mears fan. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as a child, that was your racing dream,” said Kevin Harvick. “That was where you wanted to race. I’ve been fortunate to have won the Brickyard 400 and kind of live out that childhood dream.

“There is a mystique and history, and everything you can think about in racing that has happened for over 100 years has happened at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So, to go there and see those old grandstands that surround the frontstretch, and that feel that it has, is the same every time you drive in the tunnel.

“As we go back this weekend, for me, I always feel like it is one of the most special places that you can race, because that is all I wanted to do as a kid. I wanted to be like Rick Mears and win the Indianapolis 500. Now, racing stock cars and being able to compete on that racetrack for me is a thrill.”

Last Time at Indianapolis

After a weekend full of rain cancelled all on-track activity and pushed the 25th running of the Brickyard 400 to Monday, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin made up for the lack of action with a thrilling finish to bring the regular season to a close.

Restarting on fresher tires with three laps to go, Keselowski powered his way into second place and then set his sights on Hamlin, who was leading the race. After stalking him for a lap, Keselowski made his move down the backstretch heading toward the white flag, bouncing off of Hamlin’s Toyota a couple of times before completing the pass in Turns 3 and 4.

From there it was smooth sailing as Keselowski held onto the lead the rest of the way to deliver Roger Penske his first Cup Series win at the track he has had so much success at in the open wheel ranks.

Erik Jones climbed to second place, with Hamlin finishing third, Kevin Harvick finishing fourth, and Clint Bowyer coming home in fifth.

“It is incredible,” Keselowski said. “Last year I lost this race almost the exact same way. To bring it home this way feels really good to make up for my mess up last year. To give Roger Penske his first Cup car win here at the Brickyard is just an incredible feeling. I am so happy for everyone at Team Penske. We were hoping it would be win 500 and the Brickyard but we don’t care what number it is. It is the Brickyard!

“It is the first win for Discount Tire in the Cup Series which is great. They have been so good to us. This whole team, the call made today was just phenomenal. We weren’t the fastest car by far but this team never gave up on it, made the most of the strategy and executed a perfect race. That is something I am so proud of.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, September 7

  • MENCS Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:30 pm to 2:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, September 8

  • MENCS Qualifying (10:35 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (2:00 pm – 160 laps, 400 miles – NBC)

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.