Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

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

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

INDIANAPOLIS – The 2018 calendar has reached September and with it comes one of the marquee events on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard, the 25th running of the race at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

First joining the circuit in 1994, the track 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’s race will be a crucial stop in determining the 16-driver playoff field as it moves from its previous midsummer date to the 26th and final race of the regular season. Just two playoff spots remain, with Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson holding onto 15th and 16th in points, respectively, and a host of other drivers that will try to knock them out of the top-16 and take their place in the playoffs.

Only wins will get those on the outside looking in into the top-16, but among them are previous Brickyard 400 winners Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, and others that will be gunning for the winner’s circle on Sunday.

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)

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 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

2017 Race Winner:  Kasey Kahne – No. 5 Chevrolet (Started 18th, 156 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 – 106.9
  2. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 103.6
  3. Matt Kenseth – No. 6 Ford – 99.5
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 98.0
  5. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 96.8
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 91.5
  7. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.2
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.3
  9. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 88.5
  10. Clint Bowyer – No. 14 Ford – 82.1

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s kind of like Loudon in that it’s just awkward in a stock car,” said Alex Bowman. “It’s four corners that are obviously very separated. There is not a lot of grip, there is no room for error, it’s super flat. It is just hard to make speed. It’s not necessarily hard to drive, it’s just hard to make speed.

“Hopefully (the new date) will just allow for a little more mechanical grip in the car with the temperatures down a little bit. It’s Indy though, so it will still be crazy hot, but I just think that track will put on probably a better show with more mechanical grip in the cars and being able to have a little more grip through the tires and not being so aero-dependent on a hot, slick racetrack.”

Last Time at Indianapolis

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 last year’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 came at a time when rumors were flying on what Kahne’s future would be behind the wheel of the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, making the 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.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, September 8

  • MENCS Practice (10:30 am to 11:20 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:30 pm to 2:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:15 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, September 9

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

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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. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.