Brickyard 400: Winners and Losers from NASCAR's Weekend at Indianapolis
As sporting venues go, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is up there with Madison Square Garden, Fenway Park and the new Cowboys Stadium.
History and tradition aside, the biggest appeal of these places is that even if you're not necessarily a fan of the sport on display, you'd still want to make it inside just for the experience.
This past weekend, NASCAR took over auto racing's most famous track for the Brickyard 400, with the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series races being run a few miles away at Lucas Oil Raceway.
With all three races in the books, here are 10 winners and losers from Indy.
Winner: Paul Menard
The 2011 Sprint Cup season is becoming the one that could berth a handful of movie scripts.
Five months after Trevor Bayne inspired Hollywood screen writers—the fresh-faced kid trained by old racing legends who comes out of nowhere to win the Daytona 500—now here comes Paul Menard to spark more story ideas.
I could see Hugh Jackman in the lead role.
Son of a billionaire who eschews the spoiled life of a trust-fund baby for the dangerous world of professional auto racing, constantly fighting for respect among the blue-collar NASCAR culture and finally pushes through the adversity to notch his first big-league win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the track he dreamed about conquering as a kid.
The real-life Menard won the Brickyard 400 in dramatic fashion, too, stretching his gas tank to the limit and edging future Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon at the finish line by less than a second. All that was missing was a shot of NOS on the final lap and Jordana Brewster waiting for him on Victory Lane.
Loser: Juan Pablo Montoya
As a former Indy 500 winner (2000), Montoya is always expected to do well at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has mastered the track as well as anybody in NASCAR, qualifying in first or second position three times in five Brickyard 400 starts and finishing second in the '07 race.
This weekend figured to be a golden opportunity for Montoya to begin a late charge at the Chase for the Championship. But on Sunday he flopped, finishing 28th after qualifying seventh and running in the top 10 for most of the day.
Montoya currently sits 20th in the Sprint Cup standings. With zero wins to his name and six races to go before the Chase, his odds of snatching a wild-card spot are getting longer.
Winner: James Buescher
Paul Menard won Sunday's showcase event, but no driver was more consistently successful in Indianapolis than James Buescher. The 21-year-old finished second in both the Truck and Nationwide races at Lucas Oil Raceway, along with a third-place finish in Thursday's ARCA Series race.
In the Truck race, Buescher led the most laps (97) and was out in front with six laps to go before eventual winner Timothy Peters passed him.
In the Nationwide race, Buescher lost to Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski and beat Nationwide points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for second in a margin so close, NASCAR officials had to review video of the finish before declaring the result.
Due to this year's one-series-only rule, Buescher was only able to register points in the Truck Series—moving up to third in the standings—while notching his fifth top-five finish of the season. The youngster is still winless in his NASCAR career, but obviously he's getting closer to breaking through.
Loser: Carl Edwards
For a driver of Edwards' stature, entering a Nationwide or Truck Series race and leaving without a win is almost a waste of time. Especially when the lower-level race isn't even held at the same track as the Sprint Cup main event (so it's not like he's not getting any valuable seat time) and when it precedes a subpar performance in the big-money race.
Edwards finished 14th in the Brickyard 400, one day after finishing fifth in the Kroger 200 Nationwide race. He still sits No. 1 in the overall Sprint Cup standings, but other than some extra camera time for his sponsors, Edwards didn't accomplish much this weekend.
And don't start with the theory that Edwards was distracted by all the recent talk of his plans for next season.
The media has been hounding Edwards about rumors that he is leaving Roush Fenway Racing to sign with Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don't believe that kind of thing enters the mind of a driver when it's time to go to work behind the wheel.
Winner: Regan Smith
After posting his first Sprint Cup win back on May 7 at Darlington, Smith failed to really capitalize on that momentum. He had only one top-10 finish in the 10 races between Darlington and Indianapolis, and having qualified 27th for the Brickyard 400, this didn't look like it would be his weekend either.
Smith finished really strong on Sunday, however, coming in third place behind Paul Menard and Jeff Gordon.
He and his No. 78 car are learning the art of performing big on NASCAR's biggest stages. Smith's four top-10 finishes this season have come in the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 (Darlington), the Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte) and the Brickyard 400.
Loser: Jeff Burton
Jeff Burton's fans have had to adjust their vision this year. Instead of scanning the top of the race results each week to find their guy, anybody checking for the No. 31 car would be better off starting at the bottom and moving their way up.
Burton once again finished outside of the top 10—he hasn't cracked the single digits all season—coming in 35th at Indianapolis (after starting 13th), eight laps behind the leaders.
The most frustrating part is that Burton was on something of an upswing lately, running increasingly better in each of his previous four races, capped by a 16th-place finish at New Hampshire. Sunday's race marked his worst finish since the Daytona 500, when he came in 36th.
Winner: Jamie McMurray
Last year, McMurray was Trevor Bayne and Paul Menard wrapped into one: Winning the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, becoming only the third driver to win both races in the same season.
And if McMurray's interview skills are any indication, he might be able to play himself in the movie.
This year has been a struggle for McMurray and the No. 1 car. Going into Indianapolis he had only two top-10 finishes (seventh at Martinsville, ninth at Charlotte) versus five finishes in the 30s, and he was buried in 29th place in the Sprint Cup standings.
McMurray took advantage of a track that has historically been good to him, though. His fourth-place finish on Sunday was his best of the season and his fifth top-10 finish at the Brickyard.
Loser: Kasey Kahne
Kahne once again had a fast car on Sunday, and once again, he failed to deliver on its potential.
After qualifying for the Brickyard 400 in second position, Kahne finished 18th following a late-race spin. Before that, he led the most laps and dominated the early portion of the race.
It was the seventh time this season that Kahne has started in the top five, and while he has three top-five finishes, he has yet to make it to Victory Lane.
With six races to go before the Chase, Kahne sits 15th in the standings. If he winds up on the outside looking in, he'll reflect and regret weekends like this one where he had one of the better cars in the field but didn't make it count.
Winner: Timothy Peters
None of the Sprint Cup big dogs decided to get behind the wheel of a truck this weekend, and Timothy Peters took advantage. He notched his biggest payday and his first win of the season, taking the Truck Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The win also moved Peters up to fourth place in the Truck Series standings.
Peters is also becoming the Regan Smith of trucks in terms of saving his best runs for the brightest lights. His three career wins have come at Daytona, Martinsville and now Indianapolis.
Loser: Jennifer Jo Cobb
Remember the whole controversy earlier this year that pitted Cobb against team owner Rick Russell in a saga that came one misguided tire iron away from a Law & Order: Down South episode?
Cobb won a lot of fans back then by publicly taking a stand against the unpopular practice known as "start-and-park," essentially promising that she would never do it. So it really wasn't a good look for Cobb that in her Nationwide race this weekend, she was out after two whole laps.
The official reason for Cobb's early exit was listed as "handling," but then again, every start-and-park team has an official reason lined up.
Cobb has yet to finish in the top 25 of a Nationwide race this year, but Sunday was the first time she'd "finished" in last place.