Brickyard 400: 10 Things We Learned from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race

Geoffrey Miller@@geoffreymillerContributor IJuly 29, 2013

Brickyard 400: 10 Things We Learned from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race

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    INDIANAPOLIS—Ryan Newman rolled to victory at Samual Deed's Brickyard at the 400, fending off a dominant Jimmie Johnson, who had fallen behind due to a late pit stop Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    The 400-miler answered several questions and outlined several more as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls through its midsummer regular-season period. There are now six races left before the championship fight begins.

    The race had a dominant engine supplier, a hometown driver going to Victory Lane, a former Indianapolis 500 competitor who didn't match race-to-race results, and another disappointment from last year's champion.

    Find out what NASCAR's weekend in Indianapolis taught us.

    All quotes were obtained firsthand from interviews and NASCAR transcription services.

Ryan Newman Handles Adversity Well

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    The last time out for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in New Hampshire was pretty rough for Ryan Newman. First he found out that he was out from his current ride next season, and then Kyle Busch labeled Newman a "stupid idiot" and an "ogre" that deserved to be fired after a bit of hard racing.

    It was safe to say that Newman (he took the career news in stride and landed a few verbal retorts on Busch on an ensuing radio show interview) needed a successful weekend at his home track in the Brickyard 400. 

    It couldn't have gone any better.

    Newman surprised the field Saturday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a pole-winning, track-record qualifying effort as the last car out, knocking Jimmie Johnson from a coronation continued from his Brickyard win last year. And then on Sunday, Newman took advantage of Johnson's poor final pit stop to grab the lead and hold on for his first career win at the 104-year-old speedway.

    For Newman, kissing the bricks had to feel pretty nice—even if he didn't show extreme ebullience afterward.

    "Ogres don't have have emotion," Newman joked.

Brad Keselowski's Post-Title Funk Continues

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    Defending Sprint Cup champion and NASCAR's favorite tweeter Brad Keselowski has tried and tried to overcome the slump that gripped his team starting at Richmond in the spring. He was hoping that a top-five run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the start of a solid upward drive.

    Instead, the team fell flat again at the Brickyard and finished 21st.

    "I don't think that was indicative of how we ran. That has been the story of the year," Keselowski said.

    Keselowski is now staring at a realistic chance of missing the Chase a year after he won it. Newman's win tightened the battle considerably for the final two wild-card spots, as three drivers not inside the point standings' top 10 have a win. Keselowski is ranked first among drivers without a win, but he sits just six points from qualifying the traditional way in 10th.

Hendrick's Engine Program Is Strong

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    Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR's omnipresent four-team force, also has an engine operation that extends beyond the right feet of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.

    Sunday at the Brickyard, it served up some impressive results.

    Newman's Chevrolet led the way for a Hendrick engine romp that scored six of the top seven finishing spots. Included in that group were Johnson (second), Kahne (third), Tony Stewart (fourth), Earnhardt (sixth) and Gordon (seventh). Matt Kenseth and his Toyota played spoiler in fifth as both the highest non-Chevrolet and non-Hendrick engine finisher.

    A strong piece under the hood is always an advantage at Indianapolis thanks to twin long straightaways. It can also obscure handling issues by helping a car reach higher speed even with poor corner performance.

    But it wasn't all flowers and rainbows for the Hendrick engine camp; Dale Earnhardt Jr. reported a possible issue with his motor just after finishing the race in sixth and directed his team to investigate the issue further. Still, it did the required job: 400 miles.

Kevin Harvick's Top-10 Streak Is Finished

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    In the eight races leading to the Brickyard, Kevin Harvick had recorded nothing but top-10 finishes. He also had a win at the Coca-Cola 600 during the span.

    It was enough to make Harvick look like a legitimate under-the-radar competitor to Jimmie Johnson's 2013 reign over the point standings. In fact, Harvick had chopped more than 30 points from Johnson's lead during the strong effort.

    The streak ended Sunday when No. 29 finished 19th—undoubtedly a disappointment for the former Brickyard winner.

Driving a Tow Truck is Easy at Indy

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    With Sunday's Brickyard 400 being the first since 2008 in the series to feature all 43 cars making it to the checkered flag, it proved to be an easy day for the trackside safety personnel. In fact, it was a relatively sparse weekend of work for the tow truck drivers and track sweepers around the IMS oval.

    Just three cars (all in Nationwide Series qualifying) hit the wall hard enough to warrant a cleanup.

    Sunday's race was the first in the 20-year history of NASCAR at Indianapolis not to feature a single crash. There was one caution for one incident in the 1995 race, and in 2012 only four caution periods occurred thanks to on-track incidents.

    There were still three cautions on Sunday—one for debris and two for stalled cars that needed a push back to pit road.

Danica Patrick's Indianapolis Magic isn't Transferable

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    Nearly every start for Danica Patrick during her IndyCar days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway translated to some semblance of success. She led multiple Indianapolis 500s. She finished in the top 10. She demonstrably grew her brand and notoriety through legitimately good driving.

    But add almost 2,000 pounds to the race vehicle of choice at the same speedway, and Patrick is struggling to find the same style. 

    Sunday's race was her first Sprint Cup Series event at the 2.5-mile track, and Patrick was never a factor. She finished two laps down in 30th.

Jimmie Johnson's Points Lead is Exploding

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    A faulty final pit stop dropped Jimmie Johnson from the lead and into an insurmountable deficit to eventual winner Ryan Newman. But unsurprisingly, the five-time champion didn't walk away completely empty-handed. In fact, he left Indianapolis feeling pretty rosy.

    Thanks to a miserable day for Clint Bowyer—Johnson's closest foe in the point standings—driver No. 48 now has a massive 75-point lead.

    Seventy-five points is more than five times larger than any previous gap after Indianapolis in NASCAR's current three-season-old point structure. The previous high was last season when Earnhardt Jr. left the Brickyard with a 14-point gap.

    Of course, that massive lead will be of little worth to Johnson when the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts in September. But until then, it enables Johnson's team to get more aggressive seeking out race wins and for Johnson to consider missing a race before the Chase should his wife, pregnant with their second child, go into labor during a race weekend.

Jimmie Johnson Can Still Beat Himself

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    If you didn't know it at Dover, missed it at Kentucky, or just glazed over it at Michigan, Jimmie Johnson has been far from unbeatable in crunch time this season. Yes, No. 48 has four wins. Yes, that restart at Dover induced a questionable penalty. And yes, he has that insurmountable regular-season points lead.

    But there's little doubt that Johnson could have been to victory lane at least eight times before August had everything behind the wheel, in the pit stall and in the notes of his crew chief gone according to plan. 

    Sunday, issues on both sides of the car kept Johnson idled for about six seconds too long in the final pit stop He wound up losing the race by just under three seconds.

    Johnson may have a 75-point lead and look like the favorite for the 2013 Sprint Cup title. But that team hasn't been perfect like we so often expect. In the Chase, those missed points and dropped opportunities could ultimately play big in his hopes for a sixth title.

Start-and-Park Teams Can Finish

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    The criticism of NASCAR's "start and park" teams—operations whose sole aim to qualify for races lead to pulling in just laps after the start and collecting purse money for finishing last—has quieted from its fevered pitch a season or two ago.

    Still, a few of those teams remain in the Sprint Cup level to the bane of track operators and NASCAR officials who can only grimace at the lost purity of racing. Combined with an otherwise extremely clean, crash-less event, for whatever reason, not a single team opted to pull the start-and-park strategy during Sunday's race.

    No, the start-and-park teams aren't going away. But for a day, at least, they opted to run to the finish.

    Combined with an otherwise extremely clean, crash-less event,

Brickyard Attendance Issues Remain Unsolved

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    The grey-silver metal grandstands that flank nearly 70 percent of the 2.5-mile, 104-year-old oval were more than halfway empty—still an odd sight after nearly a decade-and-a-half of this prestigious race drawing sold-out and nearly sold-out crowds on an annual basis.

    Of course, it's not new for NASCAR at Indianapolis. Since the 2008 race, when tire issues forced caution flags every 10 laps, attendance numbers have been dropping. NASCAR didn't release official attendance numbers from the race, so it's impossible to know the actual numbers.

    Such attendance woes leave many questions for those concerned with the financial viability of the race. Whatever the issue (or issues), they haven't been fixed by changing the marketing approaches or adding races to the weekend schedule. 


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