NASCAR makes its annual stop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, for the Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard. Better known simply as the Brickyard 400, the event once again has significant buzz around it, as Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon make their final scheduled appearances in their hometown race. Stewart is retiring at the end of the year, and Gordon retired at the end of last season. Dale Earnhardt Jr continues to deal with symptoms from his concussion, and will miss his second straight race this weekend, so team owner Rick Hendrick called Gordon to see if he would drive the No. 88 car at Indianapolis.
Gordon was in France on vacation when Mr Hendrick called him, but he was obviously open to returning for this race. Now that his broadcasting duties with FOX are over for this season, he is able to get back in the car. Stewart missed the Daytona 500 this year, and wanted Gordon to fill in for him, but Gordon was already committed to his TV gig.
Both of these drivers have had incredible success at IMS over the years. Gordon has 5 wins, 3 Poles, an average finish of 9.9, and has led 528 laps in 22 starts. He leads virtually every statistical category in the Cup cars at IMS, with Stewart right behind him. Tony has 2 wins, 1 Pole, an average finish of 9.6, 227 laps led, and has completed all 2,725 laps in his 17 starts at Indianapolis.
While Gordon has five more starts in the Brickyard 400 than Stewart, Tony actually has five Indianapolis 500 starts. He started on the front row his Rookie year in 1996, and the following year as well. Mechanical issues in 1996 and 1998 ended his day early, but in the three races that he actually finished, his results were 5th, 9th, and 6th. His hero is AJ Foyt, and he’s wearing an awesome throwback helmet in this weekend’s race.
Friday’s practice sessions were clean, despite a slide by last year’s winner in Turn 2. Busch was going under Patrick Carpentier, but he didn’t see the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, and Kyle spun to avoid contact. He did a fantastic job of saving the car, so there wasn’t any damage, but Rowdy was in no mood to talk when Carpentier approached him in the garage to apologize. That took place in the first practice session, and Kyle went out in the second session and recorded the fastest lap of the day, at 184.619 mph. Kevin Harvick was second fastest, and Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five on Friday. Stewart and Gordon were 24th and 25th respectively.
On Saturday, Kyle Busch earned the Pole for the 23rd running of the Brickyard 400. The race has only been won by the pole sitter three times (Harvick 2003, Johnson 2008, Newman 2013). Kyle will also look to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2008-2009 to win back-to-back races at the Brickyard. His teammate Carl Edwards will join him on the front row. Stewart will start his final Brickyard 400 from 3rd position, and Denny Hamlin gives Joe Gibbs Racing three cars in the top four.
Brad Keselowski and 2013 winner Ryan Newman will share Row 3, with Harvick and Martin Truex Jr in Row 4. The Ganassi cars of 2010 winner Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson round out the top ten starting spots for Sunday’s race. Other big name drivers will have to come from further back tomorrow. Kurt Busch starts 11th, Jimmie Johnson 13th, Joey Logano 14th, Chase Elliott 15th, Matt Kenseth 18th, and Gordon will start 21st in the No. 88 car. Eight of the 22 races here have been won by a driver starting outside of the top ten.
After qualifying, the Xfinity series had the Lilly Diabetes 250 race, which was ultimately won again by Busch. He won that race from pole position, and already has the pole for tomorrow’s Brickyard 400. If he is able to win tomorrow, he would become the first driver to win both races (Xfinity and Sprint Cup) from pole position on the same weekend.
Sunday went about as you would expect. Kyle dominated the race, leading a record 149 laps in route to an overtime (170 laps) victory. He is the first driver in NASCAR history to win both races on a weekend from pole position. He is also only the second driver (Jimmie Johnson, 2008-2009) in history to win the Brickyard 400 in back-to-back years. The win is the fourth of the season for Busch, and the 38th of his career.
It was another strong outing for Joe Gibbs Racing, as Busch got the win, Matt Kenseth finished 2nd after starting in 18th, and Denny Hamlin came home in 4th place. Their fourth car driven by Carl Edwards was in the top five all afternoon, only to have a late-race accident in Turn 1. Johnson broke up the Gibbs party with a 3rd place finish, and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five on Sunday.
Stewart finished 11th after a penalty on pit road, and Gordon came home in 13th position, filling in for Earnhardt Jr. The two Indiana icons got together after the checkered flag waved, and took a slow lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway together, most likely for the final time. Stewart said that was a moment that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
Below are some of my photos from this weekend.