With Big Machine Records as the presenting sponsor, the Indy pre-race festivities were destined to feature artists such as Reba McIntire and Rascal Flatts performing ‘America the Beautiful’ and the national anthem respectively, as well as CEO Scott Borchetta waving the green flag for the race start.
Surprising: In spite of leading the race at the halfway point, clicking off a position a lap in the final twelve laps of the race, and being the only car assured of finishing the race with enough fuel, it was surprising that the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon did not win the race.
Gordon did, however, come in a solid second, improving his point standings to being just 52 points behind leader Carl Edwards. This was Gordon’s 14th top 10 finish in 18 races at Indianapolis Speedway and his ninth top-10 finish in 2011.
“Oh my goodness what a day,” Gordon said. “I am so proud of this Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet team. I mean they were just flawless.”
“It was all we could do to put pressure on those guys and hope they would run out,” Gordon said of his battle with those in danger of running out of fuel. “I passed all of them but one.”
Not Surprising: It was not surprising that the one that Gordon could not get past was a driver with a family history as storied as the Brickyard itself. Dedicating the win to his father John, Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet won his first ever NASCAR race at the track where he had been coming with his family since he was a youngster.
“You know I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and my Daddy has been trying to win this race for 35 years,” Menard said. “So this is for my Dad.”
“I can’t believe we won Indy,” Menard continued. “This is just a really special place for my family and myself.”
Menard made a little history at the Brickyard himself, becoming the first driver to win his first career race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This is also the first Indy win in a Menard’s sponsored race car.
This is Menard’s sixth top-10 finish in 2011 and his first top-10 finish in five races at Indy. He also became the fourth different first-time winner for the 2011 NASCAR season.
Surprising: One of the biggest surprises of the day was how many drivers pitted under green for fuel directly after a restart towards the end of the race. One of those drivers who did just that was NASCAR’s favorite son Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet.
Junior’s fuel strategy did not, however, play to his advantage. He finished 16th and dropped one more position in the point standings to tenth, just barely maintaining Chase contention status.
“You don’t want to be hanging around out there on the race track when everybody else is already inside a fuel window,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “So, yeah I can understand why it turned out like it did.”
Not Surprising: Since the Brickyard is considered one of the ‘big’ races on the NASCAR schedule, it was not surprising that two drivers who have won ‘big’ races in the past had good runs. Regan Smith, behind the wheel of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet and winner of the Darlington Showtime Southern 500, scored the third place finish and Jamie McMurray, Daytona 500 and defending winner of the Brickyard 400 last year, took fourth in his No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet.
“It was a great run for the Furniture Row Chevy and my guys worked their butts off all weekend,” Smith said. “This is not a great track for me, so I am happy and if I couldn’t win, the guy in Victory lane is my best friend on the circuit and I can’t wait to congratulate him.”
“We got a little bit lucky today,” McMurray said. “We’ve had a tough year and a lot of things go wrong and a lot of bad luck. So, it’s very nice to have good luck and a good finish.”
Surprising: In spite of an uncertain future for 2012, with his ride for Rick Hendrick ending at the end of the season, Mark Martin in his No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet pulled off a surprisingly good top-10 finish.
Martin took the checkered flag at the Brickyard in eighth place, advancing his point standings by two spots up to the 18th position.
Not Surprising: It was not surprising that the winner of the final Nationwide race at Lucas Oil Raceway continued his great weekend run over at the Brickyard. Brad Keselowski, behind the wheel of the Blue Deuce, finished top-10.
“It was kind of an up-and-down day for the Miller Lite Dodge,” Keselowski said of his ninth place run. “At the three-quarter part of the race, I thought we were going to win the Brickyard.”
“It just didn’t quite work out, but we made our car faster throughout the day and I was proud of that.”
Surprising: Even Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota, surprised himself by battling not only track position and fuel strategy but also a tussle with Tony Stewart in the pits to attain a top-10 finish.
“I definitely had no idea that the day would be so ugly, but yet come out of it smelling like a rose I guess,” Busch said. “We worked our butts of this whole weekend trying to get something out of nothing.”
Not Surprising: In spite of a crew chief change, Jeff Burton, RCR veteran and NASCAR statesman, continued his downward spiral. Burton finished 35th in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet.
“We had a little miscommunication on pit road,” Burton said. “The radios blanked out and I couldn’t hear him (Burton’s new crew chief Luke Lambert). I drove by pit road and it just put us in a hole the rest of the day.”
“We were fast but we just had a lot of crap go on.”
Surprising: With so many media pundits predicting a victory at Indy, it was surprising to see how badly Indy 500 champ Juan Pablo Montoya finished. JPM, piloting his No. 42 Target Chevrolet, finished 28th.
“It sucks when you run good all day,” Montoya said. “We unloaded really bad but at the end, we were a really competitive car.”
“Right now it’s all about looking at the future.”
Not Surprising: After their one, two finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it was not surprising to see the two drivers of Stewart Haas Racing have another fairly good day. Tony Stewart, piloting the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet overcame adversity on the track and on pit road to finish sixth.
Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman, behind the wheel of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, also had a decent day, finishing 12th. Both drivers maintained their positions solidly in the top ten in the point standings.
“I just fought for everything I could get all day,” Stewart said. “We didn’t have the best car by any means.”
“Whatever you get here, you appreciate it because you had to earn it,” Stewart continued. “You don’t get anything free here.”