With the announcement by Roush Fenway Racing that Carl Edwards would not be returning in 2015 still reverberating throughout the garage, here is what else was surprising and not surprising in the 21st Annual Crown Royal presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Surprising: In spite of securing his second win of the season, as well as having the points lead well in hand, it surprisingly took securing his fifth win at the Brickyard and his 90th career victory to make a championship believer out of Jeff Gordon.
“It’s so hard to gain confidence in this series,” the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet said. “I think we saw we were points leaders, we saw we won at Kansas, but I don’t know if we believed we were capable of winning this championship this year, truly believe it.”
“We do now,” Gordon continued. “But a Brickyard 400 win, it just doesn’t get any better. I mean, to share that with that team that worked so hard, to see the look on their face, you can just see it in them now, you know, they believe.”
Not Surprising: The Kyle and Kyle tandem were at it again, with Kyle Busch finishing in the runner up spot and Kyle Larson scoring highest finishing rookie honors yet again with his seventh place run. This was Busch’s third runner-up result in the last four races, scoring bridesmaid honors at Kentucky, Loudon and Indy.
“I finished second at Kentucky, Loudon and here,” the driver of the No. 18 Snickers Toyota said. “We had some good races going. It would be certainly more beneficial to pick up some trophies, take some trophies home, get some of those benefits for the Chase.”
“Three second places, that’s 11 extra points that you miss out on,” Busch continued. “That sucks pretty big for the Chase and for those bonus points. But, you know, if we keep going that way, then things will pay off sooner or later. We’ll start winning some.”
With his top-10 finish, the other Kyle continued his domination of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle, now leading the standings by 37 points over Austin Dillon. Larson also sits 13th in the points as he tries to make his way into the championship Chase.
“It was a good day for us,” Larson said. “The Target car was really good. We were a top-10 car the whole race.
“Cool to finish in the top 10 at the Brickyard,” the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet said. “To see Jeff Gordon win is pretty special. It’s kind of like Junior winning the 500 this year. It was a really good day for everybody and all the fans, too. So happy about it.”
Surprising: Just when Denny Hamlin thought he and his Joe Gibbs race team had turned the corner after finishing third in his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, some surprising post-race inspection issues reared their ugly heads.
NASCAR took several rear firewall block-off plates off the car for further examination back at the R and D Center. These particular plates could have improved the aerodynamics of the car so Tuesday will be an interesting day for Hamlin and company as far as any potential penalties.
“It was a little something; it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Jimmy Makar, Senior Vice President for Joe Gibbs Racing, said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal (penalty-wise). It is just a questionable thing.”
As a result of his good Brickyard finish, Hamlin advanced one spot in the point standings to 11th and is poised for a run at the championship with his win at Talladega earlier in the season.
Not Surprising: With Indy known as a track where passing is difficult, it was no surprise that restarts were key and where much of the action took place. And again, not surprisingly, the final restart was critical for so many drivers, from Matt Kenseth, who gained a few spots to finish fourth, to Kasey Kahne who lost the lead to finish sixth.
“It was interesting because I was — I was kind of picking on Jeff’s (Gordon) restarts all day because he just couldn’t get going on the outside,” Kenseth said. “He was getting on the outside of the front row. I was behind and was like, ‘Man, this is going to be bad.’ He got into (turn) one and kind of carried the 5 (Kasey Kahne) and the 5 must have got loose.”
“And, then Denny (Hamlin) gave me a break,” the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota continued. “I got out in front of him and we were both able to pass Kasey (Kahne). Then Denny (Hamlin) got us three-wide. Once it singled out we were able to get away a little bit.”
For Kahne, behind the wheel of the No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet, the final restart result was not as favorable.
“Jeff (Gordon) just beat me,” Kahne said. “We got into Turn 1 he held me down and he was able to momentum off of Turn 1 which he did a better job.”
“I should have choose the outside, looking back, but I thought there was more grip on the inside down the front stretch,” Kahne continued. “Then he controlled the start. I just gave it up at that point. Either way that was the best we were going to finish.”
“That was alright though.”
Surprising: It was a surprisingly good weekend for the Dillon brothers, with Ty winning the Nationwide race and brother Austin finishing top-10 at the Brickyard.
“It’s great for us,” the driver of the No. 3 Dow/MyCogen Seeds Chevrolet said. “As a team we just want to build momentum and that was a solid day. Our car had some speed in it, but it was tough to pass because when you got in traffic you couldn’t do much.”
“I am very proud of my guys, solid day, and hard to back up that win that Ty got yesterday but I will definitely take a top ten in this series.”
Not Surprising: Paul Menard was NASCAR’s biggest loser after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, back in a part-time ride for Team Penske, forced him to a 34th place finish, dropping him five spots in the points to 16th and teetering on the brink of Chase contention.
“It’s stupid,” Slugger Labbe, Menard’s crew chief, said. “People have no respect…. I just don’t get Juan Pablo, what he’s doing. It doesn’t make sense. You’d think the guy would come over and apologize or something.”
“We’re running for a spot in the Chase, and some part-time racer left-rears us and puts us in the fence,” Labbe continued. “Then you’re done.”
“It probably knocked us out of the Chase (for the Sprint Cup), but…we’ve just got to fight back in six more races.”
Surprising: In spite of a grueling day and a 42nd place finish due to a broken axle, Danica Patrick still managed to find her happy place.
“It’s just one of those things,” the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet said. “We were having a good day. It’s disappointing and the GoDaddy guys built me a really good car. Hendrick gave me great horsepower.”
“We were the fastest car out there at times,” Patrick continued. “We qualified better and had a good car for the race, it just didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”
“The good thing is, I get to come back to Indy and that makes me happy.”
Not Surprising: After a 16th place run, Clint Bowyer in his No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, was wishing his ride would turn magically into an IndyCar race car, complete with all its bells and whistles.
“No wonder them Indy car things have a push to pass button,” Bowyer tweeted after the race with the hashtag of #indyproblems.
“Our RK Motors Toyota was much better than our 16th-place finish,” Bowyer continued. “We had a little trouble in the pits and we got back in some traffic. We had to pit under that last caution because we got some debris on the grill from another car when we were leaving pit road.”
“It was a frustrating day but Brian Pattie and the guys gave me a good car just wish we finished better than we did.”
Surprising: Greg Biffle had a surprisingly lucky weekend, first hearing from his team owner that he would be the anchor driver for Roush Fenway Racing for 2015 and then gambling on pit strategy to finish lucky 13.
“Certainly the focus of our leadership is going to be with Greg Biffle and the things that he does with the racecar and the leadership he provides for the engineering initiatives we take,” Jack Roush said. “We had that split with Carl and Greg together this year, so that will be a little different next year.
“I had other options but I felt like I spent a lot of time there and we’ve always won races and I feel like we can win races again,” Biffle said. “The first half of the season has not been what we wanted. It’s no mystery.”
“I don’t think that’s a reason to jump ship and say I’m leaving because we haven’t won a race and we’re not performing the way we should.”
Not Surprising: With one win under his belt, it is not surprising that team Almirola is headed to test at Watkins Glen on their way to next week’s race at Pocono. Almirola passed many cars at Indy after starting in the rear in a backup car to finish 21st.
“That’s a decent finish, but I’m frustrated because we’ve got to figure out how to get more speed,” Almirola said. “We’ve got six more weeks to get our cars better before the Chase, so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to try to figure it out and try to be more competitive.”
“But it is what it is,” the driver of the No. 43 Eckrich Ford said. “We dug ourselves a hole this weekend and finished 21st.”
“We had one run where we drove up to like 15th, and I thought we were going to be pretty good, and I don’t know if we got a bad set of tires or what, but we could never recover after that.”