For a third consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race, the battle for the win came down to a late duel between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, On this occasion, Harvick benefited from a late incident involving Hamlin and an overtime restart while alongside Matt Kenseth to win the 2020 Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The victory was Harvick’s fourth of the season, the third at Indianapolis and the 53rd of his NASCAR Cup career.
The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Joey Logano drew the pole position and was joined on the front row with Kurt Busch. Timmy Hill started at the rear of the field due to failing pre-race inspection twice along with Justin Allgaier, who filled in as an interim driver for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
Delayed by an hour due to lightning reports near the track, the race was able to proceed as the sun came out and cleared the clouds. When the green flag waved, Logano and Kurt Busch were locked in a side-by-side battle through Turns 1 and 2 before Logano cleared Busch for the lead entering Turn 2 and was able to lead the first lap. Following the first lap, the majority of the field settled in racing single file. On the fourth lap, while battling for a top-10 spot, Kyle Busch made contact with Ryan Blaney through the Turn 4 straightaway, but both competitors kept their car running straight with Blaney moving up. As the run progressed, Martin Truex Jr. was losing positions after reporting an issue to the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) to his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry.
On Lap 13, Kevin Harvick made the left-hand turn to pit road for four fresh tires with no fuel. At the time Harvick was having his service complete, the competition caution flew with Logano ahead of Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch. By then, Truex had fallen back to 28th while Allgaier was in 29th. Alex Bowman was in fourth followed by teammate Chase Elliott, Blaney and Brad Keselowski while Kyle Busch was in 10th ahead of William Byron and Bubba Wallace. Matt Kenseth was scored in 14th, Erik Jones was in 16th and Ryan Newman was in 21st. John Hunter Nemechek was the highest-running Cup rookie in 15th while rookies Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell were in 20th, 22nd and 23rd.
Under the competition caution, nearly the entire field peeled on to pit road for the first round of service. Towards the back, however, the field jumbled up that started when Michael McDowell pulled into his pit stall. McDowell’s turn into his stall jumbled the competitors behind and ignited a chain reaction wreck that collected Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bell, Reddick, Chris Buescher, Allgaier, rookie Brennan Poole, Corey LaJoie and Truex. During the carnage on pit road, Allgaier and Poole pinched Blaney’s right-rear tire changer, Zach Price, between the two cars and Blaney’s No. 12 Menards/Team Penske Ford as a tire from Blaney’s pit box also flew and landed on McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford. Price survived, but was transported to the Methodist Hospital. The red flag was displayed for more than 11 minutes to have the pit road entrance cleared of the wreckage.
Once the red flag lifted and the field cycled through under caution, Harvick emerged with the leader after electing to remain on the track following the competition caution. Logano, the first car to exit pit road first, was second followed by Bowman, Aric Almirola, Keselowski and DiBenedetto. Kurt Busch, who entered pit road in third, had fallen back to 28th after struggling in his pit stall, where the jack dropped and he ran over the air hose while trying to exit his pit stall. Following the wreck, those that were done for the day were LaJoie and Preece. Truex, who was initially held for two laps for too many crew members over the pit wall under the damaged vehicle policy, also retired.
When the race restarted on Lap 20, Harvick and Logano battled dead even for three turns before Harvick persevered on the outside lane in Turn 3 to lead the following lap. Logano settled in second followed by Almirola. During the restart, Bowman, who restarted third, was placed in a three-wide battle between Almirola and Keselowski entering Turn 1 and had fallen back to eighth. Behind the leaders, Allgaier, who returned on the track with front nose damage and multiple laps down, returned to pit road after losing a right-front tire. Ultimately Allgaier took the No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the garage as his return to the Cup Series while subbing for Johnson came to an early end. In addition, Stenhouse and Poole, both of whom attempted to continue following the pit road incident, also retired after failing to reach the minimum speed requirement.
Ten laps later, Harvick was still leading ahead of Logano, Almirola, Keselowski and Hamlin, who had just passed Elliott for position. DiBenedetto was in seventh followed by Byron, Bowman and Kyle Busch. On Lap 32, Almirola made an unscheduled pit stop due to a vibration concern to his No. 10 Smithfield/Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, an issue that cost Almirola a lap and back outside the top 30. During this time, Harvick was still leading and stabilizing a healthy lead over Logano, Hamlin, Keselowski and Elliott.
On Lap 39, Almirola was able to work his way around race leader and teammate Harvick to unlap himself. A lap later, the caution returned when Newman made contact with the Turn 3 outside wall after blowing a right-front tire in Turn 3. Under caution, the majority of the field pitted and Ty Dillon emerged with the lead after taking two tires. Harvick, the first car with four fresh tires, exited in second followed by Elliott, McDowell, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Keselowski, Bowman, DiBenedetto and Logano. At the front, Byron remained on track to inherit the lead followed by Jones, Austin Dillon and Ross Chastain.
With four laps remaining in the first stage, Byron maintained the lead on the outside lane while Jones settled in second. The following lap, Harvick was back in the top five in fifth while DiBenedetto went three wide on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Hamlin in the Turn 4 straightaway for position. With two laps remaining, Elliott went three wide with Harvick and Ty Dillon while drafting Austin Dillon through the Turn 4 straightaway to move up to fourth. With more battling occurring behind the pack for positions, Byron was able to maintain the lead and win the first stage on Lap 50 while collecting valuable stage points towards his quest to make the Playoffs. Jones finished second followed by Austin Dillon, Elliott and Harvick while Hamlin, DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Clint Bowyer were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, some like Byron, Wallace, Jones, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Logano, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Almirola, McDowell, Nemechek, Reddick and Daniel Suarez pitted while the rest remained on track with Elliott leading Harvick and Hamlin.
The second stage started on Lap 56 and Elliott received a push from DiBenedetto on the outside lane to clear the field for the lead in Turn 1. The following turn, DiBenedetto moved into second and Hamlin moved into third while Harvick dropped to fourth. By Lap 60, Elliott was able to stabilize his advantage by nearly a second over DiBenedetto, Hamlin and Harvick while Kyle Busch trailed by more than two seconds. Another five laps later, Elliott stretched his lead to nearly two seconds over DiBenedetto, who was starting to be pressured by Hamlin for position. Behind, Kenseth was running in sixth, Bell was in eighth and Blaney was in 11th. Jones was in 10th, Byron was in 13th ahead of Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch, and Wallace was in 16th ahead of Almirola.
By Lap 70, Elliott expanded his lead to above four seconds over DiBenedetto and nearly five seconds over Hamlin. A lap later, with the leaders approaching lapped traffic, Hamlin bolted around DiBenedetto on the outside lane in the Turn 4 straightaway to move into second. In addition, Kenseth moved into fifth after passing Kyle Busch a corner earlier.
On Lap 74, the caution returned when Jones blew a right-front tire and went dead straight into the Turn 3 outside wall, which busted the radiator and ignited flames underneath the hood of Jones’ No. 20 Toyota Camry. Fortunately, Jones was able to climb out of his demolished car and walk away uninjured, though the wreck marked his second DNF in the last three Cup races. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Byron emerged with the lead after opting for a two-tire stop. Austin Dillon exited second followed by Hamlin, the first car on four fresh tires. Kurt Busch and Harvick emerged in the top five followed by Elliott, Kyle Busch, DiBenedetto, Kenseth and Bowyer.
The race restarted on Lap 83 and Austin Dillon forced his way into the lead on the inside lane after battling Byron through Turns 1 and 2. Shortly after, Byron blew a left-front tire, which damaged the hood of his No. 24 Liberty University/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE as he also made contact with the outside wall in Turn 3. Byron’s misfortune drew another caution of the race. Following repairs in his pit stall, Byron was unable to remain on the lead lap.
When the race restarted on Lap 88, Austin Dillon and Hamlin battled through Turns 1 and 2 before Harvick made a daring three-wide move on both drivers while almost running outside the racing surface to move back into the lead entering Turn 3. Behind, the caution returned when Blaney got loose underneath teammate Keselowski, spun and backed into the Turn 3 outside wall. Despite the repairs, Blaney, ultimately, failed to reach the minimum speed and retired.
With nine laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted and Harvick launched ahead on the outside lane to maintain the lead. Entering Turn 2, Hamlin slipped and made the slightest of contact with Austin Dillon, which allowed Elliott to gain a run for second. By the entrance of Turn 4, Elliott was able to move into second followed by Hamlin and DiBenedetto while Austin Dillon dropped to fifth. By then, Harvick checked out to nearly a two-second advantage.
With three laps remaining, Bowman made a green-flag pit stop and was just able to exit pit road and remain ahead of race leader Harvick to remain on the lead lap. At the start of the final lap of the stage, however, Harvick lapped Bowman and was able to cruise to the win of the second stage. Elliott held off Hamlin to finish second while DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon finished in the top five. Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Bell and Bowyer were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, a number of competitors pitted, including Kurt Busch, Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Wallace, DiBenedetto, Kenseth, Almirola, Custer and Nemechek pitted.
The final stage commenced with 54 laps remaining and Harvick, again, jumped to an early advantage on the outside lane. Elliott, however, fought back on the inside lane to remain in a tight battle with Harvick for the lead. In Turn 2, Hamlin went three wide on Harvick and Elliott to squeak ahead, but Harvick gained a huge run on the outside lane in Turn 3 to thunder back into the lead. Hamlin and Elliott remained in second and third followed by rookies Bell and Reddick while Kenseth settled in sixth.
With 45 laps remaining, Harvick was ahead by three-tenths of a second over Hamlin. Elliott was in third, nearly two seconds behind the front two, followed by rookies Bell and Reddick with Kenseth in sixth. Bowyer, Logano, DiBenedetto and Kyle Busch were scored in the top 10. Custer was in 11th ahead of Keselowski while Austin Dillon was in 13th ahead of Nemechek. Kurt Busch and Almirola were in 15th and 16th while Wallace was in 18th. Bowman, who had received the free pass to return on the lead lap prior to the final stage, was back in 20th.
As the run progressed, Harvick and Hamlin separated themselves from third-place Elliott by three seconds while needing at least a final pit stop to complete the race to its distance. With 38 laps remaining, at the time when Reddick made a green-flag pit stop, Hamlin’s crew led by crew chief Chris Gabehart ordered Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry to pit road for a final pit stop under green. A lap later, Harvick pitted along with Elliott and Bell while Kenseth remained on track to inherit the lead. By the time Harvick exited pit road, Hamlin was able to cycle his way in front of Harvick like he did last weekend in the second Pocono race, a move that enabled him to win last weekend.
With 30 laps remaining, Kenseth was still leading by more than seven seconds over Kyle Busch, nearly 13 seconds over Logano and Keselowski, and 14 seconds over Custer. Hamlin was in 12th while Harvick was in 13th and slowly gaining ground to Hamlin. During this time, Bowyer and Nemechek had made a green-flag pit stop.
Two laps later, more green-flag pits stops occurred as Logano pitted. Not long after, the caution flew when Bowman made hard contact into the Turn 1 outside wall after cutting a right-front tire. Under caution, drivers like Kenseth, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, DiBenedetto, Custer, Keselowski, Almirola and Elliott pitted while Hamlin and Harvick remained on track to inherit the front row for the closing laps.
With 22 laps remaining, the race restarted and Hamlin launched ahead with the lead on the outside lane through Turn 1. Harvick, who got loose in Turn 1 and lost two spots while nearly making contact with Kenseth on the restart, made his way back to the runner-up spot two corners later as Kenseth moved into third. Custer moved in fourth followed by teammate Almirola while Bell slipped to sixth. A lap later, Harvick drew himself to the rear bumper of Hamlin in Turn 2 and was prepared to make a slingshot move on Hamlin for the lead, but he went high entering Turn 3, which allowed Hamlin to maintain his advantage.
With 15 laps remaining, Hamlin was ahead by three-tenths of a second over Harvick while Kenseth was behind by eight-tenths of a second. Behind, Almirola made his way past teammate Custer for position. Three laps later, the top-three competitors of Hamlin, Harvick and Kenseth were separated by seven-tenths of a second and the trio were ahead of fourth-place Almirola by more than two seconds, fifth-place Custer by three seconds and sixth-place Bell by four seconds.
With seven laps remaining, Hamlin’s run went from good to bad after he blew a right-front tire and went dead straight into the Turn 1 outside wall as smoke and flames erupted beneath Hamlin’s crumbled car. The wreck was enough to end his hopes of winning at Indianapolis for the first time and in his 15th attempt at the famed racetrack.
“It’s tough,” Hamlin said, “I hate it for the FedEx team. We did what we needed to do. It’s just didn’t work out for us, today. [I] Had a fast car, obviously. [I] Was stretching it out there, but wasn’t pushing right front [tire] at all. It’s, kind of, roulette whether you get one that’s gonna stay together or not. Mine didn’t and you saw the end result. That stinks, but proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team. We’ve just been so good here lately. I hate that I feel like I’m doing all I can. These big races, just a lot of things like this just don’t go my way all the time. We’re still gonna go next week and try to win the next one. We’ll do all we can.”
Hamlin’s misfortune allowed Harvick to move back into the lead followed by Kenseth, Almirola, Custer and Bell. Under caution and as the sky was shining brightly into sunset, the leaders remained on track while others, including Bell and Elliott, pitted.
When the race restarted into overtime, Harvick received a push from teammate Custer to clear the field entering Turn 1 and retain the lead. Entering Turn 2, Kenseth moved back into second and Almirola moved into third. The following turn, Keselowski moved into fourth while Custer fell back to fifth. When Harvick started the final lap, he was ahead by six-tenths of a second. For one final circuit, Harvick was able to maintain his advantage over Kenseth and streak across the finish line in first to add another Brickyard 400 win to his résumé.
With the win, Harvick joined Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch as the only Cup competitors to win back-to-back Brickyard 400s at Indianapolis. He also achieved his 30th win driving the No. 4 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and his 750th top-10 result in NASCAR’s premier series.
“Well, we knew that [Hamlin], he was gonna be close on tires and [crew chief] Rodney [Childers] told me on the radio he said, ‘Just make sure you keep the pressure on him,’ and that was all the pressure I could give,” Harvick said. “Those guys do a really good job. Just got to thank on my Busch Light Ford Mustang…everybody who is a part of this program and just keeps bringing good racecars to the racetrack. I didn’t have anymore room [when passing three wide for the lead]. That was for sure, but it’s the Brickyard. This is what I grew up wanting to do as a kid, win at the Brickyard and to be able to come here and have won for the third time is something that I could have never dreamed of. But just really, really proud of all these guys on this team.”
Kenseth finished second followed by Almirola, Keselowski and Custer. Kyle Busch settled in sixth followed by McDowell, Reddick, Wallace and Logano. Elliott settled in 11th followed by Bell while Kurt Busch finished 13th in his 700th Cup career start. Austin Dillon and DiBenedetto wrecked on the final lap and both settled in 18th and 19th.
The race capped off an eventful triple-header, Independence Day weekend of racing activities between NASCAR and IndyCar at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
There were 11 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured nine cautions for 43 laps.
With his victory, Harvick continues to lead the Cup Series regular-season standings by 85 points over Elliott and 88 over Keselowski.
1. Kevin Harvick, 68 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Matt Kenseth, 12 laps led
3. Aric Almirola
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Cole Custer
6. Kyle Busch
7. Michael McDowell
8. Tyler Reddick
9. Bubba Wallace
10. Joey Logano, 14 laps led
11. Chase Elliott, 26 laps led
12. Christopher Bell
13. Kurt Busch
14. Ty Dillon
15. John Hunter Nemechek
16. Clint Bowyer
17. Ross Chastain, one lap led
18. Austin Dillon, five laps led
19. Matt DiBenedetto
20. Daniel Suarez, one lap down
21. J.J. Yeley, one lap down
22. B.J. McLeod, one lap down
23. Quin Houff, two laps down
24. Garrett Smithley, two laps down
25. Josh Bilicki, three laps down
26. Joey Gase, four laps down
27. William Byron, five laps down, 15 laps led, Stage 1 winner
28. Denny Hamlin – OUT, Accident, 19 laps led
29. Timmy Hill, eight laps down
30. Alex Bowman – OUT, Accident
31. Chris Buescher – OUT, Accident
32. Ryan Blaney – OUT, DVP
33. Erik Jones – OUT, Accident
34. Ryan Newman – OUT, Accident
35. Brennan Poole – OUT, DVP
36. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, DVP
37. Justin Allgaier – OUT, Accident
38. Martin Truex Jr. – OUT, Accident
39. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident
40. Ryan Preece – OUT, Accident
The NASCAR Cup Series will return to race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky, on July 12 as part of a quadruple-header weekend. The race will air at 2:30 p.m. on FS1.