The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of auto racing’s legendary tracks. Playing host to the famed Indianapolis 500 since 1911, the track began holding stock car races in 1994.
2017 marked the 24th annual Brantley Gilbert Brickyard 400, one that resulted in plenty of chaos as multiple contenders were taken out in wrecks. In the end, Kasey Kahne broke a 102-race losing streak dating to mid-2014 to punch his ticket into the NASCAR playoffs.
Kyle Busch, who was winless entering the Indy race weekend, sought to win his third Brickyard 400 in a row. He started the race on the pole alongside Kevin Harvick and made his statement by dominating the race early. However, his successful run was broken up by a caution on lap nine for Corey LaJoie’s wreck, which turned into a red flag for lightning at the track. After a one hour, 47 minute delay, the race resumed. As Busch continued to lead, Chase Elliott saw his day falter when he reported signs of a lost cylinder and smoke in the car, dropping him as far back as 34th.
Due to the lightning delay, the competition caution scheduled for lap 20 (as a result of rain earlier in the day) was moved to lap 30, with the green flag waving five laps later. With five laps remaining in the stage, Elliott’s car blew an engine, ending his race. Meanwhile, Busch led every lap of Stage #1 to win; behind him were Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Stage #2 began on lap 56, though a lap later, David Ragan and J.J. Yeley made contact in turn one, spinning the two and collecting Jeffrey Earnhardt; Ragan’s car careened into the inside wall. During pit stops, Earnhardt Jr. lost ten positions when one tire changer’s air gun was hit by a lug nut coming off his tire; the nut hit the switch on the gun, causing it to reverse power. The green flag waved on lap 64 with Busch remaining in 1st.
On lap 71, Yeley’s right-front tire went down, and while he was able to reach pit road, NASCAR decided to throw the caution. Erik Jones elected to stay out while Busch and the other leaders pitted, placing him and Blaney on the front row for the lap 76 restart. During the lap, Earnhardt Jr.’s radiator expired to bring out another yellow flag. Jones and Blaney remained the leaders for the ensuing green flag on lap 81, though Blaney controlled 1st for the lap. Busch reclaimed the lead on lap 87 and went on to win the second stage, becoming the fourth driver of 2017 to win the first two stages of a race. Truex, Blaney, Jones, Harvick, Kenseth, Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski followed.
Truex won the race off pit road with Busch in tow. Stage #3 commenced on lap 106, though like Stage #2, the first yellow flag of the segment occurred after just one lap; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went around and hit the inside wall, forcing the caution. Another restart took place on lap 110, though led to a surprise turn of events: Truex, who restarted on the inside of Busch, got loose as he entered turn one. While attempting to correct the car, he turned up into Busch, spinning the two of them into the wall and causing Truex’s #78 to catch fire.
“Just chalk it up as another one that we figure out how to lose these things by,” Busch commented.
With Busch and Truex out of the picture, Kenseth and Harvick occupied the front row for the restart on lap 120. Kenseth led until green flag stops began on lap 130; Harvick pitted on lap 132, with Kenseth doing so a lap later. Jones and Keselowski became the leaders during the stops, though the latter held the position when Jones pitted. Kenseth, who was shuffled out of the top-10, made his way up the field, where the likes of Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola were in the top positions, having pitted earlier on lap 107.
On lap 151, Clint Bowyer got loose as he exited turn four, causing him to spin in front of Jones and slam into the inside wall. As his car rebounded from the impact, Bowyer was hit by teammate Kurt Busch and spun into the pit wall, while Busch’s view was obscured by his now-destroyed hood. McMurray also took damage to his right front, while the red flag was waved for the second time.
Much of the field pitted when the red flag was lifted, with Keselowski and Bayne leading off pit road, while Kahne and Ryan Newman, both of whom pitted on lap 149, stayed out. The green flag waved with seven laps to go, though it lasted just one lap as Larson was clipped by Blaney on the frontstretch, causing him to hit the wall multiple times before his car burst into flames.
Another restart occurred with two laps remaining; Kahne and Keselowski comprised the top positions, while Johnson was in 3rd. As the grid came to the green, Johnson’s #48 began smoking, but he continued on. Keselowski briefly led as he and Kahne left turn two, but the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Kahne and Johnson quickly caught up to the #2, forcing three-wide in turn three before Johnson spun and hit the wall.
Overtime rules were implemented for the following restart. However, chaos erupted before the field could even reach turn one, let alone move a few yards past the start/finish line; Kahne, who restarted on the outside, received a push from Hamlin, while 3rd-placed Bayne spun, collecting McDowell, Blaney, Austin Dillon, Almirola, Gray Gaulding and Joey Gase. The pile-up resulted in yet another red flag as darkness loomed on the track.
Former driver Rick Mast tweeted about the race, connecting it to the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994: “In drivers meeting for the 1st Brickyard. Bill France jr told us to NOT embarrass the sport on the first lap. Didn’t say anything the end.”
After a 24-minute wait, the race was under yellow flag conditions again. A second attempt at an overtime restart took place shortly after, with Kahne leading Keselowski. However, once again, another wreck took place; on the backstretch, Hamlin spun and hit Paul Menard to bring out the caution. As Kahne had crossed the overtime line, a third overtime restart did not take place and Kahne was declared the winner. Keselowski finished 2nd, followed by Newman, Logano, Kenseth, Harvick, Daniel Suárez, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher and A.J. Allmendinger. The 8th-place finish was the first top-10 for DiBenedetto since February’s Daytona 500 and the third of his Cup career. Other notable finishes included the #66 of Timmy Hill, who finished a career-best 14th in his 200th NASCAR national series start.
NASCAR’s decision to summon the yellow flag after Kahne had crossed the overtime line drew backlash from fans. Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell defended the call, pointing out there was “the need to bring on safety vehicles and the track was oiled.” The concern of time was also a factor; the final restart took place at 8:53 PM Eastern, while the sun was expected to set at 9:05 PM. Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not have lights, meaning continuing on into the night would have been impractical.
“If we would have red-flagged the race, we would have never got it back in,” he added. “There was clearly oil on the race track.”
The victory ended Kahne’s 102-race losing streak, which dated back to August 2014’s Atlanta race. After celebrating his win, Kahne climbed out of his car and sat down due to exhaustion; the race had lasted over six hours, while a record 14 cautions occurred. He was later taken to and released from the infield care center.
“To win at this track is unreal,” Kahne stated. “We used to always be really close. We lost to Jeff (Gordon) and we lost to Tony (Stewart), just some fast cars back then. Today’s strategy got us here.”
The victory could not have come at a better time for the 2004 Rookie of the Year. Entering the weekend, Kahne was sitting at a dismal 22nd-place in the points standings with just three top-10 finishes. Speculation arose over whether Kahne’s #5 seat, which he is contracted to remain in through 2018, would be replaced at the end of 2017. Team owner Rick Hendrick expects the team to have four cars in 2018, though no plan for who would drive the #5 has been announced.
Next week, the Monster Energy Cup Series returns to Pocono Raceway for the second race of the season at the Tricky Triangle, the Overton’s 400. While Blaney is the most recent winner at the track, Buescher is the defending winner of the Overton’s 400.
Race results (courtesy of Racing-Reference)
Featured image courtesy of Brian Spurlock