It’s been since August 8, 2004. The journey to return back to Victory Lane at the most famous track in motorsports history has finally concluded for one Indiana man.
20 years ago, Jeff Gordon took his rainbow-soaked No. 24 Chevrolet to the winner’s circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for NASCAR’s inaugural race at the speedway. On Sunday afternoon, Gordon drove his No. 24 Chevrolet back to Victory Lane at the yard of bricks for the fifth time in the 21st running of the Brickyard 400.
Scoring his 90th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, Gordon tied Formula 1 driver, Michael Schumacher, for the most wins at Indianapolis with five triumphs. His last Brickyard 400 victory came in 2004 where he dominated the race – holding off Dale Jarrett to get his fourth win at the track.
“This team came prepared. That was an awesome Axalta Chevy SS, and we had so much support. With five (laps) to go I was trying to look up in the grandstands, but it is the biggest race in my opinion. I know the Daytona 500 is a big race, but to me personally, this race means so much because of the fans. Because of the history of this track, but I couldn't help it,” he said on his historic victory.
Although he did not lead the most laps, the 42-year-old arguably had the fastest car throughout the 400-mile event. In the 21st running of this event, Gordon had to pass his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne, for on a late-race restart after the caution came out for Ryan Truex – who was off the pace on the apron of the race track. During the restart, Gordon passed Kahne on the high line, and set sail after that.
“I’m not very good on restarts and wasn’t very good today. I finally made the restart of my life today when it counted most. I knew we had a great race car. We just needed to get out front. Kasey (Kahne) kind of hung back and I kind of got a little ahead of him and I had to back up and was able to stay on his quarter panel and once we got down into (Turns) 1 and 2, I could hear him get loose. I was kind of glad he took the inside because I really wanted the outside,” Gordon said after the race.
Kahne dropped to the fifth position after getting passed by the three Joe Gibbs Racing cars, and then Joey Logano took a top-five away from the man that led a race-high 70 laps.
“I think we finished where we deserved to finish, we just need more speed in our car.” A GOOD RUN. “That’s about what we ran all day is where we finished. The guys did a good job. We got this thing better from the way we unloaded. We weren’t very good to start off this weekend, but every time we went out for practice or went on the race track we got a little bit better – through practice, through qualifying and even the race,” Logano said.
Kyle Busch used pit strategy to his advantage to come home in the second position, yet slipped over two seconds behind Gordon after the restart. This was Busch’s second runner-up finish at Indianapolis in two of the last three races at the 2.5-mile circuit. Throughout the day, he was racing outside of the top-10, but came on strong as his team took advantage of the multiple green-flag pit stops which took place in the first half of the race.
Busch was followed by his JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth – providing a solid day for the Toyota organization. However, since Toyota entered the Sprint Cup Series in 2007, they have yet to record a victory at Indianapolis.
During the race, there was talk of rain in the area. Following the competition caution on Lap 20, multiple drivers were reporting rain in certain areas on the track. However, after a few minutes of drizzling on the speedway, the rain diffused and the drivers were able to focus on the racing. But because of the speculation that rain was surrounding the track, there were several different strategies on the day – providing an added level of excitement for a race that many presumed would be the polar opposite.
Entering the Brickyard 400, pole sitter Kevin Harvick was labeled as the favorite to win the event. Moreover, after starting out the race with the lead, he was passed by Gordon after the two roared by the start/finish line to begin the second lap of the day. Harvick led 12 laps in Sunday’s spectacle, and sits 12th in points after finishing in the eighth position at Indianapolis.
Here are some notables from the Brickyard 400:
- Austin Dillon earned his third top-10 finish of 2014. This is Dillon’s first career top-10 at a non-restrictor plate track in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition. He currently holds the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup as he sits 14th in points.
- Jimmie Johnson came home in the 14th spot after coming off of back-to-back 42nd-place finishes.
- Carl Edwards finished 15th in the Brickyard 400. Edwards and Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush announced on Sunday morning that they will be parting ways at the conclusion of the season.
- A.J. Allmendinger finished 17th on Sunday. Allmendinger struggled with the handling on his No. 47 Chevrolet. He started the race in the 36th position, and steadily worked his way through the field. With his top-20 finish, Allmendinger gained three spots in the standings and sits 23rd in points.
- Juan Pablo Montoya earned a 23rd-place finish in his return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a stock car. Montoya won at Pocono Raceway a few weeks ago in the Verizon IndyCar Series while driving for Team Penske. This was his second of a pair of scheduled starts at NASCAR’s top-tier division for the 2014 season. He currently sits fifth in the IndyCar Series standings.
- Danica Patrick was racing inside of the top-15 when she broke the right rear axle on her No. 10 Chevrolet. Patrick finished in the 42nd position after bringing her car into Gasoline Alley following a burst of smoke billowing out from her car on pit road.
- Trevor Bayne finished 43rd for the first time in his young career. During the same announcement about Edwards departing RFR, Roush stated his faith in Bayne piloting the No. 6 Ford on a full-time basis in 2015 with funding from Advocare – his sponsor in the Nationwide Series.
JR Motorsports loves having a date on Friday evenings. The organization has now continued their streak of winning each race that has been held after the Sun has set. After Regan Smith led 47 laps, Kasey Kahne made a last second pass while entering the tri-oval during a green-white-checkered finish to capture the victory during the Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona.
Making his second start of the year, Kahne had a quiet evening as he was running outside of the top-15 for the majority of the event. However, he came on strong after the final restart where teams were worrying whether or not they had enough fuel to make it to the finish. This is Kahne’s first victory since winning at Charlotte in 2007 with Evernham Motorsports, and it is his eighth career win in 204 Nationwide Series starts. The win marks JR Motorsports’ 18th victory since 2008 as well as their sixth triumph in 2014.
Ryan Sieg, who moved over to the NASCAR Nationwide Series after racing full-time in the Camping World Truck Series since 2010, pushed Kahne to victory lane on the high side. Conversation was sparked with the way Sieg pushed the No. 5 car, yet NASCAR did not unleash a penalty to either driver. The third-place finish is the best result the 27-year-old has recorded in his 20 career starts.
Kyle Larson was contending with Smith for the lead on the final restart, but he slipped back after the white flag came up when he began to receive pressure from several drivers. Larson finished fifth – his best finish at Daytona in his fourth start at the 2.5-mile track. Kyle Busch held the lead after the halfway mark, but his teammate, Elliott Sadler, had to pit due to a loose wheel. Busch caught up to Sadler’s No. 11 Toyota, but instead of going around him – the No. 54 slid behind Sadler and helped keep him as the first car one lap down. Sadler finished 21st after being involved in an accident with Trevor Bayne and David Ragan when Chase Elliott had a fuel issue while going back to the green flag late in the race.
Smith now holds a 12-point lead over Sadler in the championship standings. Elliott is 15 markers behind his teammate, Smith, with Richard Childress Racing drivers, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott rounding out the top-five.
Here are some notables from the Subway Firecracker 250:
- Ryan Reed recorded a career-best fourth-place finish in the No. 16 car. ““That was what we needed right there. You know, we were trying to conserve all night but man it felt good to get our first top-five,” he said.
- Jeremy Clements finished eighth on Friday evening – the second best finish he has recorded in his 150 career starts. Clements’ best result came at Road America – finishing sixth. This marked his seventh career top-10 finish in Nationwide Series competition.
- Mike Wallace started his 10th race of the season for JGL Racing – recording his first top-10 this year. The 10th-place result is Wallace’s best since finishing seventh at Talladega for JD Motorsports at Talladega last year.
- Darrell Wallace Jr. earned his first top-10 this season – finishing seventh. The results ties his best career finish (Iowa 2012).
- Derrike Cope finished 13th on Friday evening. This is his best finish since finishing 17th at Road America in 2011 and 13th at Daytona in 2003.
- Johnny Sauter finished 15th in the No. 80 car for Hattori Racing Enterprises.
- There were 11 different leaders with 14 different lead changes.
- The race also averaged a record 157.012 mph with just three cautions totaling 12 laps.
Chase Elliott, 18, is already climbing through the NASCAR ranks at an unbelievable pace. He is truly ahead of the game, especially for someone that is still in high school.
Elliott, the son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Bill Elliott, might just be what the NASCAR world has been looking for. He is aggressive, smart and mature - all of which he has learned thanks to his hard work and determination. Sure, there are other drivers out there around his age group in the Nationwide Series such as Dylan Kwasniewski and Ryan Reed, but they are not having early success like Elliott.
However, even while becoming the youngest driver to win back-to-back Nationwide Series races in the history of the division, Elliott still has plenty to learn. Due to his success, rumors have initiated about Elliott's immediate future. Currently, the Dawsonville, Ga. native is leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers points standings while racing for JR Motorsports. Think about it this way - Elliott has won two races, outraced his teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Regan Smith as well as outracing Sprint Cup Series regulars which usually dominate in the sport's second tier division.
JR Motorsports has an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, one of the most proficient teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. However, the team does most of their work in-house as their alliance is mainly for Hendrick's engine program. Moreover, Elliott is winning in equipment which former Sprint Cup Series driver, Smith, has only won in four times in 41 events since Homestead in 2012. What makes Elliott's early success so magnificent?
Well, he has done things the old fashion way. He worked his way up through the ranks at a rapid pace, but did so by winning in everything he raced in. That is how he landed a deal with one of, if not the, most successful team in modern-day NASCAR.
Even though the season is still young, Elliott's points lead is obviously not a fluke. He has Smith's former crew chief, Greg Ives, atop the pit box, and they seem to be clicking rather well. Not only has Elliott been contending for wins, but he has finished inside of the top-10 in each race since Daytona where he made his Nationwide Series debut. Clearly, he has the talent to get the job done. But does it mean he should go to the Sprint Cup Series next season?
It is extremely unlikely that Elliott will be full-time in the Cup Series next season. If he were to win the Nationwide Series title as a rookie, it will be one of the most abundant accomplishments which have been achieved in the modern-era of stock car racing. However, he will still need another season in NASCAR's second tier series just to show he can make even fewer mistakes before he goes to NASCAR's largest stage. Thus, it will enable him to be extremely competitive right away.
Moreover, Elliott will be entitled to race in a Hendrick Motorsports car in the Cup Series if they opt to go that route. The problem is - NASCAR only enables four entries per team, and they can also enter a fifth car for a handful of races under Hendrick Motorsports ownership for a rookie driver. This would be the ideal situation for Elliott. It will enable him to still race full-time in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, and it will also let him get adjusted to the larger, more powerful vehicles in NASCAR's top division. Previously, team owner, Rick Hendrick, has stated that Elliott has tested Cup Series cars, and actually ran times as competitive as four-time champion, Jeff Gordon. That's pretty impressive at his age.
Elliott is rumored to replace one of the four drivers at HMS in the near future. Specifically, Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne.
Gordon has stated that he is considering retirement. However, he has done so since having back problems several years ago. It is likely, however, that he will call it quits within the next dozen years or so. But with success like he has had already in 2014, putting a close on a Hall of Fame career should be no where near in the sights of NASCAR's active wins leader.
Kahne's case is a lot different from Gordon. He entered Hendrick Motorsports with hopes of contending for championships. Sure, he has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup in both years that he has driven for HMS, but he has been extremely inconsistent. To start this year, Kahne only has two top-10 finishes in eight races, and four finishes of 22nd or worse. That is not what HMS is about. With each of the Hendrick drivers seeing success other than a Kahne, a driver change might occur in the foreseeable future. Before he joined HMS, most believed that Kahne would certainly be winning more races than he did when he was with Evernham Motorsports (which developed into Richard Petty Motorsports). However, consistency has always been a problem for Kahne since joining the Sprint Cup Series back in 2004. His contract runs up at the end of the 2015 season, as does Elliott's contract with his sponsor, NAPA.
It is possible that if Kahne does not show he is a title contender this year, Elliott can replace him at the start of the 2016 season. However, if Kahne resigns with the organization once his contract expires, Elliott might end up with a team which has an alliance with HMS. This would give him the option of racing with HScott Motorsports which is what Austin Dillon did last year as he prepared to race for Richard Childress Racing on a full-time basis in 2014. It is unlikely that Elliott would race for another organization that has an alliance with HMS which include Stewart-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. But anything can happen from now and then.
Let's face it - Hendrick is not going to give up on Elliott. He is going to be a champion if he keeps this up. He is still in school, and once he graduates, his focus will be on racing and racing only.
The NASCAR Industry has seen its fair share of fights and feuds already this season and there could be another one that surfaces very soon.
Kasey Kahne has had a pretty strong run so far this season in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with one win and four top-5 finishes. His two worse finishes this season, both on the plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, have come at the hands of another driver, Kyle Busch. This weekend at Darlington was no different.
Kahne brought his could-have-been-race-winning car home in 17th place after an incident with Busch caused him to hit the wall. Busch was racing Kahne for the lead and came up behind him going into turn 2. Busch dive-bombed Kahne in an attempt to slide around him but he went into the corner too fast. He slid up the track and had to slam on the brakes behind Kahne. Busch’s car never touched the back of Kahne’s but his close contact was enough to take the air away from Kahne’s car and it sent him into the wall.
Busch ended up finishing 6th after a flat tire cost him the win in the very late stages of the race. He parked his No.18 Toyota and left without an interview. Kahne, however, did have something to say.
“I could see him and I was like ‘oh shoot, oh shoot’ and then the car moved and just spun out. I don’t know if he actually touched me or what, but his angle into the corner. If he would have just entered like normal, the way he has entered the whole race it would have been no issues and I would have been leading off (Turn) 2 and he just didn’t want that to happen so he blew turn one. So whether he hit me or not he still caused that whole deal with screwing up.”
“I think he just made another mistake. That is his third one when he has been around me this year. I don’t really understand it. We were battling for the lead or for the top two or three spots each time. I imagine he will call me again tomorrow and say he’s sorry. I mean he’s got to just race me. I mean I’ve never touched the guy in my life as far as on the race track. Three times this year, there have been other times in other years. I don’t really know what his deal is with me.”
Kahne was visibly upset but kept his cool during the interview. With three incidents already this season, what could some of these two drivers if something happens again? We all know Busch has a temper but it’s not often that we see Kahne get angry. Keep an eye on these two this season because there is a good battle brewing here.
In 2010, he had already signed a four year contract to drive for Rick Hendrick starting in 2012. It was clear that Mr. Hendrick saw a star in the then 30 year old. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports last season, Kasey Kahne already has two wins, including the Coke 600, four poles and a fourth place appearance in the Chase. Sitting second in points as the series heads to Richmond; Kahne might just be Hendrick’s next big thing.
Kahne acquired himself a full time Cup ride in 2004 with Evernham Motorsports at the ripe young age of 24. Ten seasons, five teams and now 15 wins later, he is one of the favorites for the Sprint Cup Series Championship this season. Second in points behind teammate and 5-time Champion Jimmie Johnson, Kahne already has a win at Bristol this season on his record.
This season, along with his win at Bristol, Kahne has two second place finishes including the one this past weekend at Kansas Speedway. His average finish in 2013 is just outside the top 10 due to a 36th place finish in the Daytona 500. With five top-10 finishes, Kahne does not look like he will be slowing down any time soon.
In an interview he did back in 2010 about his eventual move to Hendrick Motorsports, Kahne was very optimistic.
"I have a comfort level with Mr. Hendrick, my future teammates and the culture of the organization," Kahne said. "For me, it's the right fit on every level, and I think it gives me a great chance to win races and compete for championships.”
Kahne seems to fit in really well with his teammates even if they have their differences on the track. He and Jeff Gordon share a side of the race shop back at Hendrick Motorsports headquarters and you often see Kahne and one of the other drivers talking on pit road before qualifying or the race. Hendrick Motorsports is such a strong organization with drivers and teams capable of winning multiple races in a season which puts Kahne on the right path to becoming the next Sprint Cup Series Champion.