Wednesday, Sep 28

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. 

During Sunday afternoon’s running of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, only 43 cars were entered. The sport nearly had a short field for the second time over the course of three events, but BK Racing entered a fourth car with Mike Bliss behind the wheel. However, there were multiple small teams on track that put together last minute deals because funding had arisen.

Morgan Shepherd, 72, broke his own record for being the oldest driver to start his engine in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event when the green flag waved at Loudon. Shepherd was running his second contest in 2014 after starting and parking the Joe Nemechek owned No. 87 Toyota at Phoenix.

At Phoenix, he raced even while qualifying multiple seconds off the pace. Meanwhile, Landon Cassill and Josh Wise, two drivers scheduled to run the entire race, missed the event because Shepherd’s car had more owner points from the 2013 season. To this point, Shepherd’s start and park effort is one of a handful to do so throughout the 19 races this year.

Then, the real controversy erupted.

While racing more than a dozen laps down, considerably off the pace, Shepherd got into Joey Logano – who was racing in the second position at the time. Shepherd was already marked another lap down, and running times more than a second slower than the race leaders. However, he was racing above the minimum speed.

“I got taken out by the slowest car out there. You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders. We were in second place. He gets out of the way on the straightaway and then goes into the corner and slides right up into the lane I was in,” Logano said after the wreck. “I can’t get too mad at ourselves over this. It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn’t happen at this level of racing.”

Logano has two wins this year for Team Penske and even after the accident – he sits inside of the top-10 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Meanwhile, Shepherd is not racing full-time, nor has he done so in NASCAR’s top-tier division since 1996.

Although Shepherd is a well-known driver, his age might be becoming a factor. Although the incident had nothing to do with talent, Shepherd could have run the higher groove and there would have been no harm to anyone. However, his slow No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport Racing was leisurely crawling around the speedway on the low groove – a spot where cars get extremely loose. And Shepherd was defended by several drivers – including Kyle Busch.

“It seemed like he had a hard time holding the bottom of the racetrack a little bit, but that's sometimes to be expected. It's so flat down there. But there were other lap(ped) cars that were just rolling around on the top and not getting into anybody's way really,” Busch said.

Shepherd has not finished on the lead lap of a NASCAR-sanctioned race since running 26th at Homestead in 2010. If he had the equipment to run better, Shepherd might have been able to put up some competitive times, but that clearly wasn’t the case.  He also attempted the Daytona 500 this year in conjunction with BK Racing, but was extremely off the pace during the Budweiser Duel qualifying event.

“It’s not like Joey hadn’t never had a problem and he’s a lot younger than me. It’s an accident. Those things happen. It could happen to anybody. It could happen with any competitor,” Shepherd said after the race.

But since he was running faster than the minimum speed, NASCAR officials did not penalize him. NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton, stated that there was nothing physically or mentally preventing the 72-year-old from being approved to race. As long as a driver passes all of the pre-requisites, there is no reason why a driver shouldn’t be able to race, according to Pemberton.

There is no word if Shepherd will return to the seat for Circle Sport Racing, or any other organization this year. It is expected that he might run a limited amount of races for his own team in the Nationwide Series, but that depends on sponsorship.  

The journey to the top has been a long one for Brad Keselowski. However, time after time, the Michigan native has defied the odds.

Since he joined Team Penske in 2010, Keselowski has won a Nationwide Series title, a Sprint Cup Series title. Besides the championships, he has won 22 Nationwide Series events along with 11 on the Cup Series side. But ever since that broken ankle he had before Pocono in August of 2011, Keselowski has become more than just your average Sprint Cup Series driver that races for Roger Penske.

Using the Penske name, Keselowski has not only become one of the top drivers in NASCAR’s top-tier division, but his unique personality has created controversy on multiple occasions.

After missing the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, the No. 2 team has a new look. No, it’s not just a new paint scheme. It’s a new level of confidence that has joined the organization after ending 2013 on a high note.

During the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski showed that Team Penske is capable of contending for a title. Keselowski and his teammate, Joey Logano, led all but 31 laps in the 267 lap event. Kentucky marked the third time this season in which he led 95 or more markers in a race – matching the amount he had recorded entering this year. Now, he is determined to go after his second Sprint Cup Series title.

“I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career.  I’m not gonna be happy with that, and I want to win another championship but I don’t want it to be five or 10 years from now.  I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here and it is present, and I want to make the most of it.  I’m not afraid to communicate that.  I think when it comes to goals, when it comes to dreams and visions, you have to share them if you want them to become a reality,” Keselowski said during a post-race press conference on Saturday evening.

With his early season success, Keselowski currently sits fourth in the points standings with a pair of wins. He has all but locked himself inside of the Chase this year, and now is the time where he can prove that he is a force to win the title. As of now, he is on pace to lead more laps than he did in his championship season (735), and he is also on track to have the best statistical season of his career.

“Like I said, I don’t feel like we’re the dominant cars.  We were tonight and I feel like we’re good cars with a really good team, but we have to keep pushing because, like I said, the Hendrick cars won three or four of the last five.  You know the stat better than I do, but it’s something like that and that’s what it’s gonna take to win the championship. You’re gonna have to get on a streak in those 10 races and that’s where we need to be, so that’s where I want to push,” he said.

Even though they aren’t at the level which the Hendrick Motorsports team has been performing at – Team Penske is awfully close. At the five 1.5-mile tracks 17 races into the year, Penske cars have seven top-10 finishes. 

Paul Menard is back in victory lane for the first time since he won the Brickyard 400 in 2011. However, this win is in NASCAR’s second-tier division, the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Menard has won his second career Nationwide Series event in 183 starts as he came out victorious at the Michigan International Speedway on Saturday afternoon for the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200. With five laps to go, Joey Logano had to pit after leading 43 laps during the race. Logano’s right rear tire gave out as he had a 1.3 second gap over Menard, handing over the No. 33 team their first victory of the year.

“This is a brand new car. It’s good to be back in victory lane. This feels really good,” Menard said. “I was trying to run him down and we were going to catch him a little bit, but we weren’t going to pass him.”

The Wisconsin native lone Nationwide Series win prior to Saturday’s event came in 2006 at Milwaukee while he was driving for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. In eight prior Nationwide Series starts at Michigan, Menard earned seven top-10s, and nearly went to victory lane in 2012 after leading 37 laps. The victory also marks the first win for Richard Childress Racing in any of the top-three NASCAR divisions since Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix towards the conclusion of the 2013 season.

Sam Hornish Jr., who was racing the No. 20 car for the first time this season, gave Menard a run for his money, but came up less than a half of a second short for the win. Hornish spun out of the second lap after getting loose in Turn 2 – forcing him to race his way from outside of the top-30 to the front of the field. He has finished no worse than fifth in his three Nationwide Series starts this season.

On Lap 79, Dylan Kwasniewski got loose while trying to get around Trevor Bayne for the 11th position. Kwasniewski slid right into Bayne’s No. 6 Ford, sending both cars hard into the outside wall in Turn 2.

"I have to start driving smarter. This is all my fault," Kwasniewski said on the wreck.

Elliott Sadler was running in the second position with 25 laps to go when there was a piece of debris on the grille of his No. 11 car. Sadler attempted to get the debris off his car by letting Earnhardt Jr. go by him, but he was unable to do so – forcing him to pit.

Regan Smith continues to hold the drivers points lead as he is 14 markers ahead of Sadler. Chase Elliott, who finished sixth, is six points behind Sadler in the third position. Elliott was battling Kyle Larson for the lead for the majority of the race, but the two opted to stay out during a caution flag while the majority of the lead lap cars pitted. Then, a caution came out several laps later, forcing them to take four tires while their competitors took either two tires or fuel-only. Larson ended up finishing eighth after leading a race-high 46 laps.

Here are some notables from the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 at Michigan:

-Ryan Reed recorded the second best finish of his career and the best result of his season as he finished 11th in the No. 16 Ford.

-Ty Dillon led nine laps early in the race, but ended up finishing ninth as he is 35 points behind Smith in the standings.

-Ross Chastain recorded his best career Nationwide Series finish in his second start as he finished in the 12th position for Hattori Racing Enterprises.

-Landon Cassill raced his way to his seventh top-15 of the season for JD Motorsports as he finished 14th.

-There were six different leaders for a total of 14 lead changes.

Even while having the most dominant car at Pocono on Sunday, Brad Keselowski’s luck ran out as the laps winded down. Keselowski led 95 of the 160 laps at the Tricky Triangle for the Pocono 400, but was unable to secure his second victory of the year.

After securing a gap surpassing one second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 2 team made a decision that ultimately cost him the win. Keselowski fell back behind Earnhardt Jr. by approximately two-three tenths of a second in a desperate attempt to get a piece of debris off of his Ford.

“I was trying to do something to help my car out and I knew it was going to break and I was going to get passed, so I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off, and I’m not sure I did enough to make a difference,” Keselowski said.

The debris on his grille caused the temperature to sky rocket on his engine. However, Keselowski wasn’t the only one to have trash on the front-end of his car. Earnhardt Jr. also has debris on his car, but it was not as severe as Keselowski’s. Keselowski was never able to get close enough behind Earnhardt Jr. to get the debris off his front bumper, causing him to lose horsepower on the straightaways.

“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it, but it probably shouldn’t have. It was one of those deals - I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway. It’s hard hard to say,” he said.

Keselowski now sits fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after entering Pocono eighth in points. With a win and seven top-10s this year, he has been able to illustrate his consistency throughout the year. His teammate, Joey Logano, experienced an engine failure which sent him back to finish 40th after losing oil pressure under caution.

Even while having the most dominant car at Pocono on Sunday, Brad Keselowski’s luck ran out as the laps winded down. Keselowski led 95 of the 160 laps at the Tricky Triangle for the Pocono 400, but was unable to secure his second victory of the year.

After securing a gap surpassing one second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 2 team made a decision that ultimately cost him the win. Keselowski fell back behind Earnhardt Jr. by approximately two-three tenths of a second in a desperate attempt to get a piece of debris off of his Ford.

“I was trying to do something to help my car out and I knew it was going to break and I was going to get passed, so I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off, and I’m not sure I did enough to make a difference,” Keselowski said.

The debris on his grille caused the temperature to sky rocket on his engine. However, Keselowski wasn’t the only one to have trash on the front-end of his car. Earnhardt Jr. also has debris on his car, but it was not as severe as Keselowski’s. Keselowski was never able to get close enough behind Earnhardt Jr. to get the debris off his front bumper, causing him to lose horsepower on the straightaways.

“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it, but it probably shouldn’t have. It was one of those deals - I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway. It’s hard hard to say,” he said.

Keselowski now sits fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after entering Pocono eighth in points. With a win and seven top-10s this year, he has been able to illustrate his consistency throughout the year. His teammate, Joey Logano, experienced an engine failure which sent him back to finish 40th after losing oil pressure under caution.

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