In recent years the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway had lost its luster. Maybe it was the sign of the times where TV ratings are falling and fans can’t afford to spend what extra money they earn at the racetrack anymore.
Or maybe it’s been the product on track that has taken the magic out of this race for fans. The 2008 tire debacle was a game changer for this sport, for Goodyear and for IMS.
Coming into Sunday’s race at the famed track the buzz was palpable. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick (finished eighth) who won the pole were the drivers to beat.
Sunday’s race was nothing like we have seen in recent years and Gordon’s historic win capped off a day which possibly put the Brickyard 400 back on the map.
Jeff Gordon has been asked about retirement every week since media day in January. In fact, he has been asked about retirement every week since 2008. After his win at Kansas many still didn’t consider Gordon a serious title threat to Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, or Brad Keselowski. Sunday changed all that.
He dominated the race on Sunday with a car that even when others bogged down in traffic couldn’t pass, Gordon would make moves through traffic that was a flashback to Gordon in the 90’s. He didn’t lead every lap or the most laps but he led the most important lap when it counted.
His fifth win at IMS puts him with the great Michael Schumacher, who won five races in F1 at IMS. The stats and feats are no where the same but if you sit back and think about the history of this track, how it touches every part of motorsports in some way, what Gordon did on Sunday is remarkable.
Gordon clinched his spot in the Chase with his second win and put the field on notice not to overlook this 24 team because they are just getting started in 2014.
Rising of Joe Gibbs Racing was lost in all the celebration on Sunday afternoon for Gordon. They finished second, third and fourth on Sunday. The struggles of JGR have been well documented. They fell behind with the new rules package. With only two wins between them this season there are still a lot of questions about this organization.
Kyle Busch has been the most consistent so far in 2014 in fact he has had runner up finishes the last couple weeks. His win and coupled with his points position he is assured a spot in the Chase.
Denny Hamlin has been up and down this season Sunday is a prime example of that. He qualified poorly and went with a alternate pit strategy that nearly paid off if not for a mistake on pit road of not getting full of fuel.
Matt Kenseth is the most curious case of them all after winning seven times in 2013. Kenseth has yet to win in 2014 and while he has been consistent this season they can’t seem to close the deal this season.
They have made gains and Sunday was big step in the right direction but they haven’t shown the power or the ability win consistently to put them in the title talk.
Where in the world was Tony Stewart on Sunday? He qualified in the top 10 which was one his best efforts all season but quickly fell back as the race began. Changing track conditions and strategies saw Stewart never contend for the win at a track that is his Daytona 500. The former Brickyard 400 winner struggles this season to find victory lane continued as he continues to lose ground in the points.
Stewart hasn’t shown consistent speed this season and couple that with no wins; Stewart could miss the Chase. With six races left and some of his better tracks ahead the time is now for ‘smoke’ to rise.
Six races left before the Chase field is set. There have been 11 different winners in 2014. There have been seven multiple winners and only one first time winner so far this season. Gordon has led the points for all but seven weeks and leads by 24 points over Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in second. Gordon’s average finish is 9.2 and Keselowski’s average start is a stout 7.1.
Next up is the second race at Pocono Raceway. Earnhardt won in June after a late race pass of Keselowski who had debris on his grill. Green flag is 1:19ET on ESPN and TSN (Canada).
"Jeff just beat me," said Kahne, whose No. 5 Chevy led a race-high 70 laps. "We got into Turn 1, he held me down and he was able to get momentum (and) did a better job."
"I don't think anybody had anything for (Gordon)," runner-up Kyle Busch said. "It seemed like anybody that he got behind he was able to pass."
"But this weekend we had the best car and the best team. That tells me that if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere. It's certainly going to be a huge confidence boost for this team. We recognize the significance of this."- Gordon on his win.
“That's the breaks. You don't always get stuff to go your way. But really this track allows for whacky strategy. Really, this race, you know, I saw a quote some driver said that this is a very frustrating track for the drivers, and I totally agree because a lot of this race is out of our hands” - Hamlin on IMS