In advance of the ceremonial kissing of the bricks, Verizon 200 at the Brickyard winner AJ Allmendinger laid flat on his back and embraced Kaulig Racing president Chris Rice, and their delightful bromance wasn’t even the most newsworthy visual to come out of the inaugural Cup race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
what’s going on here#NASCAR #Verizon200 @IMS pic.twitter.com/5tvcUqxzOB
On the other side of the frontstretch wall, on pit road, was a composed Denny Hamlin as Chase Briscoe explained how a driver already penalized for ‘course cutting’ on the restart spun him for the lead and denied him both the championship lead and his first victory of the season.
Take a listen to what was said on pit road between @dennyhamlin and @ChaseBriscoe_14 at @IMS. pic.twitter.com/IHCS4Vw3ak
Elsewhere across the world’s most famous race course, the rest of the Cup Series roster was still trying to process everything that transpired over the previous hour.
It was quintessential modern NASCAR — chaos fueled entertainment.
The bolt-on curbs in Turns 5 and 6 had taken an absolute beating throughout the race, with track officials needing to rework that section on multiple occasions, including the need to pull a piece of splitter from the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 out of it.
That was just the appetizer for what would come next.
As a result of debris in that corner, there was a caution and restart with six laps to go, and several drivers were again launched into the air from the curbing with Martin Truex Jr. spinning around and sending more debris around that section of the track.
That again exposed the curbing like a razor blade, and when drivers came across the debris field, it sent William Byron, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano all crashing out of the top-five. It didn’t end there, with over a dozen cars either spinning to avoid another car, or the exposed curb or any of the debris.
Take a look at what happened to @WilliamByron, @joeylogano and other drivers late at @IMS. pic.twitter.com/KS6qIjRZFD
“It was so weird,” Byron said. “I’ve never had that experience. Like, I come through that corner the same way every single lap. We were running fourth behind Larson, and he gets over the curb in the same spot and after he hit with his right rear, it like peeled up.
“And as soon as I got there, I hit something, and it just threw me completely off line. It tore the front end right off of it. … I obviously nailed something that came up off the track.”
Logano drilled the tire barrier especially hard.
“Thank God those tire packs were there,” Logano said. “The hit wasn’t that hard at all. The tires absorbed a lot of it. I don’t believe in luck, but that time I feel like it was just bad luck. Wrong place at the wrong time and unfortunately it ended our day.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway track president Doug Boles worked alongside the track clean-up crew with a sweeper. The rest of his team was working to remove a section of the curbing but not all of it.
The curbs are there for a reason, as they serve as sort of a cushion to help cars make the corner, while also serving as a de facto track limit. It’s the same curbing that has been there for almost a decade for IndyCar Series events, but the bolt-on nature of this particular curb proved to be ineffective for Cup Series cars with no ride height rules.
Following the late-race incident, curbing at Turn 6 has been removed.
The red flag has also been lifted at @IMS. pic.twitter.com/p9aZYZwRgW
“Those curbs have been replaced, repaired,” Boles said. “The only curbs we had an issue with is driver left on exit, which we haven’t seen in a couple of years.
“We look at it after every session, at night and in the morning and there was no indication that there was anything wrong with it, so it certainly came as a surprise to us.”
Larson has an idea.
“I feel like we need the curb there, but I don’t know if they can just make it out of concrete or something just because that leading edge of the lip seems to pull up and destroy race cars,” Larson said. “I’m sure they’ll figure it out for next time.”
Logano isn’t sure what needs to be done.
“You better stay left of the big curb because that one is a launchpad for sure,” Logano said. “We are wide open through that kink anyway and you can kind of just shoot right through it. … Maybe we don’t need it. I don’t know. We will have to go back and look at it and see. It’s unfortunate that a lot of cars got tore up.”
Air [email protected] gets airborne after hitting the curb. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/v8hOHU4WMk
The problem with what NASCAR and IMS decided, was that it left one strip that acted as a ramp, sending Corey Lajoie into the air towards corner exit, when he was unable to make corner entry.
It was an entirely predictable caution as drivers just were not willing to give each other any room entering the corner and NASCAR was unwilling to call the race, wanting to give fans a proper finish.
It was embarrassing the lack of respect on the track today. Literally like dumb kids driving bumper cars. We’re supposed to be professionals and today we showed everything but that. 👎🏽
Bubba Wallace took the grass to avoid both an overtime incident and ramping the remaining curb and was penalized for cutting the course.
Michael McDowell gets airborne and multiple cars are collected in overtime. #NASCAR x @IMS
📱NBC Sports App pic.twitter.com/6LQo4zd7n6
I got a wedding to pay for so I’ll keep quiet.
Glad that 💩 is over!
It was entirely a no-win scenario for everyone.
The race was ultimately decided by even more bedlam when Briscoe was forced off the track while racing for the lead against Hamlin with Allmendinger and the field on fresher tires behind them. Briscoe drew the short end of that scenario and was forced off track, resulting in a corner cutting penalty from race control.
Briscoe reemerged back on the track and right behind Hamlin, contact between them ultimately sending Hamlin out of the race lead and championship lead.
CHASE BRISCOE TAKES OUT DENNY HAMLIN! pic.twitter.com/lZOC4e7LOh
The two had a conversation on pit road, with Hamlin seemingly accepting that it wasn’t intentional, but still not understanding why he would drive that hard knowing a penalty had been issued or was ultimately coming.
“I agree it’s not on purpose, but my team told me that he had a penalty right away and to me, it’s obvious,” Hamlin said. “If you cut the racetrack and end up in the lead, you’re going to have a penalty. Lack of awareness. Race me for a lap.
“He went right in the back of me. We can’t race that way. I don’t think he did it malicious. I’ve raced with him for a year now. He’s not that kind of person, just bad judgement.”
Hamlin says Allmendinger shoved him into Turn 1, resulting in a corner entry that shoved Briscoe off the track in the first place.
“He shoved me out,” Hamlin said. “Then I shoved him to the right and then (Briscoe) cut the track and took the lead for a second there. I thought we were probably in good shape there, but this just turns everything upside down.”
Briscoe was adamant that he didn’t even know he had a penalty until after the contact was made.
“If I knew I had a penalty, there was no need for me to even try to pass him for the win,” Briscoe said. “If I would have known that earlier, I would have done my stop and go and went on. As I understood it, at that moment in time I could still win the race and I was going for it and got into him accidentally.
“I think at the end he kind of started to understand. He has been there when you are trying to get your first win and especially in our playoff situation, you have to do what you have to do. That is what I get paid to do and that is what I was trying to do.”
Briscoe was also firm in his conviction that the tap from behind was unintentional and just him trying to drive under Hamlin.
“I went for that and stayed on him tight and knew (Allmendinger) was right behind me and on newer tires,” Briscoe said. “A lot of guys were getting lazy through that turn and would just swing it out wide and leave the bottom wide open.
“So, I was kind of all-over (Hamlin) in the esses and when I went to go underneath him I just clipped him in the right rear. He was already trying to get back to the left, so it just turned him right around.”
NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller says a standard investigation will be conducted to ensure Briscoe was notified of the penalty in a timely manner before spinning Hamlin.
“It was announced over the race channel that he had a penalty and needed to serve it prior to having the incident with the 11,” Miller said. “What we will have to do is listen to the communication with the spotter and make sure the spotter actually, y’know, there wasn’t much time lapsed from announcing the penalty and him getting into the 11.
“We’ll do an investigation and make sure the spotter conveyed the message well to the driver before that happened. It was unfortunate how that worked out.”
It was unfortunate for Hamlin because he remains winless on the season and lost the regular season points lead to Larson as a result of what transpired. The difference between first and second in the final regular season standings is five additional bonus points to be applied before each round of the playoffs.
First place gets 15 each round and second place gets 10.
And somewhat lost in all of this was Allmendinger re-emerging with the lead and driving away to his first Cup Series win since 2014.
Since then, suffering from burnout, he essentially retired after the 2018 season. Rice and Matthew Kaulig coaxed him out of retirement for a pair of successful part-time Xfinity Series seasons in 2019 and 2020.
That led to a championship caliber full-time Xfinity Series season, which has yet to reach its final conclusion, but also a part-time Cup Series slate.
Now, Allmendinger has given the organization that revived his career, and more importantly made it fun again, their first win at the highest level.
Allmendinger says he cried when close friend Michael Shank won the Indianapolis 500 as a team owner with Helio Castroneves. He vowed not to cry this time, but it’s just extra special for him to be witness to others’ happiness, more than his own.
That’s who Allmendinger is.
“I love what we’re sitting here being able to do right now,” Allmendinger said. “This is awesome for me, but for them, I’m like, they deserve it because (Matt) puts so much of his own money into it. (Chris) puts every every dying moment into this race team and all the men and women.
“I love it for myself, but I always say I drive really for a couple of people. I drive for myself because it’s pure enjoyment, challenging myself, and it’s really pushing myself for all the men and women at that race team because they’re the ones putting their heart and soul and really my life in their hands.
“That’s why I enjoy it so much really.”
It was a feel-good conclusion, to a largely satisfying race, that simply went off the rails at the end. After 27 years on the oval, this was the christening of a new era of NASCAR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
In totality, it’s something Boles expects to do again next year, surely with changes to the course and curbing.
“So, I’m the promoter, so I will tell you from the promoters’ standpoint that I thought the energy level was unbelievable today,” Boles said. “I was so excited this morning to interact with folks.
“Everything was so positive. We had great weather. Our tickets, if you look at the crowd today, it was 20 percent up from yesterday when IndyCar and Xfinity was here, and last year.
“I think we made the right decision with this race, and I’d like to see it stay on the road course next year, but we’ll see where it goes.”
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