There are some tracks that when you walk through the entrance, they just make you stop and gaze. There’s Daytona, the home of the “Great American Race”. Then there’s Charlotte, the home of NASCAR.
And then, there’s Indianapolis. The racing capital of the world.
In a town known for open-wheel racing, NASCAR has found it’s own home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Daytona may be the top track on a driver’s list to win at, but this track is a close second. For some lucky drivers, there’s no greater feeling than making a victory lap around that famous rectangle, then stopping at the start/finish line and kissing the bricks in the race track.
On a partly cloudy afternoon, with about 140,000 fans gracing the stands, 43 drivers looked to put their name in the record books as the green flag waved for the 17th running of the Brickyard 400.
Juan Pablo Montoya captured the pole, but didn’t get to enjoy the lead for long. He didn’t lose it, but the caution came out almost immediately.
In the second turn, Kyle Busch got loose and slid sideways. In the aftermath, six other cars got damaged. They included Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann and Sam Hornish.
That accident began setting forth one of the more unique aspects of the race. Almost immediately after the race went back to green, cars began hitting pit road. Drivers like Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. came to their stalls not for new tires, but to cool off. Some of the grass on the inside of the corners began collecting on the front of the cars, closing the opening where air hits the radiator.
As some cars began spewing water out the overflow like a geyser, Montoya would continue to lead.
Following a debris caution on lap 16, Montoya continued to hold the lead. But, he began complaining on the radio that he was having a tire issue. Despite over a two-second advantage, he tried fighting through it and hold the position.
Finally, on lap 38, Montoya had no choice but to yield and hit pit road, handing the top spot to Mark Martin. An inspection of the right-front tire showed chunks of the rubber missing from the surface, showing that Montoya was right on in his feeling that a vibration was developing.
Shortly past the 1/4 mark in the race, the first round of pit stops began with most teams trying to tighten up their race cars. Meanwhile, Montoya took advantage of the pit cycle and went back to the front.
The problem was that older tires began showing their age and on lap 62, he yielded the top spot to Greg Biffle. But, Montoya caught a break as the caution flew for debris on lap 67, just before he was scheduled to come in for service. The pit stops put him back on the lead cycle, giving him another chance to make a run for victory.
Biffle would win the race off pit road on the ensuing round of pit stops, and would continue to hold the advantage until lap 99 when he made his next scheduled stop. Unfortunately a little miscue entering cost him just a little time, and once pit stops were completed, it was Montoya yet again out front.
Montoya held the lead through another debris caution at lap 118, but the next caution at lap 138 set the course of events for the remainder of the race.
The round of pit stops had some teams deciding on strategy and track position rather than handling. Montoya decided to go with four new tires, but the six cars ahead of him went with right-sides only. The change in position would be the first true test for Montoya and company to see if they could regain the top spot.
Out front, it was Jamie McMurray winning the race off pit road, followed by Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, both whom have won at Indy before.
On the restart, McMurray got the best jump and took the lead in the first turn. Meanwhile, Montoya was trying to get around traffic as time was running out.
Unfortunately, time ran out far too soon for the No. 42 team. Out of the fourth turn, Montoya slid up track and blasted the outside wall. As he was heading down pit road, Marcos Ambrose and Earnhardt Jr. tried to avoid him, but the No. 88 Chevy caught the rear corner of Montoya, thus ending another promising run for his team.
Montoya didn’t answer the media, didn’t acknowledge them, but just ran to his hauler, letting the disappointment reign supreme yet again.
As the race went back to green for the final time, Harvick managed to get the lead just as the caution came out. But, McMurray was determined to make a run at the checkered flag. When the race went green on lap 150, McMurray was able to hold his outside lane through the first corner, and made it stick. Out of turn 2, he got the top spot and began trying to put distance on his competition.
That is exactly what he did. While Harvick fell into the clutches of Biffle, who was third, McMurray began pulling away. Team owner Chip Ganassi was all smiles when his driver came off the final corner. At that moment, the jubilation came out. After winning the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year, Ganassi got the trifecta.
Jamie McMurray cruised down the straightaway, capturing the Brickyard 400 victory, and his second win on the season. After a huge celebration in victory lane, the entire No. 1 team came to the track for one last tradition.
After 400 miles of racing, and one smoky burnout, McMurray and company knelt at the start/finish line and kissed the bricks. Other than kissing his wife, that had to be the sweetest kiss McMurray has experienced in his life.
Next Sunday, NASCAR returns to our home state of Pennsylvania. On the docket is the 2.5-mile triangle at Pocono Raceway.
The Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 will be on ESPN at 1 p.m. ET.
RESULTS: 1-McMurray 2-Harvick 3-Biffle 4-Bowyer 5-Stewart 6-Burton 7-Edwards 8-Kyle Busch 9-Logano 10-Kurt Busch
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Martin 13-Kahne 15-Hamlin 22-Johnson 23-Gordon 27-Earnhardt Jr. 32-Montoya
CAUTIONS: 6 for 25 laps. Lap 2-7 (#00, 09, 18, 19, 64, 77, 83 accident-T2), 16-20 (Debris), 67-69 (Debris), 118-121 (Debris), 139-142 (Debris), 147-149 (#42, 88 accident-T4).
LEAD CHANGES: 14 among 10 drivers. Montoya 1-16, Cassil 17, Conway 18, Nemachek 19, Johnson 20, Montoya 21-37, Martin 38-47, Biffle 48-49, Montoya 50-62, Biffle 63-98, Edwards 99, Montoya 100-139, McMurray 140-144, Harvick 145-149, McMurray 150-160.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 56 Mins, 24 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 136.054 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.391 Seconds
POINT STANDINGS (Six races until 2010 Chase): 1-Harvick, 2920 points; 2-Gordon, -184; 3-Hamlin, -260; 4-Johnson, -261; 5-Kurt Busch, -262; 6-Kyle Busch, -290; 7-Burton, -305; 8-Kenseth, -347; 9-Stewart, -376; 10-Edwards, -424; 11-Biffle, -458; 12-Bowyer, -474