SPEEDWAY – Many people knew what would likely happen on Sunday, though there were a few signs that something different could transpire.
First of all the series was featuring its new Gen-6 car, which offered up a promise of added speed for the Brickyard 400 with its lighter weight and ability to move better. That was shown during qualifying, when Ryan Newman broke the track record with a fast lap of 187.531 miles an hour.
Then, of course, there was the weather.
With mostly cloudy skies and brisk wind temperatures cracked the lower 70s only for a moment before dropping back to the upper 60’s by the end-making it the coolest Brickyard 400 in the history of the speedway. It broke the record set during inaugural Brickyard 400 of 73 degrees, and with the cooler weather would possibly come more grip considering the traditional heat of the event had a tendency to make the track slick.
“The biggest advantage was I didn’t sweat as much,” said Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth of the cooler weather. “That was the biggest advantage, I think the fans felt more comfortable. But the conditions are what they are relative for everyone.”
As it has before, it produced a similar on track product over 160 laps on Sunday. Teams that made preparations to make a fast car before the race had an advantage since passing was at a premium and late pit stops would prove the difference between being close and winning the race.
“It’s a one-groove track. It’s not gonna change. I don’t care what you do,” said Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Junior of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It’s not the race car, it’s not the tire, nothing like that.”
Temperature didn’t help with it much either as passing was at a premium for most of the day and no pass occurred for the lead on the day. Only pit stops forced a chance in leader, which has happened other times in the previous 19 stagings of the NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
This time it was Newman and his pit crew that would use these elements to put together a successful afternoon. Their car was quick from the start and managed to hang with Jimmie Johnson, who had the most impressive machine on the afternoon as he led a race-high 73 laps.
But on their pit stops with just under 30 laps to go, Newman’s crew took a gamble by taking just two tires for the final part of the race in hopes of getting an advantage over an ever improving Johnson. The No. 48 car, meanwhile, did a full stops of fuel and tires and was a bit slow out of the pit box, allowing Newman to build up the lead.
He took advantage, using the clean air to race away from Johnson and eventually grab his first win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was a strategy that had worked for Newman in the past and paid off in his first home-state Sprint Cup win.
“I was thinking, including the Daytona 500 in 2008, every win I’ve had since then has been on the two-tire strategy on the last pit stop,” said Newman. ” Phoenix, Martinsville, and here, Loudon. Track position is so huge.”
That might not be something fans want to hear as the desire to increase interest in the Brickyard 400 has brought the cry for more passing on the track. Tony Stewart, who got his first win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an owner with Newman, contends that passing doesn’t define an event, but rather the strategy and preparation of a team does.
“If you want to see passing, we can go out on 465 and pass all you want. If you can tell me that’s more exciting than what you see at IMS, the great racecar drivers that have competed here This is about racing,” said Stewart. “This is about cars being fast. It doesn’t have to be two- and three-wide racing all day long to be good racing. Racing is about figuring out how to take the package you’re allowed and make it better than what everybody else has and do a better job with it.
“I’ve seen races that were won over a lap, I’ve seen 20-second leads here. For some reason in the last 10 years, everybody is on this kick that you have to be passing all the time. It’s racing, not passing. We’re racing.”