Allmendinger wins a wild inaugural Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, main takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS — AJ Allmendinger had always wanted to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He tried once in the Indianapolis 500 (2013) and 10 previous times in the Brickyard 400. But neither allowed the triumphant glory that the Kaulig Racing driver would feel on Sunday. All it took was moving the NASCAR Cup Series race to the 2.439-mile road course layout. 

Allmendinger, earned a surprise win in Sunday’s inaugural Verizon 200 for his second career Cup Series victory in what was his 375th start. But, how did he do it?

Well, Allmendinger sat in seventh place when we went red flag to stop the race for a wild melee on Lap 78 that was sparked by damage done to the curbing back in Turn 6. A lap prior, Matt DiBenedetto ran over the section and caused damaged to it. Martin Truex Jr. hit a piece of it and spun as a result behind. NASCAR elected to not throw the caution but was forced to a lap later.

William Byron ran over that debris from the lap before and a ton of cars behind were collected due to all the debris. Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Justin Haley, Daniel Suarez and James Davison were all involved.

Byron, Busch and Bell were all towards the front which helped Allmendinger get back up to seventh. Then, on the ensuring green flag, we saw seven more cars collected in a Lap 88 crash on Hulman Blvd. sparking a second red flag.

Allmendinger, was on the second row for the final restart and with all the chaos in front, he capitalized. First, Denny Hamlin squeezed Chase Briscoe off the track in the first corner but Briscoe remarkably fought back and by time he came back on the racing surface, he was still in second.

The thing was, he was penalized for a stop-and-go penalty for cutting a corner. Briscoe, says he didn’t know that. Allmendinger and Hamlin were aware but not the second placed driver. 

Allmendinger meanwhile, pushed his way up to third and was biding his time. Briscoe, unaware of a penalty, felt like he needed a win badly in order to make the playoffs. So, he was as aggressive as he could be in his pursuit of Hamlin. He caught up by Turn 7 and going into Turn 8, they tangled with Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota spinning off Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford’s nose.

Briscoe, for a brief second felt that he was in control of his own destiny. Then, he learned he had a penalty coming for cutting the course and when he stopped, Allmendinger took over the top spot and never looked back en route to Kaulig Racing’s first career Cup win by besting Ryan Blaney by .929-seconds in his No. 16 Chevrolet.

Allmendinger, becomes the 14th different winner this season but he’s not playoff eligible since he’s going for Xfinity Series points. Plus, he nor Kaulig, are full time this season anyways. Kaulig moves to a full time effort next season with Justin Haley.

Hamlin, would finish 23rd with Briscoe in 26th.

Blaney, scored his fifth top six in the last seven races on the season but didn’t know how he got to second in the end. He was just 23rd and 26th respectively in the two stages but comes one spot short of giving Team Penske a clean sweep of the weekend here in Indianapolis.

The Hendrick Motorsports duo of Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott finished third and fourth respectively while Matt DiBenedetto rounded out the top five in his No. 21 Ford.

Blaney Comes Up 1 Spot Short

Ryan Blaney doesn’t really consider himself much of a road course ace. Yes, he’s won on a road course as that came back in 2017 on the Charlotte ROVAL. But, his finishes on them this season were 15th, 13th, 10th, 20th and 14th respectively.

Somehow, there he was in the end with a shot to win Sunday’s inaugural Verizon 200.

Blaney, was fifth in his No. 12 Ford following the first red flag for that Lap 78 melee back in Turn 6. With Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe’s run in on the second to last lap, there he was waiting in the wings hoping AJ Allmendinger would fall victim next to the wild two overtime event.

Allmendinger, wouldn’t as he’d cruise to his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory. Blaney, followed him across the yard of bricks in second, .929-seconds arrears.

“Yeah, it’s a good question,” Blaney said on how he ended up P2 when it was all said and done. “You know, we weren’t great all day. We kind of struggled a little bit and had a car that might have been able to run tenth or so but just kind of kept working on it.

“Got a little bit better, little bit better and got a couple good restarts and kind of avoided some of the mess that happened.

Found ourselves sitting there fifth on the last restart and had a shot to win the race and just couldn’t quite get to the 16 at the end there. He was a little bit better than me.”

It was Blaney’s fifth top six in the last seven races on the year as he’s starting to find his groove again. He no top five finishes in his previous 11 races during that span.

Still, he comes up one spot short of giving Team Penske a clean sweep of the victories in a historic weekend which saw Will Power win the NTT IndyCar Series race on Saturday only to be followed by Austin Cindric in the Xfinity Series event right after.

“That stings even more to run second here, especially trying to win for Roger and trying to make it a perfect weekend for Penske. But just survived the carnage,” Blaney continued.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – AUGUST 15: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Verizon 200 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 15, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Larson/Elliott Rebound For A Pair Of Top 5’s Sunday

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott nearly did it again. They ran 1-2 in the closing laps of Sunday’s inaugural Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which was shaping up for a second straight sweep of the top two spots for them in as many weeks and what could have been their fifth on the season in general.

Then, the late race cautions occurred. Prior to the Lap 78 debacle back on Turn 6, we saw a caution for debris on Lap 72. They duo decided to pit hoping most would follow. Most did too.

Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Chase Briscoe and Matt DiBenedetto didn’t. They’d pit well after most everyone else and this caution was their chance to beat the Hendrick Motorsports camp.

Prior to that, Larson and Elliott were virtually untouchable. Larson led a race-high 28 laps with Elliott pacing the field for 14 circuits himself. At the time of the yellow on Lap 72, Larson had led Elliott by 4.3 seconds. Their teammate, William Byron, was over 6 seconds back in third.

They elected to pit and hope that the fresher tires would still prevail. Larson, exited the pits first but would restart in fifth. Elliott’s crew had troubles with his car falling off the jack and going from entering the pits in second to restarting 18th.

With too much chaos once we got back going again, it never gave Larson much time to use his new tires. He’d finish third. Prior to today, he had eight top two results in his previous 11 races including three top two’s in the last four road course races all together.

“It was wild there at the end,” Larson said. “My car was extremely good. Really proud of everybody on our team. We had the best car for sure throughout the second and third stage, and then just we had the caution there with like 10 to go or something and then we had to come down, put tires on, and some guys gambled and stayed out, and that kind of just got us in the mess a little bit. Was able to find my way to the front row and then just got shoved around and put in the grass. Kind of ended my shot to win there. But able to salvage a third, so happy about that, and a good points day.”

Elliott, charged back up to fourth in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his 11th top seven in the last 15 races run this year. This was his worst finish on a road course since being 21st on the Daytona ROVAL back in February.

Last year, he won the Charlotte and Daytona ROVALS to go along with earning the win in the final two road course races in 2019 at Watkins Glen and Charlotte again.

DiBenedetto Keeps Momentum But It’s Too Little Too Late

Matt DiBenedetto is on a roll. Sunday’s fifth place result in the inaugural Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was his fifth straight top 11 on the season. DiBenedetto lucked out by not pitting for the final time until Lap 71. A caution flew a lap later which allowed him to stay out when almost everyone else pit, allowing him to restart inside of the top five. 

“There is nothing left of the car, I tell you that,” DiBenedetto said. “We have no rad pan, no fenders, pretty much nothing left on the car. The toe was knocked out a mile and we finished fifth. All this credit goes to crew chief Jonathan Hassler for knowing the strategy and the spot we were in and throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ and running all the way until we were about out of fuel and knowing that if any caution came out we could stay out and get all the track position.

“This is all him. All I had to do was kind of hang on until the end, hang onto the position. Obviously, our car was missing some pieces on it so I just had to hang on for whatever we could get.”

Still, he’s over 100 points out of the final playoff spot with only two races remaining in the regular season.

DiBenedetto’s downfall this year was the rough patch to get going. It prompted a crew chief swap in June for which propelled this team back forward again. The Wood Brothers Racing driver had eight straight results of 18th or worse prior. Now he’s been in the top 11 every week and getting better and better.

This team is clicking, but no matter what happens, it’s getting broken up at seasons end still. Harrison Burton was hired to replace DiBenedetto for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.

So, while he looks the part, it was almost too little too late.

Hamlin Discusses Late Race Incident That Costs Him A 2nd Straight Cup Win In Indy, Loses Ground In Points

Denny Hamlin led 37 laps but didn’t win the 2018 Brickyard 400. He was leading on a late race restart but crashed hard in Turn 1 after leading 19 more laps a year ago. Today, on the 2.439-mile inaugural road course layout for the Verizon 200, there Hamlin was leading again.

He had a bold strategy by coming to his final stop, he ran the stint long. Chase Elliott peeled off the track on Lap 53. Kyle Larson did so one lap later. Hamlin meanwhile, knew that their only shot of winning on Sunday was to do the opposite. They went for broke.

It nearly worked.

They pit on Lap 61 then a caution came out 11 laps later for debris. The guys that had pit prior to Hamlin all pit again during this caution break, handing the lead over to Hamlin on Lap 74.

He’d stay there despite two late restarts until Chase Briscoe got into him in Turn 8 coming to the white flag. Instead, he’d finish 23rd.

“It’s 3 out of the last 5,” Hamlin said on having should have won multiple times over the last five years here. “It’s frustrating.”

Hamlin says that the racing at the end alters the entire complexity of the race. The final restarts ruin a good finish.

“A late race restart is a total crap shoot,” he continued. “We put a lot of time and a lot of money in these cars to just crash. If you get out run you get out run, but it sucks the way that it’s ended here. Tough racing right now when the results are fabricated by last race restarts.”

To further the frustration, Hamlin falls even further behind in the regular season overall standings. He entered this weekend tied with Kyle Larson but was over 130 points ahead back in May. Larson was coming but Hamlin was keeping him at bay over the last month or so.

Larson, scored two stage points on Sunday with Hamlin not having any. That gave him a two point advantage but with Hamlin leading in the end and Larson in fifth, he was going to recapture a slim lead.

“I didn’t think I’d get crashed coming to the white,” Hamlin said. “I thought we were going to have a great day and take back the points lead but instead it turned around.

Hamlin, says that he’s not going to payback Briscoe in the future but does say he will race him a bit differently from this point forward.

“I’m not going to harp on it,” he said. “You have to live with the result because you can’t change it. He can’t change it. I can’t change it, right? I got crashed. He made a mistake. It happens. I think he was in desperation mode like he said and it came at my expense. Certainly if roles were reversed down the line, and he’s going to be here a while, probably not going to cut him any breaks in the end. It all comes back around. It doesn’t mean I’m wrecking him. It just means I won’t cut him any breaks from here on out.”

Next week we go to Michigan to where Larson has had a big advantage over the years then to Daytona to where Hamlin has the advantage. Sunday’s ending could be the reason as to why Larson win the regular season championship and takes 15 additional playoff points. That equates out to three race wins, something Hamlin doesn’t have a single one of. 

Hamlin does clinch a spot in the playoffs via points but he’d love to have 15 playoff points since he only has five right now overall via stage wins.

In depth Look At the Hamlin vs. Briscoe Incident On Sunday

The final restart was shaping up to be a battle of Denny Hamlin vs. Chase Briscoe. Joe Gibbs Racing vs. Stewart-Haas Racing. Could the hold off a road racing ace in AJ Allmendinger who was restarting one row behind them as well as the best two cars all day in Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott?

Once the green flag dropped for the final time, it was an intense battle into Turn 1. No one was going to give an inch and it cost Briscoe the most at the time. He went off course and ran through the infield grass portion of the north end section of the race track. 

“There at the restart, everybody is trying to out-brake each other getting into one and we all kind of missed it to a certain extent,” Briscoe said of the first turn incident between the two. “I was getting ran wide and had nowhere else to go. I knew I was going to go through the grass. It was just a matter of do you go through it slow or gas it wide-open and hope you get through it.”

Unfortunately for him, NASCAR felt strongly that he gained an advantage by going through the grass and assessed a stop-and-go penalty. Third place AJ Allmendinger knew that was coming and was told to set his sights on chasing down Hamlin for the win. 

Hamlin, also knew. Briscoe, well no one told him…yet. 

Briscoe, knowing that his playoff hopes likely rested on crossing the yard of bricks first as well as him racing on his hometrack (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) driving for his favorite boyhood race who also calls IMS his home track and knowing that he could pay Hamlin back for his view of the incident, well that combo helped spark this wild outcome. 

“I don’t know if there would have been a penalty if I had gone through it slow but that was my only chance to win the race at that point,” Briscoe continued. “I went for that and stayed on him tight and knew (A.J. Allmendinger) was right behind me. He was on newer tires. A lot of guys were getting lazy through that turn and would just swing it out wide and leave the bottom wide open.”

That meant Briscoe was aggressive going down the backstretch in hoping to get to Hamlin’s bumper. He looked to pass him in the Turns 7-8 combo but instead spun him. 

“So I was kind of all over him (Denny Hamlin) in the esses and when I went to go underneath him I just clipped him in the right rear,” Briscoe said of his viewpoint of the incident. “He was already trying to get back to the left so it just turned him right around. It is unfortunate for them. They were probably going to win the race if (Allmendinger) didn’t get to him.”

Most wondered why Briscoe was even pushing that hard. He wasn’t going to win and he took out the driver who likely was. Some questioned on if that was intentional for how Hamlin pinched Briscoe in Turn 1. Briscoe says that he never would have done that intentionally as he maintains that he didn’t know at that point that he was even penalized. It wasn’t relayed down to him yet by his spotter. 

“For us we got a penalty and I don’t even know where we finished. It is frustrating to be that close. You can taste it and imagine what it would be like and then it gets taken away. I have a lot to be proud of. I feel like I showed that I belong here and I will get another chance next year.”

Hamlin says that he felt like initially Briscoe did the move out of desperation to get into the playoffs and felt like that was no way to win a race. 

“I didn’t think I’d get crashed coming to the white,” Hamlin said. “I thought we were going to have a great day and take back the points lead but instead it turned around.

Hamlin, says that he’s not going to payback Briscoe in the future but does say he will race him a bit differently from this point forward.

“I’m not going to harp on it,” he said. “You have to live with the result because you can’t change it. He can’t change it. I can’t change it, right? I got crashed. He made a mistake. It happens. I think he was in desperation mode like he said and it came at my expense. Certainly if roles were reversed down the line, and he’s going to be here a while, probably not going to cut him any breaks in the end. It all comes back around. It doesn’t mean I’m wrecking him. It just means I won’t cut him any breaks from here on out.”

Lap 72 Caution Altered This Race

If the Lap 72 yellow for debris never comes out, Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was likely going to be a second straight week of a Hendrick Motorsports 1-2. Last week, Chase Elliott amounted a charge from the back but lacked the time to fully chase down Kyle Larson in Watkins Glen. It was the fourth time in 2021 that they had gone 1-2. 

This time, it was another repeat. Larson, led Elliott by 4.3 seconds until that yellow with 10 laps remaining. With Denny Hamlin, Matt DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch and Chase Briscoe having just pit after the main leaders, Larson and Elliott elected to lead almost the entire field down pit road for fresh tires. 

That altered the complexity of this race. Larson, would restart fifth. Elliott had troubles and would have to come now from 18th. 

With the new two restarts having quick yellows and the final one having chaos between the top two at the time, you get the entire race changed from Lap 72 on.

Hendrick Motorsports and JGR Best Teams On Road Courses Still

Heading into Sunday’s race, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing had combined to win 13 of the last 14 NASCAR Cup Series road course races. The only one that they didn’t win was when Martin Truex Jr. was spun on the final lap in the final corner of the inaugural Charlotte ROVAL race. 

That’s it. 

Last Sunday in Watkins Glen, they finished 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Towards the closing laps of this Sunday’s race, they had 1-2-3-4-5-6 including another 1-2-3 by Hendrick Motorsports. 

Even with the bad luck for Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott, there a JGR car was leading until coming to the white flag. While there was only two combined cars in the top 14 of the finishing order, it was the Lap 72 and Lap 78 cautions that ruined this. 

Truex Jr. had an issue on the Turn 6 curbing on Lap 77. He was in the top five. Third place William Byron did a lap later. Fifth place Kyle Busch joined Byron. So did Christopher Bell. That’s three JGR cars and an HMS car taken out in a two lap span. 

The yellow before saw Larson and Elliott have to pit with Elliott having a bad pit stop. Talk about bad luck to the best cars out there still.

Drivers Not Happy With The Way The Race Unfolded on Sunday, NASCAR/IMS Say Race Not Going Back To The Oval For 2022 Still

It had already felt weird coming into this weekend’s Verizon 200 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard 400 was no more. After years of trying to revive the event, NASCAR had finally decided enough was enough and moved the annual stop to a new date and to incorporate the road course, not the oval this time around. 

That drew the ire of the NASCAR garage as most of the drivers were very outspoken against him in the week leading up to the race. Well, after how Sunday’s race looked, the criticism only grew louder. 

“These cars and curbs don’t go together,” Denny Hamlin said of the curbing around the 2.439-mile road course. “The track was a mess. These cars and curbs and all that stuff just doesn’t go together. We’re trying to force sports car racing into these fans. Although the finish was a crashfest, I’m sure everyone will love it. It’s just stupid. It’s a complete circus at the end of the race. You just roll the dice and hope you don’t get crashed.

“I didn’t see any more people here than what we had at the Brickyard 400. It certainly ain’t the Brickyard 400.”

Other drivers agreed. 

But, IMS track President Doug Boles as well as NASCAR’s Scott Miller don’t expect many changes for 2022 despite the drawback of how Sunday’s race unfolded. 

“I thought the energy level of today, our fans that came, was unbelievable,” Boles said Sunday after the race. “I was so excited this morning to interact with folks. Obviously, the weather was great today. So there are all kinds of positives.

“Our tickets, if you look at the crowd today, even vs. (Saturday) when you had Cup, IndyCar and Xfinity all running on the same day, our crowd was 20 percent up (Sunday) over (Saturday) and was up over (2019). This is one of those events that we’ve made the right decision for right now. I think we want to have it back again next year on the road course, and we’ll just continue to see where we go. I don’t think (the curbing problem) has any impact on it.”

Miller agreed. 

“We had our problems today,” Miller told reporters. “This is one of those deals you take a lot of learnings away and can come back and put on a better event, obviously avoiding the problems we had today. But I think we saw some exciting action out there, and I think that the course itself puts on a really good show, so I don’t think (NASCAR would return to the oval).”

The biggest issue was how Turn 6 was constructed. You had the turtles on the outside of the exit in the corner which plagued the Xfinity Series race, then the inside of the corner cause chaos in Sunday’s Cup race. 

They had a caution mid race with the problem on the curb in Turn 6. By Lap 72, it was back. On Lap 77, Matt DiBenedetto ran over that portion and broke it free a bit. That debris from it hit Martin Truex Jr’s car and caused him to spin. No caution was thrown. A lap later, William Byron hit it, destroying not only the curb, but his car too as oil flew all over the track and caused a 10 car pileup. 

That then caused a 19-minute, 14-second red flag to remove it. But, Miller mentioned that you can’t not have it there because speeds would have been between 15-20 mph quicker if so. 

“When we laid out this track and did Xfinity testing last year before the race, all of the drivers said there absolutely had to be something there because that would have been way too fast of a section,” Miller said.

But, with the damage done, they had to remove it as the only option to get this race run to completion. 

“That was the only way we were going to get back to racing today,” he said. 

Boles defended the track though in saying that they’ve not had a single problem with the curbing since this layout was constructed in 2014. 

“We’ve not ever really had an issue with those curbs at all,” Boles said. “The only curb we ever had an issue with was drivers’ left on exit,  which we haven’t seen in a couple of years. We look at that curb between every session. We look at it at night and in the morning. There was no indication earlier today there was even anything wrong with that curb. So it was a little bit of a surprise for us when during the race we started having an issue.”

Hamlin though says that the writing was on the wall proving that they’d not work. These cars weigh 3,400 pounds. Double that of an INDYCAR. When you have 40 cars weighing 3,400 pounds ramming over those curbs for 77 laps, what do you expect is going to happen?

“Our cars are lower to the ground than the Xfinity cars anyway and those cars got some major ground from the curbs,” he said on why this happened on Sunday and not Saturday. “If this was Formula 1, they’d have an inspection process to the track to say our cars aren’t suited for this. You need to fix this. Fix the curbs. Not have 8 inch turtles on the race track. That’s just janky. It’s shotty work. I think Roger (Penske) and his team can do better than what we did here this weekend and I’m sure they will. They spent a good amount of money already making this place better. We’re going to go to road courses, make sure they’re right. This is just, making people sit through red flags and stuff, it’s bad.”

As to how you fix it?

“There’s curbs you make that are flush with the surface. You cross them, it’s going to make the cars slower. You don’t need turtles to beat on them.”

When asked about Hamlin’s comments, Miller said he didn’t blame him. 

 “I’m certain he was disappointed with the outcome of the race today. (The curbing changes are) something that we could consider, but these facilities have been proven over time. We didn’t feel that was necessary here or some other new venues.”

As to what to do about the track limits problem?

“That’s something we’ll have to look at; certainly in other racing series they go there,” Miller said. “Stock cars slide around a lot more; they use up a lot of racetrack. We’ve had a tendency at Sonoma and the other road courses to let track limits not really be a penalty thing. It would be very hard from the tower to enforce track limits. It’s something we’ve talked about before, we may have further discussion about that. Really a difficult thing to manage from the tower for sure.”

AJ Allmendinger, the race winner, said that part of this is just due to how the cars are designed. 

“We’ve all got to race within the limits of the racetrack, but these cars are so big,” Allmendinger said. “When these things get out of control, like you’re along for the ride at times. In IndyCar you can kind of correct and save sometimes and it’s a little easier. These things, when you get side by side, they’re wide, you’re beating on each other. Like you need room to be able to maneuver, to make a mistake and get away with it.

“I thought today with the curbing out like from the Xfinity race yesterday, that was a good call, and I thought the track limits were fine. The biggest problem obviously was the curbing that was coming up. I was shocked where they were having to fix it because you get shoved over there sometimes or you start using more of it, and that’s when it becomes a problem because I felt like I was hitting the curbing, like I never had an issue with it. Where they were having to fix it was almost like way before where cars were kind of jumping over the top of it. But the thing is with those curbs you pay a price anyway, and we saw it. When you hit them wrong, you pay the price.

“Now, unfortunately today it was a huge price for a lot of cars, and we don’t need that. We don’t need to be tearing up race cars that much. I mean, that’s a lot of money that these team owners have to go through. I was sitting under red like watching it, like holy moley, we’re going through a lot of money right now. But at the same point, it’s our own job to not run over it that way. So there’s a fine line. Like you can’t just drive wherever you want to, but this racetrack doesn’t allow that because it has grass. You get off in the grass, it tears stuff up. I thought the racetrack has the right limitations. It’s just unfortunately the curbing was starting to come up in the wrong spot.”

So, was this better than the Brickyard? At times, yes. At times, it also wasn’t too. 


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