INDIANAPOLIS- With the top 11 cars on the starting grid separated by just over .9 miles per hour, and four different manufacturers represented in the top four; it looked like the 18th running of the Brickyard 400 would be one of the most competitive ever. The race lived up to the billing and produced a first time winner.
Starting from the 15th spot in his 167th career start, Paul Menard took the checkered flag for the win at the famed 2.5 mile oval, holding off a strong charge by three-time winner Jeff Gordon. Menard became the first driver to win his first career race at Indianapolis.
“This is for my dad,” said an emotional Menard, “I can’t believe we won Indy .”
The Menard family has competed in numerous Indianapolis 500 races and multiple Brickyard 400 events. “I remember smuggling him in the garages when he was younger,” said Menards’ father John, who has been coming to the track competing for 35 years, “he’d be sitting on the workbench and he had to keep quiet otherwise the yellow shirts would throw him out.”
In a race of fuel mileage, Menards’ car had the best, going the final 45 laps without a stop. “I knew that we saved plenty of fuel,” said Menard, “(Crew chief) Slugger (Labbe) kept telling me where Jeff (Gordon) was and how hard he was coming.
Menard inherited the lead on lap 145 when Tony Stewart went to the pits. Defending race winner Jamie McMurray passed Menard on lap 147, but two laps later, Menard went back to the front and never surrendered the top spot.
Gordon passed Regan Smith on lap 158 to move into second, but couldn’t catch Menard on the final lap. “Paul did a great job saving fuel, he had saved enough where he had gone back to full pace by the time I got to him,” said three-time Brickyard 400 champ Jeff Gordon.
Smith recorded his first top 10 finish in four attempts at Indianapolis. “The Chevy was good today, it was probably a top-10 car,” said Smith, “when (Landon Cassill) wrecked, it played our hand for us, we had to come in and clean the grill off because we were overheating.”
The field did prove quite competitive with 22 lead changes among 13 different drivers. Kasey Kahne led the most laps with 48, including the first 24 but finished 18th after falling back after a lug nut issue during an elongated pit stop and then was tied up during an accident on lap 121. Runner-up Gordon led 36 and Menard led a total of 21 laps.
The race started cleanly and quickly. The first caution flag didn’t fly until lap 35 for debris on the track. At the halfway point, the race average was over 148 MPH. A total of five cautions for 22 laps were thrown and 31 cars finished on the lead lap in a race average of 140.766 MPH.
Chevrolet continued their dominance at Indianapolis, winning for the eighth consecutive year, and 13th out of 18 races at the track. The top four were all Chevrolets, with Matt Kenseth (fifth) the top finishing Ford. “We were probably the second-best car most of the day,” said Kenseth.
Brad Keselowski’s ninth place finish was tops for Dodge. “At the three-quarter part of the race I thought we were going to win the Brickyard,” said Keselowski, “it just didn’t quite work out, but we made our car faster throughout the day and I was proud of that.” Kyle Busch led Toyota with a 10th place finish. “We fought track position the whole day and once we did get it, we were up front and running top-10 much of the day,” said Busch.
Carl Edwards continues to lead the points standings, but the lead is just 11 over second place Jimmie Johnson and 12 over third place Kevin Harvick. “Our day was not good, but it ended up finishing well,” said Edwards, “Our Ortho Fusion was pretty slow.”
Today’s crowd was estimated at of 138,000.
Photo- Dan Sanger