Upon Further Review: Indianapolis

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS — Moments after watching Toyotas dominate Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson expressed hope that something can be done to compete with those cars.

“I think if you go back and look at the amount of revisions the Toyotas and Fords have had versus the Chevy, we’re still with the original car,’’ Johnson said after a late rally gave him a third-place finish. “I’m very hopeful and have heard some talk behind closed doors that maybe we’ll get a little love and finally get an update to the SS.

“We’ve been beating our heads against the wall and (are) highly frustrated because we can’t get within a certain amount of lap time from those guys. I really think that it’s more than what we’re doing as a team. There’s some free speed and overall body shape that hopefully we’ll get some love on.’’

Since NASCAR doesn’t like to make changes close to the Chase, any such help should not be expected this season.

Instead, the solution is simple for Chevrolet and Ford teams.

“It just means we’ve got to work,’’ Tony Stewart said after his 11th-place finish about catching the Toyotas. “They’ve done their homework, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, so it’s our job to go do our homework and get caught up. The one thing about all the Chevy teams and everybody at SHR, we don’t stop working. We’ll keep thrashing until the end.’’

With the playoffs less than two months away, Ford’s Joey Logano admits it’s “past crunch time’’ for teams in trying to contend with Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.

“We need to pick it up a little bit,’’ he said. “We’re not far off; we’ve been close. We need to just find a little bit more to beat them.’’

Pit strategy helped put Logano and fellow Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski out front briefly Sunday but they couldn’t stay with the Toyota cars.

“Maybe they were a little stronger than what they’ve been,’’ Logano said. “I was looking in my mirror and I said I’m the Lone Ranger up here by myself … in front a bunch of Gibbs cars.’’

Sunday’s race was scary for Chevrolet and Ford teams. Kyle Busch won the pole and led 149 of 170 laps for Toyota. Teammate Matt Kenseth was second. Teammate Denny Hamlin finished fourth despite his seventh penalty for speeding on pit road this year. Martin Truex Jr. faltered late but finished eighth, and Carl Edwards was running at the front until he was collected in a late crash.

At times, Toyota had the top four cars on the track.

It wasn’t just Sunday that Toyotas were strong. It was all weekend. About 10 minutes after the opening practice session began, one team’s radio crackled with the comment: “Toyotas are in their own … league again.’’

It was easy to miss the foreshadowing. Stewart’s final Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis and Jeff Gordon’s return — filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. — obscured the strength of Toyotas to many outside the Cup garage.

After the race, Toyota’s dominance was clear to all. Hamlin’s comment afterward could prove unsettling to some teams.

“We’ll just keep digging and get ready for the Chase,’’ Hamlin said.

Indianapolis marked the second consecutive race Toyotas have dominated. Toyota drivers led 299 of 301 laps the previous week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Kenseth winning.

Until New Hampshire, Toyotas had been strong but not as dominant. However, look back at the last four races at tracks that will host Chase events — New Hampshire, Charlotte, Dover and Kansas — and the numbers are troubling to Chevy and Ford teams.

Toyota drivers each won at those tracks with Kenseth (New Hampshire and Dover), Truex (Charlotte) and Busch (Kansas). Toyota drivers combined to lead 78.5 percent of the 1,368 laps run at those tracks.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to run away with the Chase because anything can happen. Remember, had Busch won three races in the regular season instead of four last year, he would not have had enough bonus points to advance to the second round.

Sunday’s showing, though, was hard for Chevy and Ford teams to not worry about.

“When you get your butt whupped, you don’t want to ignore the fact that they’re running well, no matter what race track that is,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. (and interim driver Jeff Gordon) crew chief Greg Ives said. “It’s one of those things that improvement is evident.

“But like I told my guys after the race, we’ve got to make improvements with our head up. You can’t get down on yourself, you can’t get down on the team.’’

It’s a message many teams are espousing as the season moves closer to the playoffs and Toyotas continue to show they’re the dominant manufacturer.

PIT STOPS

Austin Dillon’s ninth-place finish was his best finish in four starts at Indianapolis.

— Kyle Busch’s victory marked the sixth time he’s won at least four Sprint Cup races in a season. The only full-time active driver with more such seasons is Jimmie Johnson with 11 (Jeff Gordon, who is substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr., had 10 such seasons).

— Kyle Busch’s weekend sweep of the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races at Indianapolis marked the 10th time in his career he’s scored a weekend sweep among NASCAR’s top three national series.

Chris Buescher finished a career-high 14th in what was his first career start at Indianapolis.

AJ Allmendinger finished 38th because of overheating issues, the third time in the last six races he’s failed to finish a race. That’s dropped him from 17th to 21st in the points.

— Kyle Busch’s totals from the weekend in both Xfinity and Sprint Cup: He led all 20 laps in his heat and 62 of the 63 laps in Saturday’s Xfinity race. He led 149 of 170 laps in Sunday’s Cup race. He led a total of 231 of 253 laps (91.3 percent) of laps in both races. That’s after winning the pole for both series.

Kurt Busch completed all 170 laps Sunday and continues to have run every lap (5,673) this season. Next is Brad Keselowski, who has completed all but eight laps this year.