Cup Series moves from Coke 600 marathon to sprint

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After enduring NASCAR’s longest race in terms of mileage, a grueling 607.5 miles in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, tonight’s race is so much shorter that drivers may barely break a sweat.

Tonight’s race will have a definite short track feel of sorts: the length is just 310 miles/500 kilometers.

Among the unique aspects about tonight’s race is the top 20 finishers in the 600 will start tonight’s race in inverted order.

That means 600 winner Brad Keselowski and runner-up Chase Elliott will start tonight’s race from the 20th and 19th positions respectively.

Meanwhile, William Byron and teammate Alex Bowman — who finished 20th and 19th respectively in the 600 — will start tonight from the first two positions.

As for the back half of the field, drivers who finished 21-40 in the 600 will start tonight’s race from those same positions.

Stage 1 will end on Lap 55, while Stage 2 ends on Lap 115.

As a result, really the only true similarity between the 600 and tonight is the track upon which the cars will race upon.

Everything is completely different, which will lend itself to more drama and more aggressive race strategy, particularly with more gambling on pit road.

“It’s going to be tough with the invert,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished sixth in the 600 and will start 15th tonight. “I think that’s going to be a big deal after everybody gets a chance to work on their cars and the track just seemed like it was really one groove and really, really difficult to pass during the 600.

“You give everybody two or three days to work on their cars and everybody is going to be closer yet. The invert is going to be a challenge in the shorter race for sure. We’ll see what we can do with it and do our best.”

Truex’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Erik Jones, finished 11th in the 600 and will start 10th tonight.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to Charlotte for race two,” Jones said. “The 600 was a good race for us most of the night. We were pretty strong and ran up front.

“Hopefully we make some good changes for Wednesday night. It’s a short race, so we aren’t really going to have an opportunity to work on the car as the night goes. We’re going to have what we have when we start and as the race gets going. I’m looking forward to it.”

Teammate Kyle Busch said he and his team “were lucky to steal a fourth-place finish (in the 600) … and we’ll have to go back to work and figure out some things to make our stuff better for when we come back on Wednesday (starts 17th) and get back after it.”

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson looks to rebound from being disqualified following the 600 for failing post-race inspection. He’ll start tonight where he finished Sunday – last in the 40-car field – but believes good fortune is on the horizon.

“We’re knocking on the door and we’ll get there,” Johnson said.

Another driver who had problems and penalties of another sort in and after the 600 but hopes for a similar rebound as Johnson tonight is Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota Camry had a big chunk of tungsten ballast fall out from under his car during parade laps for the 600.

Hamlin’s crew had to replace the lost ballast, costing him an eight-lap delay before he could get his race started, finished 29th and eventually saw NASCAR hand down four-race suspensions for several team members, including crew chief Chris Gabehart.

“Our Toyota was actually pretty fast on Sunday,” Hamlin said, trying to look on the bright side. “We tried various adjustments throughout the night and learned how the car reacts in traffic and in various lines around the track.

“So, we have a good baseline to start with for Wednesday.”

Now it’s just a matter of essentially going from work boots to gym shoes when it comes to running tonight’s shorter length.

“Obviously, you’ve got a shorter distance to accomplish what you need to,” Hamlin said. “Tire and fuel mileage strategy will be different, and we’ll have shorter stages to work within.

“This one will be more of a sprint than a marathon.”

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Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.