Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Long: Indy success provides emotional lift for Bubba Wallace, Jeb Burton

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INDIANAPOLIS — Amid the weekend’s celebrations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most emotional moments came not in Victory Lane but on pit road.

One driver cried. Another beamed.

Jeb Burton and Bubba Wallace have faced various challenges in their careers. The 27-year-old Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, has fought to remain relevant in NASCAR. The 25-year-old Wallace, whose dynamic personality is engaging, has been open about his struggles on the track and off.

In a sport where the focus often shifts to the next young driver, it’s easy to forget how much racing Burton and Wallace both could have left and the impact they could make.

Of course, racing, as in life, isn’t always fair. Short tracks across the country feature drivers who had the talent to race in NASCAR’s premier series but never got the chance whether because they didn’t have the proper funding, right look or were too old when discovered.

So in that sense, Burton and Wallace can be considered among the fortunate to have climbed NASCAR’s ladder. That isn’t satisfying for either, though. They want more.

Burton has not had a full-time ride in any of NASCAR’s top three national series since a 2015 Cup effort with BK Racing, a team that no longer exists after going through bankruptcy court a year ago. Burton has pieced together rides with whatever sponsorship he can find. He’s run three Cup, 14 Xfinity and four Truck races since 2017.

He will drive two more Xfinity races this season (Texas and Miami) for JR Motorsports, giving him seven starts in the team’s No. 8 car this season.

Burton finished fourth in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis, tying his career-best result. He could not contain the tears after exiting his car.

Asked where the emotion was coming from, Burton said in a quivering voice: “Two years ago I didn’t know if I was going to drive again. That’s where it comes from.”

Burton later said: “Every time I get into a race car I feel like I’ve got something to prove. You don’t know, this could be the last time out there. You don’t know. I cried like a baby in my TV interview because it means so much. You don’t know when this could be your last day. You’ve just got to cherish every moment.”

That’s not been easy for Wallace at times this season. He tweeted in early May that he had not “been (in) a good place for some time now.” A few days later at Kansas Speedway, Wallace said how “you try to be the best you can and sometimes it ain’t good enough.”

The session with reporters ended with Wallace later burying his head in his hands.

He won a segment in the Monster Energy Open in May, received a heartfelt embrace from Ryan Blaney and was emotional in his interview with FS1, saying “Damn, I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time.”

His struggles on the track haven’t helped. Richard Petty Motorsports struggled to find proper funding for nearly the first six months of the year. The results showed.

Until Sunday’s Brickyard 400, Wallace had not finished better than 14th this season and had only four top-20 results.

After he finished third Sunday, Wallace screamed on his radio: “Yeah! That ain’t supposed to happen! That is not supposed to happen! We did it! Nice job!”

Wallace could not stop smiling after climbing from his car. Richard Petty hugged him.

“We needed this,” Wallace said. “We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.”

Wallace called Sunday “an unforgettable day at Indy.”

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There are many places one can find points gained or lost over a 26-race regular season that can determine who makes the playoffs. Such is the case for Daniel Suarez, who finished four points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot Sunday.

Here are a couple of key moments this season that had they gone differently could have given Suarez the chance to race for a championship instead of Newman:

# Suarez won the pole at Kentucky in July but did not score any stage points.

Suarez led the opening 49 laps at Kentucky but when a caution came out, the team decided to change four tires. Two cars took no tires and 10 cars took two tires during that caution. Suarez restarted 13th, the first car on four tires. He finished the opening stage in 14th and scored no stage points.

In the second stage, Suarez had a flat tire and had to pit under green and then was called for speeding. He fell three laps down at one point and never had a chance to score any stage points.

That was one of three times this season that the driver who started on the pole failed to score any stage points. Austin Dillon did not tally any stage points after starting on the pole at Auto Club Speedway in March, and Denny Hamlin failed to do so after starting on the pole at Bristol in August.

Drivers who started on the pole scored an average of 10.2 stage points per race in the regular season this year. Suarez could have used those 10 points Sunday.

# Newman’s extra pit stop at Michigan in August.

Twenty-seven cars, including Newman, pitted for fuel on Lap 150 at Michigan, putting them all on the edge of making it the rest of the race on fuel. Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road the next lap to top off on fuel.

With no caution the rest of the way, fuel mileage was critical. Newman went from 18th to 12th in the final three laps as cars ahead of him had to pit for fuel or ran out on the track.

Newman ran out of fuel on Turn 4 of the last lap but easily made it across the finish line. Had he not stopped on Lap 151 to top off, he wouldn’t have made it to the end and would have lost several positions.

Instead, those six points gained by others running out fuel helped Newman secure the last playoff spot.

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Ryan Newman helped snap the playoff drought for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car.

The car once piloted by Hall of Famer Mark Martin last made the playoffs in 2006 — the year Jimmie Johnson won the first of his record-tying seven Cup titles.

Newman’s team has gone through key changes since last season’s finale in Miami. Scott Graves became the team’s crew chief for this season. The team also has a different engineer and car chief from last year’s Miami race.

“Our team is so new,” Newman said. “It is newer than I have ever experienced. That is huge. With all the changes we had in our sport in the offseason, I think it was underestimated by me and a huge change to tackle.

“I feel like we have done a good job but to answer your question, we just need to continue to progress to make our cars go faster. I think we have had some good strategy and pit stops and good moves on the race track. All those types of things. Good things need to turn into great things and keep progressing as a team.”

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Leaders crashing late in a race can can create ill will and lead to spicy exchange between competitors. Not for Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis.

Instead, fans saw sportsmanship after the two drivers wrecked with seven laps left.

Reddick approached Bell on the track and gave him a tap on the back.

Reddick told NBCSN after leaving the infield care center: “No one in this garage or in NASCAR racing in general should ever question Christopher’s driving ability. That wasn’t the issue there.

“His car just simply got loose, and we just got together and we didn’t really have a lot of race track. It’s (the) end of the race, we’re going for it type deal. Nothing against Christopher. He did nothing wrong. His car just got loose. Just part of racing at the end at this place.”

Refreshing to see how this situation was handled.

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Shortly after celebrating Kevin Harvick‘s victory at Indianapolis, crew chief Rodney Childers was focused on the challenge of the playoffs, which begin Sunday (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I think this season is just tough,”  he said. “I think it’s going to be tougher the next 10 races than it’s ever been. You’ve got 550 (horsepower) races that you have to be good at. You’ve got 750 races you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got road course cars you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got to have a good Martinsville car. There’s so many different things in the playoffs this year that it’s going to be so important to have great race cars every week.”

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The quote of the weekend belonged to Kevin Harvick’s son Keelan.

Asked what it was like to kiss the bricks after his father’s win, Keelan said: “They don’t taste great, but it was fun kissing the bricks.”

Clint Bowyer survives day of ‘high anxiety’ at The Brickyard

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INDIANAPOLIS – Clint Bowyer’s quest to get into the Cup Series playoffs was not as precarious as Ryan Newman’s, but he was a long way from being locked into the 15th position in the 16-driver playoff lineup entering Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

He still needed to finish ahead of the other drivers in contention for the playoffs including Newman, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson, who entered the race still eligible to get in on points, but realistically needed to win the race to clinch.

Bowyer improved his chances of making the playoffs dramatically by qualifying third fastest in Sunday morning’s Brickyard 400 qualifications.

The race, however, had more than its share of moments of “high anxiety” for the Stewart Haas Racing driver.

“You’re damn right I did,” Bowyer told NBC Sports on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “You knew it going in, you knew it was going to be high anxiety and it was going to be crazy like that.

“You don’t know where it’s going to be coming from. About the time we qualified good, I walked away from that car and knew the worst was yet to happen. The caution could come out at Lap 10 and present an opportunity for somebody and a mishap for somebody else.”

That happened throughout the race for Bowyer, who kept track of his competitors throughout the race and tried to manage his day.

In the closing stages of the contest, Bubba Wallace was in contention to sneak into the playoffs with a victory. He was running third, briefly made it up to second, before he was passed by Joey Logano for that position with the laps winding down.

The last thing Bowyer or Newman needed was a driver like Wallace to completely change the dynamic of the playoffs with an upset victory.

“I didn’t want to be anywhere around Bubba today,” Bowyer said. “I knew what he was racing for and what I was racing for and those two things didn’t match up today.

“I’m happy for Bubba, though. It was a great finish at a great race track for him. That’s a great finish for him and his team.”

Wallace would finish third, behind race winner Kevin Harvick and second place Logano. William Bryon finished fourth and Bowyer’s fifth-place finish was more than enough to lock him into the playoffs.

He became the third driver in the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing team to make the 16-driver lineup for the playoffs. Daniel Suarez was still in competition, entering the race tied in points with Newman, but his 11th-place finish combined with Newman’s eighth place eliminated the driver from Mexico.

“It was super close to getting all four in,” Bowyer said. “We’ve got to keep building, man. We’re working hard and digging and trying to get better.

“We aren’t the fastest group. We know that. But we looked pretty damn fast today.”

Bowyer’s road to that top-five finish was eventful to say the least.

“It was going to be chaotic, I said that before the race, it was going to be an emotional roller-coaster,” Bowyer said. “The 6 car (Newman) was able to stay out there and capitalize on that and get those five points on us.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I didn’t need that.’

“But we got it back in the second stage. It was identical. I finished fifth and he finished 11th in that stage and he handed it right back to us.

“We were faster than we ran. I think we were a top-five car, but we were just trying to survive. We needed to survive this thing and it was going to be a war of attrition and we survived.”

Making the playoffs is important, but it doesn’t beat winning, according to Bowyer.

“Winning is everything,” Bowyer said. “That’s why we get up in the morning, to go win. There is nothing better than winning. I’m looking forward to some of those tracks. I should have won at Richmond earlier this year.

“I still think about that race and how easy our season would have been if I had won it earlier.”

Now, it’s off to the playoffs and Bowyer is excited his team’s recent surge. Since finishing 37th at Michigan in August, Bowyer has finished seventh at Bristol, sixth at Darlington and fifth at Indianapolis.

“We’ve got 10 races in the playoffs and the last three races have been single-digit finishes for us,” Bowyer said. “That will get you around. It also builds confidence and momentum with our race team. That is what it takes.

“We are finally doing the right things, putting ourselves in the right situations to capitalize on other people’s mishaps rather than being the one to make the mishap and having someone capitalize on us.”

Bubba Wallace celebrates ‘unforgettable day at Indy’

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INDIANAPOLIS — In a season where Bubba Wallace has been tearful, despondent and frustrated, Sunday saw the engaging 25-year-old beaming, joking and excited after a season-best third-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“What a helluva day, helluva day for my team,” Wallace said after finishing behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Joey Logano. “We needed this. We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.

“An unforgettable day at Indy.”

Wallace’s run was his second career top-five finish. He placed second in last year’s Daytona 500.

It didn’t seem as if Wallace — whose best finish this season was 14th at Bristol last month — would have a chance for a strong finish for Richard Petty Motorsports early in the race.

Wallace was involved in a pit road accident that included Chase Elliott and impacted Jimmie Johnson’s stop.

“I had no idea,” Wallace said of what happened. “I knew I was supposed to come around (Chris Buescher) and go long. I saw (Buescher) pull in, and I lifted and went to turn in and next thing you know I’m heading for Jimmie Johnson’s guys and I couldn’t stop. What I should have done, going back on it, is get off the brakes and turn and get away from them.

“Thank God we missed their pit crew and didn’t crush them because I couldn’t stop.”

Wallace said he asked his crew what happened and was told that Elliott “just ran you over.” Wallace admitted he was upset with Elliott for a while “and then I see (Elliott’s) car had damage and I’m like, ‘Nah, that had to be an accordion effect. I thought our day was over with. I thought that was how our luck was summed up all year, having really fast cars and some dumb luck takes us out. And it didn’t.”

Wallace had said earlier this weekend how excited he was and how fast his car was.

He showed how good it was Sunday working his way toward the front. He never was worse than 11th in the final 50 laps.

“It’s incredible to think about where the season started and where we were at the first 10 races in,” Wallace said on pit road after the race. “Ever since Charlotte, we’ve still been bringing some heat. It’s just the passion and the drive my team has and it’s a frickin’ blast coming to the race track and being away from the race track with my guys.”

Wallace knows the challenge a single-car team faces in Cup but left Indy encouraged.

“If we can just have moments like this and weekends like that, we can start to put together runs and generate more funding and resources and get our cars better,” he said. 

When Wallace was third on the final restart, he admits he flashed back to a race nearly a decade ago.

“Nine years ago we won at Lee (New Hampshire) Speedway when I restarted third and Ryan Truex and Eddie MacDonald were on the front row. I said on the pace laps these guys are going to overdrive Turn 1 and I’m going to take the lead and that happened.

“I started game-planning (Sunday when he was third). Now this is different plan because it was Joey and Kevin, but I started game-planning. They lined up perfectly and they went into (Turn) 3 and I’m like ‘Yes,’ and they all made it and I’m like, ‘Damn.’ ‘’

Even though he didn’t get the chance to win, it was still a good day for Wallace.

“All we do is just continue to climb up that Mt. Everest hill and we just keep kind of knocking another block off, knocking another step off,” he said.

But had he won, Wallace knew what he would have said in victory lane.

“My mom told me (Saturday), she’s like ‘When you win, tell them haters to kiss those bricks.’ ”

Ryan Newman keeps his cool to be last man in for Cup playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS – For Ryan Newman, it was a day of racing on the edge. Tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final position in NASCAR’s Cup Series playoffs, the Roush Fenway Racing driver knew Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was going to be a day where he couldn’t relax for a second.

Several times, when his Ford was being pushed down the straightaway by another car, Newman told NBC Sports that he was a correction or two from putting his No. 6 Ford into the fence.

“It was close calls all the time,” Newman said.

He started 22nd and had to race his way into contention if he was going to have any hope of making the field of 16 that begins the playoffs next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Newman would climb as high as sixth, then drop to as low as 13th. He dodged a major crash that ended Jimmie Johnson’s playoff chances in Turn 2 on Lap 105 and was able to forge ahead.

With Suarez far behind in Newman’s rear-view mirror in 11th place, Newman was able to clinch the playoff position when he crossed the famed “Yard of Bricks” in sixth place.

“I was pretty tickled,” Greg Newman, Ryan’s father, told NBC Sports. “I spotted for him in Turn 3 and at the end of the race my remark was, ‘We finally put the cat back in the hat.’

“I’m pretty proud of that.”

Now that the “cat is back in the hat,” Newman can finally relax, at least for the rest of Sunday night.

“It’s a huge relief,” Ryan Newman told NBC Sports. “It took 26 races to get here. You go back and look at what we did at Daytona to stay on the lead lap and finish that race with a flat left-front tire and the nose knocked off and everything else. Every point to this point made something and it made something out of our season because making the playoffs is a big deal.”

The long, hard struggle of the 26-race regular season where drivers have to fight and gouge for every point available, Newman’s team has improved throughout the season.

Late in the race, however, came a driver that nobody had considered in the championship discussion entering the race. It was Bubba Wallace in the No. 43 Chevrolet.

Wallace briefly raced his way to second place with the laps winding down, before Joey Logano took that position.

“I was pretty confident Kevin Harvick had a really good car and Kevin Harvick had a little left in the bag,” Newman said when asked about Wallace.

Kevin Harvick won his second Brickyard 400 by starting on the pole and leading the most laps (118) in the race. He also won the 2003 Brickyard 400 when he started on the pole.

Harvick was able to keep his cool by dominating the race. Further back, however, drivers like Newman were experiencing the heat of the moment.

“I don’t know if I kept my cool all day, but I kept it out of the fence when I very easily could have plowed the fence down,” Newman said. “In dirty air, I was as tight as anybody out there.

“It was a struggle a lot of times. At the end of the first stage, I had a lot of confidence. At the end of the second stage, I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. We just stuck our nose to the grindstone.”

Newman was able to keep his nose clean; Suarez did not.

He brushed the wall on Lap 11 to bring out the first yellow flag of the race and his Ford sustained right-side damage.

His crew made repairs and Suarez gave it an effort, but 11th place was probably the most he could have gotten out of his damaged car.

“The 41 (Suarez) kind of got himself in a pickle there, and we were able to hold him off,” Newman said. “That was part of the race. The other part of the race was that we didn’t have a fast-enough race car to go up there and lead, and we got to be able to do that for these next three races.

“Guys were running out of talent. Guys have to control their race car. Just like usual here, you see stuff happen on pit road that you don’t see elsewhere because it’s pretty unique.

“What happens, happens,” Newman said. “When you put yourself in a bad position, sometimes bad things happen.”

“Oh, it’s huge, and my car was probably one of the worst in traffic for getting tight,” Newman said. “I was really struggling with that. I had to almost give up to let the guy in front of me get away so that I could actually run fast and try to keep the guy behind me. It’s a horrible way to try to race and be defensive, but it’s kind of what I had to do.”

Now that Newman and Roush Fenway Racing have made the playoff field, they want to prove they belong there.

Sunday’s race was simply a first step toward a greater goal.

“We’re continuing to go, today was another stepping stone,” Newman said to a group of reporters on pit road after the race. “No matter what everybody else does, we have three races to prove today is no spoof. A lot of guys ran out of talent.

“I saw a lot of guys losing control of their car all by themselves. We just have to take these next three races to the best of our abilities and move on.”

Newman believes his team has to improve its speed. More importantly, it has to get some checkered flags over the final 10 races.

“We have to win,” he said. “We really have to win. We don’t have any points. Some of these guys have 20 or 30 points on us and we have none. Winning, that’s the whole goal.

“We have to do everything we can, do everything possible, to keep progressing our team. We might get knocked out. We might prove come Homestead that we could have won it if we were in it.

“I just want to stay focused and do our thing.”

At the front of the field, greatness was on display in the No. 4 Ford driven by Harvick. He set a standard Newman wants to achieve.

“Making the playoffs for Roush Fenway Racing is good, but good is not good enough, we have to be great,” Newman said. “Harvick proved today what great is. He won the pole, led the most laps and won the race.

“I’ve been there. I want to get back to there.”

Daniel Suarez sees playoff hopes end in chaotic race

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INDIANAPOLIS — After a chaotic 400 miles that included hitting a wall, hitting another car and fighting for the final playoff spot, Daniel Suarez keyed his radio after crossing the finish line for the final time and, in a resigned voice, he told his team: “I gave everything I had.”

Sunday, it wasn’t enough at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

His 11th-place finish left him four points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot.

“I can tell you it wasn’t for lack of effort,” Suarez said of missing the playoffs. “We didn’t have things play our way. The last pit stop cycle, the caution came out after we pitted. That was unfortunate. I was not in the position I wanted to be. After that, we had only 28, 26 laps to go. I knew it was going to be tough, but I wasn’t giving up. I was driving extremely hard, three-wide. I was doing everything I could to get there.”

That frantic charge completed a wild day for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver who entered the race holding the final playoff spot via a tiebreaker on Ryan Newman. With Suarez missing the playoffs, the final two spots were filled by Clint Bowyer and Newman.

Problems occurred early for Suarez. He hit the wall on Lap 11 of the 160-lap event and radioed his team afterward that he didn’t understand what happened to his car.

“I just got aero tight, loose,” he said. “I was not pushing the car too hard. I just got squared to (William Byron) and got too tight and loose and then I got to his right side and once you are on the right side of the car in his wake, it’s pretty much like being on ice. I couldn’t do anything.”

Suarez later had contact with Matt Tifft that caused Tifft to crash with 13 laps to go.

“I was loose into the corner and then tight on the exit of the corner,” Suarez said. “I was in a rush to try to get up front. He was racing on defense 100%. He finally gave me the line, very, very late and I got loose on entry and I got him.

“I feel bad for him, but at the same time he shouldn’t be racing like that when it’s for 15th or 18th or whatever that was. I think he’s smarter than that. I don’t know why he was doing that.

“I was way faster than him. I had fresher tires and a faster race car and he was blocking me for four laps.”

Tifft said of the incident: “I’ve got to go back and see the replay. If he did get loose like he said, that makes sense why he would get into us in the spot that he did. I tried to leave a little bit of a lane so he could actually go on. I was planning on trying to let him go at that point because I knew he was a little bit quicker and we had been racing hard and that was the first time he got close enough.

“For the comment of racing that hard, for the little teams that’s our livelihood. When we have good days like that, we have to capitalize.”

For Suarez, he couldn’t capitalize on his chance to make the playoffs.

“We’re still racing,” he said. “I feel like as a team we have to keep getting better. We’re not in the playoffs, but we have plenty of things to show. We can win a race. That would be like making the playoffs or even better.”