Last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 will most likely go down as the most memorable in the race’s history. First of all, the event started in the face of rain, brutally hot temperatures, and tornado warnings all over north central Indiana. There were to be several “firsts” for this particular race. One, the event is now named the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, as Crown Royal had dropped principle sponsorship. Second, this would be the first time that the new stage scoring system would be used in the race. Don’t ask me to explain it but essentially it works this way: The driver who has led the most laps after 51 laps are run would be declared the winner of the first stage of the race. The lap leader at the end of 110 laps would be the stage two winner. The said driver is awarded points to the championship spot which determines the Monster Energy Champion for 2017.
As the race started, Kyle Busch, the defending champ and pole sitter, jumped into the lead followed by pole sitter and current 2017 point leader Martin Truex Jr. Twelve laps into the race, rains came and stopped the race for a time. When the race restarted Busch continued his domination. There were several more incidents including Dale Earnhardt Jr. being eliminated in a wall tag and finishing 36th. It was Earnhardt’s final Brickyard appearance and many of the fans were in attendance to see him, not the race. Busch kept rolling along toward what he thought would be a record setting third straight Brickyard victory, but on lap 111 he and Truex tangled and both were eliminated. Young Trevor Bayne was then in the lead. On lap 150 another incident brought out a caution and after most of the field pitted, Kasey Kahne emerged as the race leader. It was announced that the race would be run overtime, meaning that there would be extra racing conducted over the scheduled 160.
Getting these laps run proved to be a real challenge, however. Three restarted cars quickly banged into each other, bringing out yet another caution. There were a record 14 yellow caution periods during the race. Brickyard legend Jeff Gordon was at the wheel of the pace car and was on the track so much he probably felt like he was still driving in competition. Finally, darkness and the lack of track lighting became an issue. On lap 167 yet another incident occurred and the race was ended with Kahne declared the winner. For the 37 year old driver from Enumclaw, Washington, it was his first victory in over 3 years and the 18th of his career. After being seen as one of the emerging top guns in the sport in the early part of the 21st century, Kahne has seen his star diminish somewhat. The 2015 and 16 season have been particularly brutal for him. There has even been talk that he would leave Hendricks Motorsports at the end of this season. Hopefully the win will bring about a change of luck for Kahne. Chevrolet got it’s 17th Brickyard win and Hendricks Motorsports got it’s 10th victory at IMS. The fan count of slightly more than 35,000 in attendence is by far the smallest in Brickyard history. While the drivers and crews were up in arms about all the wrecks and caution periods, most of the fans were in agreement that they at least brought some excitement to what has become a rather dull, predicable, and unmemorable event. Next year’s date change to September 6th may help, but it will take more than that to get fans back in the seats again.
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