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Paul Menard held off Jeff Gordon at the Brickyard 400 and won his first NASCAR Cup race at a place his family has been trying to win at for a long time. He drove his Richard Childress Chevy to victory over the Hendrick Chevy of Jeff Gordon at the place some now consider to be the second most prestigious place to win in NASCAR Cup. (The most prestigious, of course, is the still Daytona 500.)
Yeah… I know what you’re thinking… it definitely turned out to be another Chevy day Sunday at Indy, although it did surprise me that the Chevys finished better than I expected and the Fords didn’t finish like I thought they would. This time, however, it wasn’t just a Hendrick Chevy day, it was just generally a Chevy day and the finishing order spoke loudly about that and other things.
I’ll get to the other things shortly, but it doesn’t take a very hard look at the finishing order to see what I mean. Six out of the top eight were Chevys and the other two were Roush Fords finishing fifth and seventh – (as I said), not quite what I expected after the way practice and qualifying went. I honestly thought the Fords would finish a little bit stronger, but as is often the case when cautions don’t fly in the latter part of a 400 mile race, fuel mileage can often rule over horsepower and that is exactly what happened because the Roush Fords, in particular, seemed to have plenty of horses under the hood, just not enough fuel at the right time.
In all honesty, Indy is one of those tracks that NASCAR visits that often comes down to pit strategy, tire management and stretching fuel to the max. But like I said in my article before the race, those are the things that are almost a certainty – especially these days in NASCAR Cup.
There are those that lament the fact that Stock Car racing is more than just having a strong car, (and some of them are drivers), but it really is nothing new; and it is nothing new for a driver to complain about fuel mileage when his car uses more than the ones that beat him on fuel mileage. Much to the disappointment of many, it is all about the whole package in NASCAR these days and that is why some complain about the racing being too technical and not necessarily enough about the driver and having the strongest car.
To win in NASCAR Cup (and just about every other motor sport), it takes horsepower and handling, (which is being able to hookup up that horsepower to the track.) It also takes a driver that can take what he has to work with and get the most out of it. Along with all of that, it takes tire strategy, fuel strategy and not making mistakes coming in or exiting the pits and at times, just a bit of luck doesn’t hurt either. To the casual observer it may seem it’s just about cars going fast around a track, but to those that have been around it longer and are maybe a bit more knowledgeable about it, they know it is a thinking man’s game and during a race the driver is only one of several people doing the thinking.
One thing that stands out to this fan, was how good Jeff Gordon’s car was from the drop of the green flag. He started moving forward at the start of the race and, even though he did end up in the middle of the pack on a restart or two, he was always able to move back to the front. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had a yellow come out with a couple to go, or if he had caught up to Menard a lap or two sooner. Even after thinking of all the shoulda – woulda – couldas, one thing is plain to this fan; Jeff Gordon and his team are letting it be known they are one of the ones to watch when the Chase starts.
Even though Kasey Kahne had a strong Toyota, he and his team had a problem on pit road early that cost them track position and then dodged an accident later on, filling his grill with grass, making him have to pit a little off sequence. He just never seemed to be able to recover from that or the earlier pit problem and drive back up through the traffic.
Once again, the Brickyard was historic. It just seems to be one of the places where history is made often. Although not every lap kept you on the edge of your seat, the race was interesting right down to the checkered flag and for the fourth time this year, a driver won his first NASCAR cup race. If that doesn’t say something about the competition in NASCAR Cup being closer than it has been in the past, I don’t know what does and it is great for NASCAR and for the fan’s.
Okay, it’s true, I’ve been a NASCAR fan for a long time and I have seen a lot of the changes that have made people both happy and mad with them and made the competition exactly what it is today. Sunday’s race was “as good as any and better than many,” (to quote a small sign on a friend of mine’s dashboard of his stock car.) With just six races to go until the start of the Chase, I expect the racing to be the same as it was at Indy, or even better, and the overall intensity to increase, especially in those top twenty to twenty five positions trying to make it into those two wildcard spots…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© August 3, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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