Instant Analysis: Brickyard 400

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Tom Jensen

Instant Analysis: Brickyard 400

Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen

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A lifelong gearhead, Tom Jensen reports on automobiles and auto racing for Jensen has been writing about both topics for more than 15 years and is the former managing editor of National Speed Sport News. He is the recipient of the 1997 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award and numerous other journalism awards. Jensen's latest book is "Cheating: An Inside Look At The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed." Click here for Tom Jensen's columns.

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    Post-race: Kahne's last-lap crash drops him to 36th in the race and out of the top 10 in points, while Gordon salvages a 16th-place finish after being four laps down at one point. Earnhardt hangs onto sixth and moves back to 10th in points with five races to go.

    Let there be no doubt: Johnson is the top gun in Nextel Cup right now, with Kenseth a solid, but slightly distant, second.

    Green flag: It's history: Jimmie Johnson comes from 38th to win the Brickyard 400 in the same season he won the Daytona 500. Matt Kenseth, second to Johnson in points, is second to Johnson in the race, too, with RCR teammates Harvick and Bowyer third and fourth and Martin fifth.

    Lap 160: A last-lap crash triggered by Robby Gordon takes out Biffle, while Hamlin, Kahne and Tony Raines crash, too.

    Lap 156: It appears to be in the bag for Johnson, who is nearly two seconds ahead of Kenseth, with Harvick third, Bowyer fourth and Martin fifth. Earnhardt is now sixth and Gordon is up to 19th place.

    Lap 154: Johnson leads by 1.541 seconds.

    Lap 154: The old tires are starting to slow Earnhardt, who falls to fifth.

    Lap 152: Kenseth passes Earnhardt for second, but he's 1.274 seconds back of Johnson.

    Lap 151: Earnhardt takes lead in Turn 2, Johnson to second, Busch third. Johnson then takes lead in Turn 4.

    Restart Lap 147

    Frank from Seguin, Texas: Why has Dale Jr. all of the sudden had problems? He and his team looked real good at the beginning of the year but in the last three races, it looks like they just can't get it together heading into the most important time of the season. Is there a problem with the team or is it really just terrible luck?

    Tom Jensen: It's three unrelated things: an engine failure, an accident and Indy, a track he never runs well at - his best finish ever here is 10th. But he has no room for error if he wants to make the Chase.

    Lap 144: Most of the field pits. Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Newman and Nemechek stay out and take over the top four spots. Next come Hamlin and Bowyer, who took two tires. Kenseth beats Johnson out of the pits and his seventh, first of the cars to take four tires. Rounding out the top 10 are Edwards and Martin.

    Lap 143: Kenny Wallace gets the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 142: Caution for debris in Turn 3.

    Caution 7/Lap 142

    Lap 140: Johnson's lead stands at a healthy 1.826 seconds, an eternity in NASCAR terms. The amazing rookie Hamlin is third, Martin fourth and Edwards fifth. Johnson is looking to win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 in the same season, truly a remarkable achievement if he can pull it off.

    Lap 135: Bobby Labonte pits with a blown engine. Martin still complaining of vibration but holding onto fourth place.

    Lap 132: Mark Martin, currently fourth, is reporting a vibration.

    Lap 130: Johnson leads Kenseth by 1.212 seconds with 30 laps to go.

    Lap 129: The order after green-flag stops is: Johnson, Kenseth, Hamlin, Martin, Harvick, Edwards, Biffle, Stewart, Burton and Vickers.

    Lap 128: Nemechek pits.

    Lap 127: Kyle Busch surrenders lead as he pits. Nemechek leads.

    Lap 126: Kyle Busch inherits lead, but still needs to pit.

    Lap 125: Kenseth, Harvick, Hamlin, Burton hit pit road.

    Lap 124: Johnson pits, as do Stewart and Earnhardt.

    Lap 123: Biffle pits for gas and tires, the first of the leaders in.

    Lap 121: Green-flag pit stops should begin shortly.

    Lap 120: Johnson already has opened up a gap of 1.353 seconds over Kenseth.

    Lap 117: Johnson takes the lead on the backstretch, capping a remarkable recovery from 38th early on. His teammate, Jeff Gordon, who once was four laps down has moved up 25th after restarting in 40th place after the last yellow.

    Lap 116: Johnson passes Harvick for second place.

    Lap 113: Burton, slowing, has dropped all the way back to sixth place.

    Lap 112: Harvick takes second and Johnson third, as Burton drops to fourth.

    Lap 111: The top five cars are separated by 1.074 seconds.

    Lap 110: Kenseth passes Burton for the lead with 50 laps to go.

    Lap 107: The top five guys in points as of right now are all also running in the top five in the race: Johnson (fifth in the race); Kenseth (second); Burton (1st); Harvick (third); and Martin (fourth).

    Lap 95: Burton leads Kenseth by 0.895 seconds, with Harvick third. Next are Martin and Johnson. Stewart is 15th, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 35th and Jeff Gordon is 36th.

    Lap 90: Green flag.

    Restart Lap 90

    Lap 88: Field pits. All 40 cars still running are on the lead lap. Harvick leads Burton out of the pits, with Kenseth third, then Martin and Johnson Edwards's Roush Racing crew had trouble on the right-front tire during the pit stop, dropping him from second to eighth.

    Lap 87: Caution. Debris in Turn 3 brings out the yellow and puts Jeff Gordon back on the lead lap via the Lucky Dog.

    Caution 6/Lap 87

    Lap 85: Kenseth passes Burton for fourth.

    Lap 80: Halfway point. Harvick leads Edwards by 1.735 seconds. Then come Burton, Kenseth, Martin, Biffle, Hamlin, Johnson, Kahne, and Jamie McMurray. All five of the Roushkateers are in the top 10.

    Lap 77: Edwards blows by Burton for second place, his highest spot of the day.

    Lap 75: Denny Hamlin reporting vapor lock — a fuel delivery pickup problem — in the turns.

    Lap 73: Harvick retakes lead from his Richard Childress Racing teammate Burton. Both men are in the top 10 in points, as RCR is having its best season in years.

    Lap 71: Burton retakes lead.

    Lap 70: Harvick passes Burton for the race lead, with Edwards third, Kenseth fourth and Martin fifth. Johnson, who at one point was 38th, is all the way back up to 12th.

    Lap 68: Mayfield is listed 40th and off the track as he gets repairs to his Evernham Motorsports Dodge. His bad day might well drop him out of the top 35 in owner's points, which could have disastrous consequences.

    Lap 65: Two tires don't work; Vickers already has fallen from first to 10th since the green came out.

    Lap 63: Matt Kenseth and Edwards pass Vickers and drop him to fifth place.

    Lap 62: Harvick passed Vickers for second place.

    Restart Lap 61

    Lap 60: Stewart makes a second pit stop under yellow.

    Lap 59: Field hits pit road for gas and tires. Brian Vickers takes just two tires and emerges with the lead, followed by Burton, Harvick, Edwards and Biffle.

    Lap 58: Caution for Jeremy Mayfield, who bounces off the wall. Jeff Gordon gets the Lucky Dog and now will be only one lap down.

    Caution 5/Lap 58

    Kenny from Fremont, Calif.: Tom, in an earlier answer you said the track was like sandpaper and would need some rubber on it. Why didn't NASCAR authorize extra practice laps this week to lay down the rubber? This is a great feature, keep it up. Give BP a big hug from all of us out here. I like to think of him as my Grandpa, sitting next to me, explaining the nuances as we watch the race.

    Tom Jensen: Thanks, Kenny. Actually there was more practice than usual this week. There were two one-hour practice sessions after qualifying yesterday instead of just the normal Happy Hour. Also, teams were given extra tires for each practice session. Thanks for the props, and we all do indeed give BP our best and will tell him the fans are asking about him.

    Lap 50: Johnson has made up eight spots since the restart and is now 30th.

    Lap 48: Kahne has faded back to eighth after the restart.

    Lap 45: Green flag. Burton leads Biffle and Harvick. Jimmie Johnson is now 38th.

    Restart Lap 45

    Lap 42: Leaders all pit. Burton emerges with lead, followed by Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Kahne and Mark Martin.

    Lap 41: Mike Skinner gets the Lucky Dog, not Gordon. Johnson pits as his bad luck streak at Indy continues. It's shaping up as an awful afternoon for Hendrick Motorsports. A small fire breaks out in Johnson's pit, but is quickly put out. If Johnson finishes way back, it could bring the 400-point margin for inclusion in the Chase into play.

    Brandon from Peoria, Ill.: Being a Tony Stewart fan, I fully understand why they did not give him the lucky dog a couple weeks ago when he and the 07 got into it, but why not give it to whomever is eligible for the competition caution?

    Tom Jensen: NASCAR policy is not to give it when a competition caution is issued; if they changed it in midrace, people would scream that NASCAR was playing favorites.

    Marilyn from Rantoul, Ill.: Why didn't Jeff Gordon's team get a penalty when the crew chief was over the wall without his helmet fastened?

    Tom Jensen: I didn't see it, so I can't say for sure, but my guess would be as long as he had it on, it would be OK.

    Lap 41: Jimmie Johnson blows left-front tire. Caution is out.

    Caution 4/Lap 41

    Lap 36: Burton's lead is now 0.772 seconds.

    Eleven drivers have competed in all 12 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Those 11 drivers won nine of the 12 races here. The only Brickyard winners who haven't been in every race are Kevin Harvick and the later Dale Earnhardt.

    Lap 30: Burton's lead over Kahne is 0.377 seconds.

    Lap 30: The last time a Ford won a Brickyard 400 was 1999, when Dale Jarrett won here for the second time.

    Lap 30: Tony Stewart is up to 12th place.

    Lap 26: No tire problems reported after first round of pit stops. Gordon is now two laps down.

    Lap 24: Kahne and Biffle pass Johnson to move to second and third, respectively.

    Lap 24: Green flag. Burton leads Johnson, Kahne, Biffle and Bowyer. Kurt Busch pitted to replace a loose front tire and will restart 38th. Dale Jarrett, a two-time Brickyard winner, is making his 400th consecutive Nextel Cup start today. He is 31st right now.

    Restart Lap 24

    Lap 21: Caution back out as Boris Said gets turned by Reed Sorenson and goes into the wall in between turns 3 and 4. Gordon gets one lap back as Lucky Dog and is now three laps down.

    Caution 3/Lap 21

    Lap 20: Gordon is now four laps down after lengthy repairs. This could have a devastating impact for his Chase hopes.

    Lap 20: Green flag. Jeff Gordon is the standout at Indianapolis, leading all drivers with three Bud Poles, four victories, seven top fives and 10 top-10 finishes. He also has led in nine of the 12 races leading 433 laps — all the most at Indianapolis. But today will not be a day he likely will add to those totals.

    Restart Lap 20

    Lap 17: Field hits the pits for gas and tires. Burton has competed in all 13 races at Indianapolis and has never started a race there from the top 15, until winning the pole this year.

    The order out of the pits is Burton, Johnson, Kahne, Biffle and Bowyer. Gordon's crew works on the front end of the No. 24 Chevrolet.

    Trent from Wichita Falls, Texas: Why doesn't Goodyear use the same tire at this track that they used last year? Don't understand the tire issue problem.

    Tom Jensen: Goodyear is expecting the tires to be OK once enough rubber gets put down on the track. We'll see.

    Lap 16: Caution out for competition yellow. Burton leads Kahne, Johnson, Bowyer and Biffle.

    Caution 2/Lap 16

    Lap 15: Stewart up to 15th place from his 32nd-place start; last year he won from 22nd place.

    Lap 13: Gordon now two laps down.

    Lap 12: Gordon's car did not have flat; it was a broken sway-bar bolt on the front end.

    Lap 11: Bowyer passes Biffle for fourth. Gordon back on track and should get "Lucky Dog" when competition caution comes out.

    Lap 10: Jeff Gordon enters pits to change flat tire.

    Lap 8: Jeff Gordon way off the pace with a flat tire; Burton retakes lead.

    Lap 7: Nine drivers have raced in both the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 during their careers: John Andretti, Geoff Brabham, A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt, Robby Gordon, Jason Leffler, Scott Pruett, Tony Stewart and Danny Sullivan. Stewart and Gordon are the only ones of the nine racing today.

    Lap 7: Kahne passes Burton on the restart.

    Lap 7: Green flag. Burton leads, Kahne, Johnson, Bowyer and Greg Biffle.

    Restart Lap 7

    Lap 6: Already, Tony Stewart has moved from 32nd to 25th.

    Lap 5: 43rd qualifier Boris Said pitted, too.

    Lap 5: Joe Nemechek pits to repair damage he collected when his car and Sadler's touched.

    Lap 4: Sadler's season of woe continues as he has not scored a top five since the season-opening Daytona 500.

    Caution 1/Lap 3

    Lap 3: Elliott Sadler crashes in Turn 2. Caution out.

    Lap 2: Jimmie Johnson passes Bowyer for second.

    Lap 1: Green flag. Look for a competition caution at Lap 15 to check tire wear.

    2:45 p.m.: Cars rolling for first of three pace laps prior to start of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

    2:40 p.m.: Engines fired. Three cars will go to the back of the field: Kurt Busch for a backup car and Dale Jarrett and Chad Chaffin for engine changes.

    Rex from St. Louis, Mo.: Do you think payback to Stewart will happen today from Edwards or Bowyer? Do you think they all have buried the hatchet? Tony seems to think so, but I'm not so sure.

    Tom Jensen: Thanks for the question. No, there will be no payback today. Not here, not so soon. But it'll happen before the end of the year. Count on it.

    Rob from Sierra Vista, Ariz.: What's the buzz about the tweaks NASCAR may do next year for the chase? Will it have an effect on the chase leading up to the final 10 races or will it only apply to the teams in the chase?

    Tom Jensen: This is all just conjecture at this point, but some possible changes include one or more new tracks in the Chase, more points for winning and a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system for drivers in the Chase. In other words, if the best-finishing Chase drivers wins a race, he would get 10 points. If another Chase contestant finishes 43rd in the same race, he'd get 1 point. That way, one bad race wouldn't knock anyone out of title contention and it virtually ensures that the title goes down to the last race.

    Chris from Alpine, Utah: Is there any possibility NASCAR will expand their races to other race tracks? for example there is a beautiful brand new road course near SLC, Utah. We would love to see them come here.

    Tom Jensen: That's a good question. Over the last three to five years, the only two places NASCAR officials have expressed interest in racing at are New York City and the Pacific Northwest. I'm not saying there couldn't be a race elsewhere, but those are the places NASCAR wants to go next.

    Michael from Lewisburg, Pa.: We all know wrong place, wrong time can be around the next turn. While tire wear, pit strategy and setup are obviously important. Which of those three is most crucial at Indy. And congrats to Jeff Burton on the pole. I believe he's the 2nd from VA to win the pole with the 1st being Rick Mast at the Inaugural Brickyard.

    Tom Jensen: Hello, Michael! There are a lot of variables within the variables you have listed. That said, let's tackle your question. Pit strategy won't be a factor unless cautions turn the race into a fuel mileage contest. Every pit stop, every car will take four tires except if they need a late splash and go. Tire wear is vital, but it likely won't be good for anyone. That leaves setup as the most important variable.

    Randy from Monroe, N.C.: Why doesn't NASCAR try and have qualifying at a time that the track temperature would be close to being the same for all who qualify? Most of the time they have an afternoon session when the first out have a hot track and the last out have a cool track. For Indy, the first out had the cool track, and the last out the hot track. It only seems fair that they try and make the playing field fair for everyone.

    Tom Jensen: Hey, Randy, how are you? It takes about two-and-a-half minutes for one car to do a warm-up, a hot lap and a cool-down lap at Indy. With 50 cars, that works out to more than two hours to do qualifying. Given the amount of time it takes, literally the only time you could qualify where the track temperature wasn't an issue would be after sundown, and that simply isn't practical.

    Jeff from Lumberton, Texas: Tom, sure seems like the Young Gun pendulum has swung too far. After I watched Leicht attempt to qualify at Indy, and Gilliland's poor performance in the Indy Busch race (and most others, except the one he won), I just wonder if the sponsor's have TOO much say? There is no way I take either of those two young talents today over the proven Daytona 500 winner in Ward Burton.

    Tom Jensen: Jeff, you raise a great point. The big problem as I see it is everyone wants the whole package: a driver who's fast, poised, mature and is great with sponsors. But there aren't many guys around like that who have all the assets you need. Still, these things run in cycles and the next wave might be to get mature drivers back behind the wheel again.

    Melanie from West Pittston, Pa.: How do you rank Michael Waltrip's ability to climb into the top 35 in owner points before season's end? Was missing the Brickyard the final nail in the coffin? With the same resources at Bill Davis Racing, how can Blaney be safely inside and Michael so far out?

    Tom Jensen: Ouch. Michael Waltrip's odds of getting back in the top 35 this season are roughly the same as the Chicago Cubs making the Major League Baseball playoffs this year: none and none. Coming into this race, Waltrip was 38th, 221 points out of 35th. And with the guys in 36th (David Stremme) and 37th (Travis Kvapil) both in the Brickyard, you can stick a fork in Waltrip's top 35 hopes. He's done. And, yes, missing the Brickyard was the final straw. Waltrip drives for the same team as Blaney, but it doesn't automatically mean he has the same resources. He's on a one-year deal, and in such situations, the lame duck doesn't typically fare as well as the incumbemt.

    Richard from Whitehorse Yukon Canada: Hi Tom, What level of G force is experienced at the Brickyard for these cars compared to Indy cars? In regards to this, how much speed differential is there?

    Tom Jensen: Richard, thanks for the question. I'm not sure of the specific G-forces, but they are obviously much higher in the Indy car. As far as speed, Sam Hornish Jr. won the pole for this year's Indy 500 with a four-lap average of 228.985 mph, while Jeff Burton claimed the top spot in the Brickyard at 182.778 mph, a difference of more than 46 mph — in other words, a big difference.

    Jason from Willow Park, Texas: Will Jimmie Johnson finally win the Cup this year. What are his chances of getting a top 10 finish this week?

    Tom Jensen: Jason, hello there! Johnson certainly is the odds-on favorite, and if the old points systems was still in place, I'd say he'd be a near-lock. But the Chase format leaves it wide open. As far as today's race, it's a total crapshoot — it all depends on whether his tires last. If he has no tires problems and isn't caught up in an incident, he should finish in the top 10, which he's done in 16 of 20 races so far this season.

    Kristin Lynn from Blue Springs: Do you think Kasey Kahne will win the race and make the Chase?

    Tom Jensen: Kristin, Kasey certainly is one of the favorites. He qualified well despite a bad draw, he was extremely fast in practice and in his two prior races here, he's finished second and fourth. That said, tire worries really have changed the complexion of this race. If we have the number of failures that some teams are worried about, it could open the race up to an underdog.

    Kevin from Germantown, Md.: As I have said in the past, watch out for Jeff Gordon today. We're at the Brickyard and Jeff's got the Chip Foose car. WOW!!!

    Tom Jensen: Kevin, welcome to . And, yeah, keep an eye on Jeff Gordon today. Gordon has won the Brickyard 400 four times, and no one else has ever won it more than twice. He hasn't looked as strong in practice this year as he has in some races, but he's always a threat to win here.

    Kacie from Kernersville, N.C.: Has a rookie ever won at the Brickyard, and what are the chances for a first-year driver to win today?

    Tom Jensen: Kacie, glad to have you aboard. Nope, a Raybestos Rookie has never won the Brickyard, although Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin are two guys to look for today. Bowyer qualified second and Hamlin has two wins this season, both at Pocono Raceway, also a flat track.

    Tracy from Rockford, Ill.: If NASCAR knows that the tires wear down within 10 laps, why wouldn't they go to a smaller fuel cell for Indy?

    Tom Jensen: Great question, Tracy. I just returned from two hours in the garage and crew chiefs are extremely worried about tires today, with some reporting tires worn to the cords in as few as five laps. The reason is that the track surface was repaved in 2004 and diamond ground last year, which left the surface extremely abrasive. And until a lot of rubber is put down, the track is like a cheese grater. NASCAR will throw competition cautions around Laps 15 and 40 to check tire wear. That's an indication of serious concern.

    Glenn from St. Marys, Ohio: During last Saturday's broadcast of the NBS Gateway 250 and Friday's Truck race at ORP, there was slight mention made of the switch from "regular" 108 octaine racing fuel to what seems to be "pump grade" (90 something octane) unleaded fuel. Although there was little, (if any), visible evidence in the performance of the cars, I was wondering if there was any reaction from the drivers or crews to the change. Thanx.

    Tom Jensen: Glenn, hello and thanks for joining us. The teams knew this change was in the works for a long, long time — since last year, if I remember correctly. Therefore, they had plenty of time to plan ahead, test in their shops and on the track, and make the necessary adjustments to their cars, which made the transition seamless.

    John from Charlotte: What are the chances of Yates joining up with another shop to form a larger team? We know he can build engines. Maybe they need a few more options.

    Tom Jensen: John, thanks for the e-mail. The big problem with that idea is simply the lack of other Ford teams at the moment. There really are only two others, Roush and the Wood Brothers, and Roush is already too big to merge with Yates and not exceed NASCAR's four-car-maximum team size limit. Ford does hope to get back up to 10 cars in Cup in the not-too-distant future, so that could help.

    Matt from Celina, Ohio: What's the latest on Jeff Burton's sponsorship status? With Cingular rumored to be changing to at&t and not being allowed in NASCAR, has RCR lined up a new sponsor for the 31 car?

    Tom Jensen: Matt, thanks for the e-mail. Cingular can stay on the No. 31 as long as it chooses, but it can't switch to another team. One of the strong rumors in the garage is that Holiday Inn, who sponsors RCR in the Busch Series, may be a candidate to move up to Cup. But whether that's with an existing RCR car or a fourth one remains to be seen.

    Jordyn from Suffolk, Va.: How good do you think Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s chances are in making the Chase for the Nextel Cup? His performance has been dropping somewhat in the past couple of weeks. Do you think the team can pull through this and have a better rest-of-the-season? Of the drivers in the top 12 or 13 right now, which two or three do you think won't make the Chase?

    Tom Jensen: Jordyn, that's a great question. Obviously Junior cannot afford a single bad race of the six remaining, and he especially needs to run well today at Indy, where he's never finished higher than 10th. All of the guys in the top 13 can make it in. But Kurt Busch is 166 points out of 10th, which doesn't bode well for his chances. Roush Racing has cooled off markedly in the last month, and that makes Greg Biffle's position challenging. And I think the other odd man out will be either Junior or Tony Stewart.

    Randy from Meridian Idaho: Please pass this along, Tom. Give 'em hell BP. We are all with you and our prayers are with you and your family.

    Tom Jensen: Randy, you betcha! Benny Parsons is one of the true ambassadors of the sport and a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. I can promise you everyone in the garage is pulling for him. So, BP, from Randy and thousand of other diehard fans, and all of us in the sport, may you have a speedy recovery.

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