Team Penske is the most dominant team in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history. But it never had won a NASCAR Cup Series race at IMS – until now.
Brad Keselowski passed Denny Hamlin with less than two laps to go Monday to win the 25th Running of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line at IMS, the first win in the crown jewel NASCAR race for legendary team owner Roger Penske, who has won a record 17 Indianapolis 500s. The race was delayed a day due to rain, which prevented Penske from attending due to business commitments, according to Penske senior executive Walt Czarnecki.
Keselowski, from Rochester Hills, Michigan, averaged 128.629 mph in the race, which was the final race of the Cup Series regular season for the first time and set the field for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Erik Jones finished second, with Hamlin third.
“Here we are in Victory Lane at the Brickyard,” Keselowski said. “I wish RP (Penske) was here. I know he’s watching at home. What a day. This is the Brickyard. This is awesome. Man, it’s great.”
Keselowski’s dramatic victory in the No. 2 Discount Tire Ford capped a day that included two races that covered a total of 650 miles around the fabled speedway. Justin Allgaier won the Lilly Diabetes 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race, which was rained out Saturday. Both races were the first laps turned on the 2.5-mile oval all weekend, as practice, qualifying and the original race dates were washed out Friday through Sunday by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon.
“You fans are awesome, first and foremost, for sticking it out with us,” Allgaier said earlier in the afternoon after his victory.
Keselowski’s victory also ensured Penske became just the second team owner to win the Indianapolis 500 and Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line in the same year, as Team Penske’s Will Power captured the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Chip Ganassi was the first owner to achieve the feat in 2010, as Dario Franchitti won Indy for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Jamie McMurray won the Brickyard for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
A crucial strategy call by crew chief Paul Wolfe paved the way for Keselowski’s victory. Keselowski led four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson by 2.426 seconds on Lap 140, but Wolfe called Keselowski to the pits for four tires and fuel on Lap 143, handing the lead to Hamlin.
One lap later, a large piece of sheet metal was spotted on the front stretch, triggering a caution period. Leaders Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones stayed on track during that caution on older tires than Keselowski and a cluster of drivers who pitted under caution on Lap 146.
The final caution period of the race, triggered by a hard crash between Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt on Lap 155, also played into Keselowski’s hands and Wolfe’s strategy. Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano and Johnson dove into the pits for their final stops on Lap 156, and Keselowski was third on the final restart, on Lap 158, behind Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.
“My crew chief, Paul Wolfe, he made a heck of a call to pit there,” Keselowski said. “We pitted kind of late in the stage or late in that run, and the yellow came out and we had new tires and started eighth. I was kind of like, ‘He gave me the ball.’ He gave me the ball, and I had to make a play.
“I was like, ‘Dang, this is going to be tough.’ We weren’t a dominant car, by any means, but Paul and everybody executed an incredible race, and I just had to do my job.”
Keselowski did just that. He stayed glued to the rear bumper of Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Possibilities Toyota on the restart on Lap 158 and drove to second place in Turn 1, with Hamlin keeping the lead by .116 of a second at the end of the lap.
Hamlin kept the edge in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 159, but Keselowski pulled inside Hamlin – with the two cars bumping side by side on the back straightaway. Hamlin kept the lead, but the two cars traded paint again in Turn 3.
Keselowski, on fresher tires, dove under Hamlin in Turn 4 and then powered toward the white flag. Jones drove his No. 20 buyatoyota.com Toyota past Hamlin for second on the final lap but couldn’t touch Keselowski, who won by .904 of a second.
“Check the box,” Keselowski said to his crew on the radio during his cool-down lap, referring to finally earning Penske’s first Brickyard victory in 25 tries.
Hamlin tied Clint Bowyer for the most laps led, with 37, but he lamented a lost opportunity as he and 15 other drivers prepare for the start of the NASCAR Playoffs this Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“All those (late) cautions allowed the guys who took tires, it saved their strategy, allowed them to come back up there and let the 2 (Keselowski) rough us up there at the end,” Hamlin said. “I don’t even care about the Playoffs at this moment. All I care about is not winning this race. It was one that is big on my list of races I wanted to win, and the team gave me the car that was certainly capable of doing that today.
“We executed flawlessly on pit lane, the strategy was good, had a fast car. Just circumstances. We’ve had cautions. Cautions killed us at the end and allowed those guys to come up there.”
Kyle Busch clinched the NASCAR Regular Season Championship with his eighth-place finish in the No. 18 M&M’s Carmel Toyota.
“Wish that we could have been faster than what we were and being able to pass cars easier than we were,” Busch said. “We just didn’t have that today. Overall, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty good day considering we get to go home with cool, new hardware and also some more bonus points getting ready for Las Vegas, my hometown race this week and starting our Playoffs.”
Allgaier boosted his lead atop the Xfinity Series standings with his victory in the Lilly Diabetes 250 as that series heads to its regular-season finale next weekend at Las Vegas.
Illinois native Allgaier led 41 of 100 laps in the No. 7 Dove Men + Care Chevrolet and edged JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick to the finish by a race-record .092 of a second. Cup Series standout Ryan Blaney finished third.
“I used to come here all the time,” Allgaier said. “I sat in the grandstands and watched the Indy 500. I sat for the first I don’t know how many Brickyard 400s right up there in Turn 1, so I wanted to do a burnout down there.
“To win at the Brickyard means so much and to put a Camaro into Victory Lane here and to see these bricks, this is special. To be able to kiss the bricks with my wife and daughter, that’s pretty special.”
Allgaier took the lead for good on Lap 84 on a restart. Xfinity Series title rival Christopher Bell was side by side with Allgaier in Turns 3 and 4 on the restart but couldn’t get past, and Reddick was able to slip past Bell for second before the end of the lap.
Reddick stalked Allgaier over the final 15 laps, waiting for the perfect chance to make a pass that never came. The teammates were separated by less than a tenth of a second, nose to tail, over 13 of the last 15 laps.
“The right run I needed came with two to go, and I was unsure about taking it that early still,” Reddick said. “I didn’t want to cause me or Justin a first- or second-place finish. I wanted it to be off Turn 4, preferably, on the backstretch on the last lap. That way it could be just between me and him, and one of the JR Motorsports cars would go to Victory Lane.
“Unfortunately, our Nationwide Children’s Chevy did not get the run I needed on the last lap. I really should have took it with two to go. I was just unsure; I didn’t want to mess up either one of our days. I wanted to walk out here either first or second, and unfortunately we left second. But hat’s off to Justin and those guys. They’ve been really clicking this year.”
Allgaier averaged 112.038 mph.