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BYH to the family that has always supported Walter B. Jones, Jr. but won't this time. The challenger is a lobbyist and...

ANDERS: Indy finish was best it could've been

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I’m not sure exactly how I would describe this year’s Brickyard 400, but the phrase “beautiful disaster” comes to mind.

For a race with a reputation for being a dud on the schedule, partially due to circumstances I wrote about in this column last week, the 2017 edition of the race proved to be quite interesting. With a rain delay, a crash that wiped out the two fastest cars and led to a pit road altercation between teams, and a frantic ending that saw a long winless streak snapped as darkness swept in, Indianapolis provided more intrigue than it had in years.

Of course, it just wouldn’t be NASCAR if we didn’t have an officiating call to talk about at the end.

When Denny Hamlin spun off Turn 2 and collected multiple cars in an accident during the race’s second attempt at an overtime restart, race leader Kasey Kahne had yet to cross the vaunted “overtime line.” The roughly three-second lull between the time the accident started and the moment the caution flag flew was enough time for Kahne to reach the line, ensuring the caution flag ended the race and Kahne was the winner.

Fans were angry. On most days, I would have been, as well. On this day, though, I wasn’t, because in waiting to allow Kahne to pass the line, NASCAR made the right decision.

Now, the ending at Indy was a combination of multiple factors. Take away the race’s hour-plus rain delay or either of the two red flag periods that occurred in the final 15 laps, and the conversation that ensued this past week would have been totally different. But the combination of those things, as well as the race’s nearly 3 p.m. green flag time, meant Kahne’s victory took place in the near-total cover of darkness.

Without the benefit of Indianapolis having lights, NASCAR was at the mercy of the rapidly declining sunlight when the final crash occurred. Hamlin’s crash happened within 10 minutes of official sundown time in Indiana, meaning it would have been virtually impossible to clear the track and resume the race before total darkness.

Had NASCAR thrown the yellow before Kahne hit the overtime line, it was a virtual certainty the race would have had to be called due to darkness. In that scenario, Kahne wins anyway, meaning the decision to hold off and allow the field to reach the line had no bearing on the race’s outcome.

If that exact finish had happened as 6 p.m., with plenty of daylight remaining, then the fan outrage it caused would have been justified. Under the circumstances, though, the right call was ultimately made.

The win was a much-needed one for Kahne, his first one since September 2014. Kahne’s future at Hendrick Motorsports is up in the air despite having a contract through the end of next season, something he and Rick Hendrick acknowledged post-race due to Farmers Insurance and Great Clips ending their respective sponsorships of the No. 5 car after this season.

Kahne’s career has been something of an enigmatic one. He had the look of a can’t-miss future champion in 2004 when he reached the Cup Series in Ray Evernham’s No. 9 car, replacing Bill Elliott after his retirement. When he joined Hendrick in 2012, he was expected to contend for titles, and finished a career-best fourth in points in his first season with the team.

But he’s failed to finish better than 12th in any season since and last weekend’s win was just his fourth top-10 in 20 races this year. At age 37, the clock may be ticking on Kahne’s ability to show he can still be a true contender. There’s no way to know if the win at Indy will do anything to help his prospects should he find himself out of the No. 5 car next season, but it certainly can’t hurt.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: A major shoe in NASCAR’s silly season dropped a week and a half ago when Hendrick Motorsports announced Alex Bowman as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 car for 2018. I love that move, not just because Bowman earned it with his runs in that car last year, but also because it’s a team and a sponsor taking a chance on a kid who has shown talent without being given a top-tier opportunity. That hardly happens anymore.

With the No. 88 ride sealed up, there were plenty of moves made this past week. Among them.

  • Team Penske announced Ryan Blaney will be brought in-house and drive the revived No. 12 for that team after running the last three seasons on loan with the Wood Brothers. It’s a totally unsurprising move, but just another sign that Penske views the 23-year-old Blaney as a big part of the future of that team.
  • Penske also announced a multiyear extension for 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski. That move was also expected, although the length of time it took to get done was a bit suspicious and gave the allusion Keselowski could end up elsewhere. Ultimately, his remaining at Penske means he has a chance to become the team’s all-time winner. His 51 wins for Penske are second on its list, eight behind Mark Donohue.
  • Paul Menard will take the sponsorship of his father’s home improvement chain from Richard Childress Racing to replace Blaney in the No. 21 car. The sponsorship dollars are a huge plus for Wood Brothers, but the question is what Menard himself brings. He has just one win, which came at Indy six years ago driving for RCR, and it could be argued the current state of the Wood Brothers team makes this the best car he has ever been in.
  • Menard’s departure opens the No. 27 at the Childress team, but the bigger question than what driver might fill it is what company will replace the sponsorship of the Menard’s brand. Conventional wisdom would peg Ty Dillon for that car, but it’s entirely possible that car won’t be on track next season if RCR can’t find a viable replacement. If Friday’s announcement that Target is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing is any indication, it might be quite the chore to do so.

PREDICTION

You may be reading this during Cup Series qualifying, as this is the first of three weekends that qualifying will take place immediately prior to the race. The series had two practices Saturday, though, and this guy was in the top-3 of 10-lap averages in both, so I’m taking a flyer on him today.

PICK: Jamie McMurray.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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