AJ Allmendinger Wins a Long, Confusing NASCAR Race at Indianapolis

Chase Briscoe wrecked the leader, a destroyed curb wrecked half the field, and NASCAR's handling of it all raised some serious questions.

nascar cup series verizon 200 at the brickyard
Stacy RevereGetty Images

AJ Allmendinger winning this race is a notable result, a genuinely amazing win for a part-time Kaulig Racing program that hopes to be one of the best teams on the grid when it debuts as a full-time program next season. But it is, at most, the third-biggest headline from today's debut NASCAR Cup Series race at the Indianapolis road course.

We'll start with the curb. Yesterday, the Xfinity Series saw cars entirely jump over two separate baguette curbs in the turn 5 and 6 complex. One, on corner exit, was meant to enforce track limits. That one was removed before today's race. Another, inside the main curb, was meant to enforce cutting the corner. That one was not removed. Somehow, the curb in between the two is the one that caused the actual problems.

It was a problem early, but it was a problem NASCAR thought they could fix. A few attempts to re-seal the curb during cautions seemed to have done the job, so when the field re-started with eight laps to go drivers felt comfortable going over it at full speed. On that restart, Martin Truex Jr. spun on it, but the race stayed green because Truex was still rolling. One lap later, the entire field went through it at full speed, only for the damage to expose a rut inside the racing line four cars through the field. That meant fourth-placed William Byron's splitter was violently ripped off at speed, sending him into the wall. His splitter, now lodged into the kerb, went on to create the same wreck for two other waves of cars. About a third of the field was wrecked in the span of 25 seconds. Along with Byron, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were wrecked out of potential top five finishes.

After a lengthy red flag, the race resumed with the problem curb removed. That exposed the remaining jump curb from yesterday's race. Ten cars into the leading group, Michael McDowell hit that curb. He wrecked four other cars in the process. Another red flag, another restart.

What happened on track before this restart is immaterial. The race itself was thrown to total chaos three restarts prior, so all you need to know is that Denny Hamlin led Chase Briscoe, and AJ Allmendinger. Hamlin forced Briscoe off at turn 1 to retain the lead while holding off Allmendinger, but Briscoe cut the corner after being pushed off and came back out side-by-side with Hamlin. That meant he would need to give up the position later in a penalty, but Briscoe claims he did not know this.

So, he wrecked Hamlin on the straight.

Briscoe is right to critique Hamlin for the forceful driving, and a high-contact move in a corner entry that left Hamlin in a wall could have been justified in retaliation if they were racing for a win. Whether Briscoe knew it or not, he was not racing for a win. He simply hooked Hamlin exiting a corner in a race he was not going to finish in the top ten of no matter what at that point.

It was the third significant humiliation for NASCAR in just ten laps of green flag running. The curb falling apart, and the many issues with the corner complex throughout the weekend, can reasonably be blamed on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track prep team. But the choice to resume the race with the main curb removed and a jump curb stil in place falls solely on NASCAR, a particularly poor choice after the series reportedly asked drivers if resuming was a good idea at all. It reflects the poor choices to resume racing in questionable conditions at Texas, the Circuit of the Americas, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the past year alone, all of which led to crashes caused directly by NASCAR's choice to race in unsafe conditions. It is a pattern that is becoming impossible to ignore, one that has now come up twice with light rain on an oval, once with visibility issues caused by heavy rain on a road course, and once with in-race track design decisions. It is one that should force NASCAR to seriously reconsider how they decide a track is safe to race.

That third humiliation is the one that will stick with me, though. NASCAR has long prided itself on being self-policing, but this was a rare instance where actual penalties exist to keep drivers from doing things they clearly should not do. Briscoe ran afoul of one of the few driving standard rules this series actually has and, whether or not he was correct in claiming Hamlin pushed him off track, he still felt that he deserved to do some rule-making of his own on track. In a series that has any respect for driving standards at all, Briscoe would be suspended for a race for wrecking a car out of direct competition for position. But we already know that NASCAR does not seriously punish for this, we already saw it in an even more serious situation at Martinsville with Matt Kenseth getting just two races for punting Joey Logano a few years back, so instead we are left to assume that this will happen again. This is the series that let Austin Dillon intentionally wreck Aric Almirola at 200 miles per hour to win the Daytona 500, after all; they have long since decided that they are okay with their field crashing cars on purpose with no justifiable reason.

With those things in mind, there is little pride to be salvaged from this race. All of it should go to Kaulig Racing and AJ Allmendinger. He ran an exceptional race in Matt Kaulig's No. 16, grabbing his second career win and opening up the victory column for a first-year Cup Series team. Next season, Kaulig expands from one part-time car to two full-time cars. As they showed today, the team will be ready to fight for wins and playoff spots from day 1.

NASCAR returns to competition at Michigan next weekend. After such a disastrous road course race, the big oval will be a welcome break.

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