As the sunset Sunday over Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Denny Hamlin seven laps from one of the few victories that has eluded him, he went careening into the first turn wall with a flat right front-side tire, and Kevin Harvick beat Matt Kenseth off the final restart to win his second straight Brickyard.
Not only did Harvick race to his 53rd victory to move within one of tying Lee Petty for 11th on NASCAR’s career list, teammates Aric Almirola and Cole Custer, a rookie, finished third and fifth Sunday. Fellow Stewart-Haas driver Chase Briscoe won the Xfinity Series race Saturday or the road course.
Harvick tied Hamlin with a season-high fourth victory and lead in the points. The California driver has four straight top-10 finishes.
And for the third straight race, it looked as if it would be another one-two finish for Harvick and Hamlin.
But until the late, stunning twist, Hamlin looked as though he would take his first Brickyard.
After trading victories and runner-up finishes at Pocono last week and Sunday’s result, they’ve combined for seven of 12 victories since the season restarted at Darlington in mid-May and it’s only the second time in seven races Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing entry hasn’t finished in the top seven.
One person was noticeably absent: Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports car. Johnson watched the race from his Colorado home as the series’ longest active streak of consecutive and fifth-longest in series history ended at 663. Johnson was hoping to become the third driver to win five races on the 2.5-mile oval.
Instead, Justin Allgaier replaced him in the car and he didn’t stick around long.
Allgaier was involved in a six-car pileup near the entrance to pit road that brought out a red flag on Lap 16 when one of Ryan Blaney’s crew members was pinned between two cars. Track workers put Zachary Price on a stretcher. He was eventually transported to a nearby hospital but there was no immediate post-race update.
Two laps later, Allgaier’s day was over.
Kurt Busch also had a rough day after making his 700th career start. After starting second, his hopes for winning one of the Cup’s crown jewels faded with an early pit stop mistake. A plane flew over the track during pre-race activities to celebrate the milestone, which broke a tie with Hall of Famer Buddy Baker for No. 16 on the series career list.
NASCAR’s weather problems also continued, this time with the start delayed 55 minutes for lightning.
But once the race started, it was clean sailing for Harvick. He led for most of the first stage before giving way to William Byron, who chose not to pit with nine laps to go, and then won the second stage before earning the big prize.