This year's Brickyard 400 featured a surprise winner, unhappy drivers frustrated with NASCAR's new Generation-6 car and a fan base seemingly in revolt. All of which means there is plenty to delve into in this week's edition of winners and losers.
It's difficult to have a better week than the one Tony Stewart just had.
First, his beloved Eldora Speedway hosted NASCAR's first major dirt track race in four decades. And the event couldn't have turned out better, with action throughout, storylines aplenty and not one complaint about any of the proceedings. It was a win-win for everyone involved and may have opened the door for dirt racing to again become a staple in NASCAR on a national scale.
Stewart's good fortune continued into the weekend. In a car fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Newman started from the pole then went on to win the Brickyard 400 -- the NASCAR race his boss cherishes more than any other. Additionally, with a fourth-place finish of his own, Stewart moved to just a single point from being inside the top 10 and leads the wild card standings with six races to go.
Earlier in the year Joe Gibbs Racing made a strong case for being the best organization in the garage. But as the weeks tick by and the Chase approaches it's clear Hendrick Motorsports has reestablished itself as the preeminent team.
If there is any question about Hendrick's dominance, all one has to do is look at the box score from Indianapolis. Jimmie Johnson (second), Kasey Kahne (third), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (sixth) and Jeff Gordon (seventh) all placed in the top 10 and seven of the first nine finishers were powered by Hendrick horsepower.
Roush Fenway Racing
Jack's Roush streak of never having won at Indianapolis continues for another year as none of his three cars played a role in the outcome. Despite starting third and running second at the midpoint, Carl Edwards slid back to 13th. As for his two teammates, Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were both inconspicuous and finished 24th and 25th, respectively.
Utilizing pit strategy to their advantage used to be the forte of the defending champs, but that trait has been noticeably absent this season and was again so at Indianapolis. Consequently, with a car that was good enough to finish somewhere in the top 10, Brad Keselowski finished 21st as he got off sequence and was never able to recover.
The poor result was significant as it dropped Keselowski four spots in the points to 13th. More problematic, though, is with Newman's victory, and still winless himself, Keselowski is now fourth overall in the wild card standings.
There was a time when NASCAR's annual summer stop at Indianapolis was treated with reverence. But that seems like eons ago as the Brickyard 400 has become a punching bag and symbolic of the issues that have plagued the sport as of late -- from Jimmie Johnson winning too much, not enough passing to the lack of competitiveness of the Gen-6.
But Indianapolis has always been a challenging track for stock cars. Because without banking it's simply not conducive for producing compelling racing that will enamor the fan base. This is not necessarily all NASCAR's fault, but there are serious concerns about the functionality of the redesigned car and what can be done to improve the product. This applies not only at Indianapolis but all tracks the Sprint Cup Series visits.