IndyStar race correspondent Zach Horrall and race insider Jim Ayello discuss who won the Brickyard 400.
Chase Elliott wouldn’t allow himself to overthink the hour-long break between the Lilly Diabetes 250 and Brickyard 400.
He didn’t hold an ill-advised meeting with his team, stir up his pit crew or sow seeds of worry or nervous anticipation. He wasn’t concerned about the 650 miles he’d log by day’s end or the toll that marathon might take on him. No, he remained calm and deliberate. Mother Nature had finally allowed him to slide into a car, speed around the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and sweat a little, so he’d do what he thought he needed to ensure a successful completion of the 400 miles between him and a second checkered-flag.
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Elliott exited his car after a fourth-place finish, ate lunch as people hurried about pit lane giving it a makeover for the Cup race, downed a couple of bottles of water and looked forward to the opportunity to sweat a bit more.
“The Coca-Cola 600 is only 50 miles shorter,” Elliott told IndyStar after a second-career 15th-place finish at the Brickyard 400. “So, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Elliott entered the weather-induced doubleheader Sept. 10 one of eight racers ready to compete in both the morning NASCAR Xfinity Series race and afternoon Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale. Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, J.J. Yeley, Ross Chastain, B.J. McLeod and David Starr joined him in the 650-mile trek, with only Austin Dillon, Elliott and Blaney able to record top-10 finishes — each in the morning event.
The cool weather that greeted everyone at IMS made the day easier to get through, , according to Elliott and Blaney. But it’s not like a blistering July day would have made the feat impossible to achieve.
As Elliott pointed out, 650 miles sounds more arduous than it really is. NASCAR’s schedule regularly offers 400- and 500-mile races, the Daytona 500 and Pocono 400 to name a couple; and no driver walks away from the Coca-Cola 600 lamenting the distance.
Blaney, whose third- and 11th-place finishes, respectively, were both best among the eight-man 650 crew, would welcome the challenge.
“I’m fine,” Blaney said, and joked: “I could probably do another 650.”
Pit crew members for NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney (12) huddle before the 2018 Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (Photo: Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)
No one appeared worried that rain had washed out any chance to practice or even qualify ahead of either race. Elliott went as far as to say it simplified the weekend because there wasn’t anything any driver or team could do on track to prepare. All anyone who descended on Indianapolis for the weekend could do was look to races in year’s past and try to glean what they could from those experiences.
“I don’t think practice, not having it, was a very big deal,” Elliott said.
Of course they would have all enjoyed how Justin Allgaier and Brad Keselowski ended their one-offs more, but racing in the morning didn’t result in any disadvantage once the green flag dropped for the main event. Blaney and Elliott both said they’d raced in doubleheaders before in their careers.
“Honestly, I find it more challenging qualifying the two cars back-to-back than to race them,” Elliott told IndyStar between races, explaining the different setups the cars had. “Qualifying, you have one lap to hit it, and when you get out of one car and get in the other, you have to make sure you don’t mess up that one lap. When a race starts, especially a long race like (the Brickyard 400), everybody kind of settles in at the beginning, typically. That gives you time to feel things out, whereas in qualifying you don’t have that time.”
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Jordan Guskey on Twitter at @JordanGuskey or email him at email@example.com.