Brickyard 400 Update: Strategies shifting, but Kahne’s leading at halfway

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In a race that has been filled with strategy plays, Kasey Kahne holds the point at the halfway mark of today’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kahne took the lead off a restart at Lap 73, and is ahead of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano.

Pole sitter Harvick narrowly led the first lap but Gordon took the lead going into Turn 1 from his fellow Chevy driver.

In clean air, Gordon quickly grew the lead to more than four seconds before a competition caution came out at Lap 20 so teams could check tire wear on a green surface after overnight rains.

Logano chose to stay out on the track, but the rest of the leaders decided to pit. Gordon won the race off of pit road with a two-tire stop, but Logano took over the lead.

Other strategy plays ensued in these stops as well, with Jimmie Johnson going fuel-only and Harvick choosing to take four tires instead of two.

Logano took the inside line for the restart at Lap 26 and kept the point, while Gordon struggled to get going and bottled up the outside line. He eventually settled down in fourth behind Logano, Kahne, and Johnson, while those farther back jostled aggressively for positions.

Also losing out on the restart was Brad Keselowski, who was pinned behind Gordon when he spun his wheels and dropped all the way back to ninth as a result.

Kahne eventually got past Logano in Turn 3 for the point at Lap 32, and a few turns later, Logano came in for his first stop under green. That started a wave of green-flag stops featuring Kahne coming in from the lead at Lap 38, which handed the lead to rookie Kyle Larson.

Larson would hold the lead until Lap 43, when he and Ganassi teammate Jamie McMurray hit the pits together. The lead shuffled to Austin Dillon and then to Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin, who pitted under the competition caution, was able to stretch his fuel load to Lap 56 before he finally went in for his second stop. That completed the cycle and put Harvick back atop the pylon by less than half a second over Gordon.

Gordon was able to pass Harvick for the lead just before they pitted together on Lap 66. Two laps later, the first caution of the day came out when Danica Patrick slowed to a stop coming off pit road with a reported broken axle.

Patrick would eventually get the car going again, but not before NASCAR opted to throw the yellow (she eventually went back to the garage for repairs). A good chunk of cars decided to pit at this point, including Tony Stewart, Dillon, McMurray, and more.

But Hamlin kept to his fuel strategy and stayed out to maintain the lead ahead of Harvick, Kahne, Gordon, and Busch. However, Hamlin was jumped on the Lap 73 restart by both Kahne and Busch, and then Harvick dropped him to fourth by the time they came back around to the Yard of Bricks.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”