The experiment continues. As NASCAR looks for ways to take days off the schedule without removing races, the Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is truly a two-day show. A pair of practices on Saturday will be followed by qualification and the race Sunday morning. That is legitimately “old school.”
The bad news about practice schedules like this is that there is not much time to overcome mistakes. While the red flag was waving over final practice for the Brickyard 400, Denny Hamlin apparently lost a tire in Turn 4 and slammed the wall hard. He destroyed his primary car and will have to roll out a backup for the second time in the last six races.
"It was big, for sure," Hamlin said on NBCSN after leaving the care center. "I mean, the last corner. I think the red was out for like a minute. ... We were going to finish our lap. I just blew a right front. We hadn't seen any wear issues, so we might have ran something over."
Hamlin believed the tire was cut, but @GoodyearRacing tweeted out later: “After looking at the practice tire off the 11 car of Denny Hamlin, there was damage on the inboard shoulder of the RF tire due to high heat.”
Hamlin was our favorite on this week’s Cheat Sheet, but we may need to alter that prediction a little since the backup will have only one lap before the race begins and since Hamlin will have to roll out from the tail end of the pack. However, fantasy players should note that Hamlin finished second at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – another flat track – after he was forced into his second-best car.
Kurt Busch won Happy Hour. With an elapsed time of 49.434 seconds over the duration of five laps and 49.635 seconds for 10 laps, he topped both of these charts. Since Indy is such a long track, relatively few drivers made 10 laps runs (only 14, in fact), but Busch was ahead of some serious competition with Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, and Erik Jones rounding out the top five on that chart.
The elder Busch has had an uneven record at Indy in recent events with three results outside the top 15 in his last five attempts there. Two of these were outside the top 25. The other two results were top-10s, however, including a sixth in last year’s Brickyard 400. We had him ranked 15th on the Cheat Sheet, but that should be amended to something on the cusp of 10th. Busch was also fastest on the five-lap chart in the first practice.
No one posted more than five laps in the morning session and only 13 went five consecutive. Notably, Byron was second on that chart. Combined with his third-best, 10-lap average in Happy Hour, he is showing consistent speed. Byron finished only 19th last year at the Brickyard, but he has a pair of top-10s to his credit on the similarly-configured Pocono Raceway in 2019.
Ranked second earlier this week, Kyle Busch had the second-best, five-lap average in Happy Hour with an elapsed time of 49.521 seconds per lap. Busch may well be the favorite to win this weekend, which would be his third victory on this track since 2015.
The fastest single laps in the two practice sessions belong to Kyle Larson (185.025 mph) in the morning and Paul Menard (185.079) in Final Practice. Qualification has been unpredictable this year, but fantasy players will want to give Larson some serious consideration for the pole Bonus in the NASCAR.com Fantasy Live game.
The Bubble Boys struggled in practice. Jimmie Johnson had a weak suspension in the morning and porpoised badly. When his front splitter hit the track on the opening lap, he was forced into the pits and did not get a lot of seat time. He eventually made 10 laps in that session and landed 10th on the speed chart, but was not very enthusiastic about the handling of his car. Johnson rebounded slightly with the 12th-best, five-lap time in Happy Hour.
Ryan Newman’s car was so loose in the morning session that he abandoned several runs. He would not make a five-lap run in either session.
Daniel Suarez landed 17th of 25 drivers on the five-lap chart in final practice.
Clint Bowyer posted the 11th-best, 10-lap average in Happy Hour.