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Top Moments of 2018 - #3: NASCAR 650 Ends Soggy Weekend with Manic Monday of Action

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2018 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The rain started Thursday of NASCAR race weekend last September at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On Friday, it kept coming. Same with Saturday. There also was no relief Sunday from the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon, which seemed to find a comfortable parking spot over the Racing Capital of the World.

It was believed to be the first time in NASCAR history that not a single race car tire touched the track during a scheduled race weekend due to weather. Chevy pickups and NASCAR’s Air Titan track-drying vehicles seemingly turned enough laps to circle the globe all three days, but the roar of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series cars were silent. The only sound was the persistent rain pitter-patting roofs around the giant facility, and perhaps the gnashing of teeth and deep exhales from race fans and NASCAR and IMS officials.

IMS officials were forced to postpone the Big Machine Vodka 400 Powered by Florida Georgia Line, scheduled for Sunday, for the first time in the race’s 25-year history. The Lilly Diabetes 250 also was washed out Saturday.

NASCAR policy states races will take place on the next available day, due to the hectic pace of the Cup and Xfinity schedules, which feature almost no off weekends all season. So 650 miles of racing were scheduled for Monday, Sept. 10 at IMS, with the Xfinity Series race set to take the green flag at 10 a.m. and the Cup Series race at 2 p.m.

No one knew how both races – combined playfully by a few Media Center observers as the Noah’s Ark 650 -- would unfold. Would teams and drivers weary of waiting around for three unfulfilling days simply get the show in and move to the next stop on the schedule, or would the racing be as intense as a regular NASCAR weekend? Would the final regular-season race of the Cup Series schedule feature the ferocity everyone expected when it was scheduled for Sunday?

Monday dawned dry, the first hopeful sign of the extended race weekend. And once the green flag dropped on the Lilly Diabetes 250 on Monday morning, the fans who remained in town to see the race weekend through and those watching on TV quickly discovered this would be a special day in IMS history, filled with memories.

Illinois native Justin Allgaier led 41 of 100 laps in the No. 7 Dove Men + Care Chevrolet and edged JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick to the finish by a race-record .092 of a second in the Lilly Diabetes 250.

“I used to come here all the time,” Allgaier said. “I sat in the grandstands and watched the Indy 500. I sat for the first I don’t know how many Brickyard 400s right up there in Turn 1, so I wanted to do a burnout down there.
 
“To win at the Brickyard means so much and to put a Camaro into Victory Lane here and to see these bricks, this is special. To be able to kiss the bricks with my wife and daughter, that’s pretty special.”

Allgaier took the lead for good on Lap 84 on a restart. Xfinity Series title rival Christopher Bell was side by side with Allgaier in Turns 3 and 4 on the restart but couldn’t get past, and Reddick was able to slip past Bell for second before the end of the lap.

Reddick stalked Allgaier over the final 15 laps, waiting for the perfect chance to make a pass that never came. The teammates were separated by less than a tenth of a second, nose to tail, over 13 of the last 15 laps.

That action was a sign of similar excitement in the Cup Series race that afternoon, including a history-making finish.

Brad Keselowski passed Denny Hamlin with less than two laps to go to win the 25th Running of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line. It was the first win in the crown jewel NASCAR race for legendary team owner Roger Penske, who has won a record 17 Indianapolis 500s.

Keselowski’s victory also ensured Penske became just the second team owner to win the Indianapolis 500 and Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line in the same year, as Team Penske’s Will Power captured the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Chip Ganassi was the first owner to achieve the feat in 2010, as Dario Franchitti won Indy for Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Jamie McMurray won the Brickyard for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.

Team Penske also completed a sweep of all three major auto racing events in one year at IMS, as Power also won the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course to start the Month of May.

A crucial strategy call by crew chief Paul Wolfe paved the way for Keselowski’s victory. Keselowski led four-time Brickyard winner Jimmie Johnson by 2.426 seconds on Lap 140, but Wolfe called Keselowski to the pits for four tires and fuel on Lap 143, handing the lead to Hamlin.

One lap later, a large piece of sheet metal was spotted on the front stretch, triggering a caution period. Leaders Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones stayed on track during that caution on older tires than Keselowski and a cluster of drivers who pitted under caution on Lap 146.

The final caution period of the race, triggered by a hard crash between Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt on Lap 155, also played into Keselowski’s hands and Wolfe’s strategy. Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano and Johnson dove into the pits for their final stops on Lap 156, and Keselowski was third on the final restart, on Lap 158, behind Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

Keselowski stayed glued to the rear bumper of Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Possibilities Toyota on the restart on Lap 158 and drove to second place in Turn 1, with Hamlin keeping the lead by .116 of a second at the end of the lap.

Hamlin kept the edge in Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 159, but Keselowski pulled inside Hamlin – with the two cars bumping side by side on the back straightaway. Hamlin kept the lead, but the two cars traded paint again in Turn 3.

Keselowski, on fresher tires, dove under Hamlin in Turn 4 and then powered toward the white flag. Jones drove his No. 20 buyatoyota.com Toyota past Hamlin for second on the final lap but couldn’t touch Keselowski, who won by .904 of a second.

“Check the box,” Keselowski said to his crew on the radio during his cool-down lap, referring to finally earning Penske’s first Brickyard victory in 25 tries.

Suddenly, any soggy memories of showers evaporated in the warmth of a history-making day at IMS.

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