AJ Almendinger Wins and Denny Hamlin Clinches in NASCAR Race at Indianapolis Road Course [VIDEO]

Part-Time Cup Series driver AJ Almendinger affected the NASCAR Playoffs by winning the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot in the post-season without winning.

The first ever NASCAR Cup Series race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course had excitement, drama, mayhem and a surprise ending. It was a story that would have been difficult for even a writer to craft.

The race began with drivers racing side-by-side. Challenges for the lead were taking place from the start. Drivers that started in the back were working forward through the field. This year’s dominant driver Kyle Larson appeared to be showing he was the most likely to win the race. Hendrick Motor Sports (HMS) has been the dominant racing team to date this season. They appeared to be living up to that again with Larson’s HMS teammates Chase Elliott and William Byron running with him at the front of the field.

Denny Hamlin was racing to hold on to the point lead to secure his spot in the Playoffs. He has yet to win a race this season. If he could end the regular season as the point leader he earns a spot in the post-season as the Regular Season Champion.

Through the first two stages it was obvious that the HMS drivers were all about winning, not stage points. They hit the pits before the end of the stages. Their priority was position for the re-start over the points at the end of the stages.

This allowed Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon to race for the stage win and those bonus points. These two drivers entered the Indy race in a tight battle for the 16th and final position on the Playoff grid. Reddick was able to score the win in both stages with Austin finishing in third place in stage one and second place in stage two. That keeps their point battle very close.

In the final stage of the race the cars all had to pit at least once to make it to the end of the race. The green-flag pit stops cycled through with the picture looking like it would again be an HMS domination with a potential one, two, three finish with Kyle Larson winning again. However, cautions and red flags would change that view.

The biggest change came when one of the metal, temporary curbing structures on the track came up with just a handful of laps remaining. That caused a multi-car incident and set the stage for a dramatic shift in the finish of the race.

When the race finally re-started for a NASCAR Overtime, green-white-checkered finish it looked as though it would be Denny Hamlin and rookie Chase Briscoe battling for the win. Battle they did. Briscoe was forced off track and came back on not realizing he would have to make a stop-and-go penalty for missing a turn in the process. He raced forward to challenge for the lead and ended up sending Hamlin spinning. This removed both cars from contention for the win.

That allowed AJ Almendinger to move from third to first place. All he would have to do is hold the lead through the final lap plus and he would win. Hold the lead he did and secured his second career win the NASCAR Cup Series and first at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since he and the team he races for, Kaulig Racing, only races part-time this year in the Cup Series, they are not eligible for the post-season. However, the win still affected the Playoff outlook.

Ryan Blaney finished the race in second place. Kyle Larson was able to capture a third place finish. Chase Elliott earned the fourth place finish with Matt DiBenedetto rounded out the top five. See the complete race results for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard race here.

When it comes to the NASCAR Cup Series Point Standings Kyle Larson leaves Indianapolis as the leader. Denny Hamlin leaves in second place (however, he still achieved his goal for the day in another way). See the complete NASCAR Cup Series Point Standings here.

The effect that Almendinger’s win had on the Playoffs is that it guarantees at least one spot in the post-season will be filled by a driver based on points. There are now two races remaining in the regular season. There are also three spots in the 16-driver playoff field not filled by a driver with at least one win. That means even if the next two races have a first-time 2021 winner the final spot is open. Well, it would have been open.

Denny Hamlin has scored enough points that it is impossible for him to be overtaken by any driver below him in points in just two races. That means Hamlin has clinched a spot in the post-season regardless of who wins in the next two races or who wins the Regular Season Championship.

After racing in back-to-back road course races, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to high speed, high banking racing next. The drivers will battle in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway Sunday, August 22nd.

By: Buck Stevens
Buck Stevens