By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
There are six more NASCAR Monster Energy Cup races before the series rolls into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sept. 9 for the Brickyard 400, where the pressure to win will be tremendous on any driver without a victory this season. The event is the final race to determine the 16 drivers who will take part in The Chase, NASCAR’s version of a playoff.
So far, only seven drivers – Kyle Busch (five wins), Kevin Harvick (five), Martin Truex Jr. (four), Clint Bowyer (two) and Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon (all one) have qualified by winning a race. A perfect race by pole winner Truex, the 2017 Cup champion, closed the door for any first-time winner Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 as he led 174 of 267 laps and finished nearly two seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney.
“Just feel really lucky,” Truex said after decisively winning his fourth race of the season. “I’ve been on the other side of it before when teams were fighting to get in position to win races and having a lot of things kind of go against you … just trying to ride the wave of momentum and enjoy it all.”
When NASCAR left Kentucky Speedway, four drivers, 17th to 20th in points, were closest to the top 16: Paul Menard, 14 points; Austin Dillon, 56; Ryan Newman, 70; and Daniel Suarez, 74. South Bend native Newman finished 21st after a pit stop penalty with 53 laps to go and dropped to 19th in points. Drivers who have not won a race may qualify for The Chase on points, which Newman has done before. Big gains in points are difficult so winning a race is the best way to get into The Chase.
Brenneman’s first race
“It was so loud that I made a pact with God: Do not send me to another NASCAR race,” Brenneman said. That pact was in effect for 40 years until Saturday night when he ceremoniously led the 40-car field. “I think they’re crazy, but I have a lot of respect for these drivers,” he said. “I was only one car out there, so multiply that by 40. These drivers are so precise to be able to do what they do.”
Brenneman said the Cincinatti Reds should not fire first-year manager Jim Riggleman because he manages with an iron hand and the players know it.