By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Sunday’s race at Michigan had a huge impact on the playoff picture as Kevin Harvick went from a winless driver outside the pack to a race winner solidly in the playoffs.
But it was the race a week earlier on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that potentially could have had a bigger impact — or at least be a much bigger indicator — on how the NASCAR Cup Series evolves over the next three months and beyond.
A day before the race at Michigan, driver media sessions were full of discussions focusing on what happened at Indianapolis, from drivers just plowing into each other going into the first turn to fires in a couple of cars to a horrendous wreck.
Kyle Larson’s wreck where he slammed into Ty Dillon was an uncharacteristic mistake by the 2021 Cup champion as he went too deep into the corner without braking and then tried to accelerate between Dillon and another car.
“I had a lot of speed because I was trying to just miss both of them,” Larson said. “I knew I was out of control … and instead I hit Ty.
“It’s just really embarrassing.”
Larson breaks down Indianapolis Motor Speedway wreck
Kyle Larson explains the mistake he made in the wreck with Ty Dillon at Indianapolis.
How Larson races in the future after such a mistake remains to be seen. He’s fairly unflappable.
“Hopefully I’m never in that predicament again,” Larson said. “I [likely would] just stand on the brakes and lock them up and hit the guy in front of me, I guess. Hopefully I don’t make that mistake again.”
The fact that both drivers were relatively uninjured — Dillon was sore for the week and Larson had a bruise on his foot — was another sign that many will point to that the Next Gen car is safe.
But Harvick looked at the wreck and still saw red flags.
“You look at the cars, and they’re like, ‘Oh man, they look great,'” Harvick said about the cars in that wreck. “That’s the problem. Nothing flew off of it, right?
“All that energy is absorbed by you [the driver], so it feels like you get hit by the hammer and the car survives. The cars are all together and that looks great, but it doesn’t feel great.”
Dillon on the Indy wreck
Ty Dillon says he was sore all week after Indy and reveals what was said in his conversation with Kyle Larson, who called him the Monday after the race.
NASCAR, which has a dedicated group of engineers that focuses on safety and crash analysis, has said that it has tested the Next Gen car more than any other car in its racing history and that with the number of crashes this year, the safety record is strong. Kurt Busch is the only driver to have missed a Cup race for injury as he has sat out the past three weeks because of a concussion.
Harvick is concerned that the hard hits (drivers say the hits are harder while NASCAR has not confirmed that through data it has gathered so far in the crashes) could be a design issue, which would require more research and potential overhaul of team fleets.
“I don’t think anybody knows what that fix is, but it’s not going to be high priority list because it’s going to be expensive,” Harvick said.
In another scary incident at Indy, Chris Buescher’s car caught fire on pit road. Joey Logano’s car also caught fire at the end of the race.
NASCAR is looking at both those instances to see if something needs to change as it appeared the fires were caused by similar circumstances.
“It’s definitely something we need to look into,” Logano said. “It seems like the same thing that happened to my car happened to Buescher’s car with the exhaust getting pushed back … and essentially melting the panels around there and then lighting the [safety] foam up inside the door.
“So obviously, we need to look into that — [it’s] learning curves with the race car.”
Logano’s fire went a little unnoticed as the talk at the end of the race was about how drivers didn’t show any respect in the waning laps and the hard right-hand Turn 1 on the late restarts. Drivers spread out five-wide, and it appeared there was no chance to make the corner. Logano was one of the drivers on the inside who tried to muscle his way through.
Logano on his Indianapolis Motor Speedway experience
Joey Logano speaks on his move going into Turn 1 late at Indy and also the fire he experienced at the end.
“A Turn 1 like that on a late-race restart, you can kind of see what’s going to happen,” said Logano, the 2018 Cup champion. “If you’re not the one making the move, the move is going to be made on you, and you kind of get put in a spot.”
Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and William Byron were among those who got the worst ends of those moves.
“I get over things pretty quick [and] move on. Just a shame to throw a good day away like that,” Blaney said.
“We were running great all day and did all the right things and then just to get bulldozed at the end, I was just frustrated and rightfully so.”
Elliott isn’t sure what will change in similar situations on road courses. With the carbon bodies this year, the body panels don’t get crinkled as easily because they tend to pop back into shape.
Elliot, Blaney, William Byron and Bubba Wallace talk Indy
Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Bubba Wallace offer their perspectives on the race at Indy.
The 2020 Cup champion indicated he potentially could do more taking than giving in the future.
“The bodies on these cars aren’t quite as fragile as they used to be,” Elliott said. “So you can kind of get in there and be a little more aggressive on somebody’s bumper than what you could last year without having damage.
“I think that plays a little bit of a role. … Obviously, we were on the poor end of it. I tried not to bulldoze people getting in the corner. And you saw where that got me.”
Thinking out loud
The battle between Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. for possibly the last playoff spot — if there are no new winners — should be one to relish.
Blaney currently leads Truex by 19 points. They both led at least 80 laps earlier this year at Richmond, the next stop on the circuit. Then comes Watkins Glen — and they both own victories on road courses in their career.
Martin Truex Jr. vs. Ryan Blaney
Fast Thoughts with Bob Pockrass: Martin Truex Jr. or Ryan Blaney, who makes the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs?
And then there’s Daytona, and both drivers know they can get it done on the Daytona-Talladega tracks, certainly Blaney more than Truex, who hasn’t won at those tracks but has been in the mix several times.
Both have demeanors that should help them in a points battle as they tend to stay calm amid adversity.
They both have had seasons where they deserve to be in the playoffs — Blaney at second in the standings and Truex in fourth. For one of them to miss the playoffs would be a shame.
Maybe both will win a race and eliminate a one-win driver from the mix.
Stat of the day
Kevin Harvick has won five of the past seven Michigan races.
They said it
“I failed the team.” — Bubba Wallace after his second-place finish at Michigan
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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