Playoff push status quo remains at rain-delayed Brickyard 400

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Brad Keselowski explains his Brickyard 400 race-winning pass on Denny Hamlin: (1:25)

Brad Keselowski explains his Brickyard 400 race-winning pass on Denny Hamlin: Video by Bob Pockrass (1:25)

INDIANAPOLIS -- After three days of rain and no track activity, a race fan could easily believe that the Brickyard 400 is a cursed NASCAR Cup Series event.

Attendance woes have plagued the venue as well as sweltering heat. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NASCAR tried to put a little boost into the event, moving it to September (yay, cooler temperatures!) -- and having it as the regular-season finale (drama!).

Instead, IMS got no track activity for three consecutive days because of rain. The crowd was likely the lowest in race history -- no Brickyard 400 had ever been postponed -- after advance ticket sales suggested that a nine-year ticket decline would end.

The points drama didn't happen. Jamie McMurray did make a little bit of a run late, creating some intrigue on whether he could race his way into the playoffs with a victory, knocking out Alex Bowman. But that didn't come to fruition.

Despite all the letdowns, at least one curse was lifted Monday. A Penske curse.

Roger Penske had not won in the 24 previous editions of the Brickyard 400. Earlier this year, he had won his 17th Indianapolis 500 as a car owner.

Brad Keselowski, who had come close to winning this race in the past, finally got the job done on Monday.

He needed a crash between Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt with six laps remaining to do it. That wreck created a restart with three laps remaining during which Keselowski, on fresher tires, was able to challenge leader Denny Hamlin. They had a little contact before Keselowski prevailed to lead the final two laps.

"We have felt a little cursed, but honestly, I've felt like I've made some mistakes along the way that kept us from winning, and today was a day where we just didn't make them," said Keselowski, who won back-to-back races to finish the regular season after going winless in the first 24.

"We had great strategy, a little bit of luck on our side and perfect execution."

Hamlin left flabbergasted. Both Cassill and Earnhardt were four laps down at the time of the accident.

"[I'm] upset about lap-down cars that have no bearing on the race crashing for no reason with three or four [laps] to go," Hamlin said. "It's the same reason we lost the championship in 2014. Silly, stupid cars wrecking for no reason."

McMurray restarted third with 12 laps to go and fourth with three to go.

"You never know what is going to happen," McMurray said. "When I was third, I had been getting really good restarts all day long on the bottom. So, yeah, I did [have a shot] but just didn't have it [in the car]."

Keselowski winning allowed Alex Bowman to breathe easy. Bowman had crashed early in the race and was running 18 laps down but still made the playoffs. Nothing like backing into the postseason.

Once Bowman crashed, that meant absolutely no drama for seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who entered with a mathematical chance of missing the playoffs.

"We were paying attention to Alex and trying to race him first and foremost and it worked out," Johnson said.

This Cup race didn't have the drafting drama of the Xfinity Series event earlier in the day, which included a four-wide finish to the end of one of the stages. NASCAR had toyed with the idea of bringing that package to Indianapolis because of the tendency of cars to get strung out. As McMurray pointed out, he had to gamble on whether to pit or not in order to save track position because of the difficulty passing.

Many drivers hate that drafting package, and for good reason -- it bunches up the field. But in this playoff system that now comes down to three three-race rounds and a championship race following a 26-race regular season, is that just the next step, at least for the race that determines who advances? If that package needs to be run anywhere, it should be Indianapolis.

That would create more conversation than NASCAR had going Monday.

In a perfect world, NASCAR and IMS needed a beautiful Sunday and a close points battle. They got rain and a ho-hum event as far as points.

Maybe next year.

"I really like the idea of this race being maybe not the cutoff race to the playoffs but toward the fall months," Keselowski said. "I think there's a good fit there that makes good sense to me. I'd really like it if it was like [area short track] IRP -- on a Wednesday and then Indy on a Sunday.

"I wish we could race twice in this region in the week, so you get a little dose of both. But you can't complain. The track is trying really hard to do what they can do, and we're very fortunate to be able to have stock cars here running at this track and thankful for that opportunity."

That was a somewhat politically correct statement from Keselowski, known for pushing the edge on answers.

But he's right. The iconic Brickyard will never enjoy the packed houses that it used to have, where there was once talk that this race could replace the Indianapolis 500 as its biggest event. NASCAR has worked for 25 years to put on a great show, and it typically comes down to who wrecks or runs out of gas late in the race.

Yet any win is a big win at Indy. One where the winning driver gets to kiss the bricks.

"Last year I lost this race almost the exact same way," Keselowski said. "To bring it home this way feels really good to make up for my mess up last year.

"To give Roger Penske his first Cup car win here at the Brickyard is just an incredible feeling. ... [The bricks were] a little grimy, but good. Grimy never tasted so good."