After a much deserved week off, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes its traveling road show to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for racing on the bricks. This will be the 17th NASCAR race held on the sacred racing grounds that has been in existence for over 100 years.
The track’s all-time leader in wins is also the driver who won the first race ever at the Brickyard, Jeff Gordon, who has racked up three other wins as well, but none since 2004. Over the last five years of NASCAR racing at the Brickyard, there have been only two winners. Tony Stewart has won twice while Jimmie Johnson has won three times, including the last two races held there.
Both Stewart and Johnson can be expected to be contenders this week, but not necessarily because of their great Brickyard history. Indianapolis is a unique track – unlike any other layout on tour – but one that has similarities to Pocono Raceway because of its long flat straight-aways and flat sweeping turns. To be successful at Indy, it takes an engine with a lot of horsepower and car with good handling.
Denny Hamlin led the most laps and won at Pocono last month with Johnson and Stewart both finishing within the top-five. Kyle Busch and all three Childress cars ran strong in that race as well and look to be the leading contenders to win this week.
During the Pocono practice sessions, all signals indicated that the Childress cars would be strong for that race. Clint Bowyer dominated the early portion of that race with Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton finishing strong. Hamlin would be too tough on this day as he took his fourth career Pocono win, but I kept a note on my schedule to strongly look at what happened in that race to help early handicapping for this week’s race.
Another driver to keep an eye on this week during the four practice sessions is Juan Pablo Montoya who was caught speeding on pit road while leading late in last year’s Brickyard 400. Montoya is a past Indy 500 race winner and gets in and out of those tight turns better than most.
There likely won’t be any surprises this week as only the best of the best win on the famed bricks. In the 16 races run there, only two have been won by drivers that never won a championship, Ricky Rudd and Kevin Harvick. That list of drivers is dwindling as past champions have passed away or retired, while not gaining any new members as Johnson has hogged all the titles.
For Johnson, he’s either hit or miss at Indy and when he hits, it’s good for a win. His only top-five finishes at the track have been wins while he’s also had three finishes of 36th or worse.
This looks like a great week to go against the trend, one that could include a Toyota winning for the first time with Kyle Busch. Busch is likely to become a champion some day, but should he win, it would be the first non-Chevy to win since Bill Elliott in his Evernham Dodge in 2002, a year Elliott also won at Pocono.