Brickyard at Indy always points to Gordon, Stewart

Aug 1, 2006 2:22 AM

One of the more remarkable facts regarding the Brickyard 400 is the similarities between the fabled grounds of Indy and Pocono Raceway.

Coming into Indy, the teams have all had two go-arounds at Pocono. Some are in a constant flux of change. A few can’t get the right set-up. Others are dialed in perfectly.

The correlation between the two tracks just isn’t apparent by the flat surfaces of the 2.5 mile tracks. It’s positively real by the past trends set at both tracks. There have been eight different winners in the 12 Cup races at Indy. Of the eight, only Kevin Harvick has won at Pocono. Of the seven sharing wins at Pocono and Indy, six have multiple wins at Pocono. Tony Stewart has one victory at each site.

Jeff Gordon has four lifetime wins at the Brickyard, including the inaugural NASCAR event there in 1994. Only once (1998) has Gordon come straight from a victory at Pocono to win Indy. In 2004, Gordon had two top 5 finishes at Pocono before winning the Brickyard. In 2001, Gordon was second and eighth before his Indy win. He was sixth and eighth at Pocono prior to his first Indy win in ’94.

This season, Gordon finished a poor 34th in the June 11 Pocono race due to an accident. Two weeks ago, Gordon finished third. Gordon qualified sixth and fifth in the two Pocono outings. Gordon’s birthday is this Friday, putting his birthday success rate at 33 percent.

Gordon leads the Hendrick crew at 9-1, with all four having an excellent shot at winning. Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers finished in the top 10 in both races. Vickers was fourth in each and has three top 4’s in his last four Pocono races. He went on to place third last year in the Brickyard 400. Anything 20-1 or higher on Vickers is tremendous value. Vickers is also likely to be disrespected in driver matchups where he’ll be matched against lesser cars.

Johnson has been one of the all-time best at Pocono. Unlike many drivers, it hasn’t translated into Indy success. He’s finished 36th or worse in his last two Indy runs. His career best in four starts is ninth, as a rookie. Look for Jimmie to make a career best run this week. He should be around 12-1.

Kyle Busch presents value if over 20-1 with the power exhibited by the entire team and the way he ran at Pocono and Indy in a short career. Last year, Busch finished tenth — in his first action on the famed track. Busch is streaking right now with six straight top 15 finishes.

Stewart opened as the 8-1 favorite. After a week of wagering, he’s still top choice, but his price is now at 6-1. He’s co-favorite with Denny Hamlin.

Amid all the discussion Indy and Pocono, Hamlin dominated Pocono with two wins. It wasn’t just a sweep, but a massacre! That type of domination should have had red flags raised by everyone. His wins came from the pole, and he’s a rookie!

There have been four drivers before Hamlin to sweep Pocono. Because Indy is relatively new on the tour, all four didn’t have the opportunity to take their chances for the big flat track trifecta. The two that did, Johnson and Bobby Labonte, didn’t win in their attempt. Johnson’s 36th place finish was very disappointing. Bobby Labonte nearly did it in ”˜99 only to finish 2nd to a dominant Yates powered engine piloted by Dale Jarrett. Jarrett then became the only driver other than Gordon to have multiple Indy wins.

In Hamlin’s favor is the organization he belongs to. Bobby Labonte used to be the backbone, heart, and soul of Joe Gibbs racing. Stewart, last year’s Indy winner, also drives for Gibbs. Bill Elliott won Indy in ”˜02 off a Pocono win driving for the team Kasey Kahne now has. Gordon did the same in ’98.

Going against Hamlin is much easier than backing him. So much can go wrong at Indy. The pageantry of the track and all it stands for in auto racing can be overwhelming for a driver that has never been theret. Hamlin has a dynamite car that will be tough, but there is no way you can feel good taking 6-1 with a rookie at Indy.

Another group of cars you can’t feel good about is Roush Racing Fords. For all their success on the cookie cutter tracks, they have been miserable at Indy. Matt Kenseth has had the most success with top 5’s in three of his last four Indy races. Aside from Kenseth, Roush Racing has only one top 5 finish in the past six years. Kurt Busch took the honors as a rookie in ”˜01.

If Roush has one-eighth of the drivers in each race, one would think through six seasons that team would have a better success ratio. Note: Jack Roush is winless all-time in NASCAR’s two biggest races — Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Carl Edwards (14-1) looks to have the best opportunity to do well.

During a recent test session at Indy, Ken Schrader was blazing fast for the Wood Brothers. There isn’t much chance for him to win, but he may present a good advantage in matchups. There also is a chance to do well with Schrader in certain manufacturer specific props such as "Best Finish by a Ford." With the way Yates has faded and the poor level of Roush at Indy, Schrader having the best Ford finish might not be a bad play.

From the Dodge camp, Kasey Kahne leads the way on paper with four wins on the season. He also rolls in with a fourth and second in two races at the Brickyard. Kahne has run very well on the cookie cutters, but not at Pocono, the road course, or plate races. It’s hard to imagine the Evernham team changing so radically from something they did well the last two years.

Kahne will be in the Championship chase, which he missed the last two seasons. It appears Evernham is following the Roush recipe and copying it to perfection. The theory is if you concentrate more in one area of the schedule similar to other tracks, you’ll likely accumulate more points in the end. From the Evernham stables, look for Scott Riggs to have the best run.

Kurt Busch comes into a great situation for the Miller Lite team. The combined efforts of Kurt and Rusty Wallace finished second for three races in a row at Pocono. Last season, Rusty was 25, but has three career runnerup finishes. Busch does have one of those elusive top 5 finishes for Jack Roush at Indy. Perhaps his best chassis set up for Indy was the following year when Jimmy Spencer punted him into the wall in a retaliation move.

Busch has a lot going for him. He also has a birthday this week, along with being fresh off a honeymoon. So, it’s his first race as a married man. There are plenty of jokes in there somewhere. However, look for Busch to do well and possibly win.


TOP 5 Finish prediction:

1) #24 Jeff Gordon (9/1)

2) #25 Brian Vickers (12/1)

3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (12/1)

4) #2 Kurt Busch (12/1)

5) #20 Tony Stewart (6/1)