NASCAR is just like every other sport in the sense that trends and cycles are so pivotal when handicapping.
This week’s Cup race at the Brickyard in Indianapolis has one of the better examples of trends and angles that support a particular driver to win the race. Let’s first establish a few things beginning with the similarities between the tracks of Pocono Raceway and the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The two tracks are tied together because of the tight flat turns and long super straightaways. It takes a unique set up to be equally good at both tracks, but when the crew chief gets it right at one track, it almost always carries over into the next Indy or Pocono race.
The results history supports the link like no other pair of tracks on tour, including the two road courses. Nine different drivers have won the 13 Brickyard races. Of the nine, eight have won at Pocono. Only Kevin Harvick has failed to win at Pocono as a former Indy champ with fifth his best finish.
The driver who is reeking with trends this week is Jeff Gordon, who not surprisingly is also the 6/1 favorite to win. The first trend is pretty simple and straight forward, Gordon has more Brickyard 400’s than anyone else. His win total of four is twice as many as the next in line, Dale Jarrett with two. No one else has multiple Indy wins.
Gordon won his first Brickyard 400 in the inaugural race during his second Cup season. It took him four years to capture his next Brickyard in 1998. Since then Gordon has been pretty consistent in winning the Brickyard every three seasons. He did it in 2001 and 2004. If he’s to keep the trend going, he is due to produce another victory this week in Indy.
We have established that Pocono and Indy require similar set-ups. When we say Gordon won at Pocono last month, there is every reason to believe he will be just as good this week. Altogether, Gordon has four wins each on the tracks. In 1998 he won at both sites in the same season on back-to-back weeks. Gordon also won the season Championship in 1998.
In 2001, Gordon also won at Indy and took the season title. In both instances, Gordon was leading in points going into the Brickyard. That scenario is set up again for Gordon to accomplish this season. Currently, Gordon is 303 points ahead of second place Denny Hamlin.
It’s pretty hard to seriously look at anyone other than Gordon this week. He’s got all the stars and moons lined up perfectly for his Taro card reading. The only negative is the race not taking place during his birthday week. The Indy date was moved up a week this year, so his Aug. 4 birthday comes the day before next week’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono.
At least we have a head start on next week’s handicapping and know that Gordon has won 4 of 13 races on his birthday week.
We can’t just focus on Gordon this week, no matter how good he is. Because Gordon claims to be from Indiana sometimes, even though he grew up in California, and he does so well there, let’s look for some other Indiana drivers who may do well on their home state track. On a side note, how about combining all of Gordon’s career wins on the tracks he calls home. He’s got eight on California’s two tracks and four in Indiana.
Anyway, back to identifying Hoosiers. The most prominent candidate is Tony Stewart from Rushville. Stewart has done the Pocono-Brickyard two-step himself. He climbed the Brickyard fence after winning in 2005 and remains his most cherished win of his career because of how much that track means to him.
Last month at Pocono Stewart finished a solid fifth, while leading two laps during the race. Two weeks ago at Chicago, Stewart took the checkers for the first time this season. Stewart treats NASCAR wins like potato chips, — he can’t have just one. His wins will likely come in bunches so this week is an ideal spot. Everything about the track fits his style.
Ryan Newman comes from South Bend and is a Purdue graduate. He’s always dreamed of winning at the Brickyard. When looking over his six career Indy races, his best finish is fourth with an average finish of 20.7. When throwing the Pocono factor in, Newman looks much more attractive this week. He has a Pocono win with five top 5 finishes there, including a very impressive second to Gordon last month. In that Pocono race last month, Newman sat on the pole and led 18 laps late in the race before it became final. The rain drops altered everyone’s pit strategies.
If it can’t be a driver from Indiana to win, then there are three who had fantastic days at Pocono last month. Denny Hamlin, Casey Mears, and Martin Truex Jr all had cars that could win if the race had gone the full 500 miles. I think the best story would be Casey Mears, just because of his last name. His uncle Rick won the Indy 500 four times. Casey finished fourth at Pocono and led second laps.
After those you have to look at the Childress drivers. Harvick is a past winner at Indy and finished third last season. He ran well at Pocono, but was never in contention for a win. The driver that could present some great value is Clint Bowyer, who should be in the 20/1 range or higher. We have seen three drivers in the last couple months become first time Cup winners. Bowyer is poised to be the next.
Taking his first win ever at Indy would be a first, but would also be close to Mears as being a great story should they win. You’d be a fool if not paying attention to two of the best drivers in NASCAR for this race. Well, I’m the fool who isn’t paying attention. I’m crossing off Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.
Kenseth only finished second in last year’s Indy race and Johnson won the race; that’s just not good enough for me. Kenseth also ran well at Pocono and finished ninth. Johnson led just about every practice speed chart there before having issues and finishing 42.
It’s too easy to just say Gordon wins, even though he probably will. There’s no fun at 6/1. That’s why 22/1 with Casey Mears has such a nice ring. I like the angle with his Uncle and that price, Sold!