NASCAR meets Indy for Brickyard 400

Jul 21, 2009 5:10 PM
Finish Line by Micah Roberts |

It seems like forever since the NASCAR Sprint Cup series ran a race, even though it’s only been one week off. At this time of year, finding sports entertainment is scarce and NASCAR on the weekend is something for everyone to look forward to.

However, the wait is well worth it in this instance, considering the gem on the horizon is The Brickyard 400 at the storied racing grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This Sunday’s Brickyard 400 will be the 16th NASCAR event held at the facility that has been the center of the racing world since 1909. Due to the historic nature of the track and most of the drivers’ childhood dreams centering around racing on the track, this race’s prestige ranks right up there on par with the Daytona 500.

 For some drivers, winning at The Brickyard is a dream fulfilled that may even surpass winning the Daytona 500. Six drivers on this weekend’s entry list hail from Indiana, with two of them – Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart – having won on the bricks.

Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 in his second year on the series. It was his second career win, but perhaps still remains the biggest win of his career because of how it launched him into mainstream America. At the same time, NASCAR also was in the beginning stages of evolving where they are today.

 Over his career, Gordon has four career wins at Indy, twice as many as anyone else. He also has three career Daytona 500 wins, which is the highest rated and largest purse race of the season. Without actually committing to which race is most dear to him, we’ll do it for him just based on his roots. His family moved to Indiana when he was a kid to get him involved in more competitive racing with the eventual goal to race in the Indy 500 driving Indy cars.

Opportunities knocked from NASCAR and he ran with it; the rest is history.

He never got that chance to run in the Indy 500, but the Brickyard 400 has suited him fine. In all stages of Gordon’s career, he has won at Indy. He currently is in the longest drought from winning at Indy going on four years straight.

Tony Stewart was on the same path as Gordon in Indiana but went through with the plan of driving Indy cars, even winning a season title in the IRL. His best performance in the Indy 500 was 5th in 1997. After a move to NASCAR, Stewart still raced in the Indy 500 but couldn’t get the elusive win.

In 2005 Stewart finally lived out his dream of winning on the Bricks and proclaimed it his greatest win ever, and not even the Daytona 500 could beat it. Even before the win, Stewart stated his biggest prize was Indy.

Two years later, Stewart won it again. He hasn’t won the Daytona 500 yet, but it’s likely the jubilation from that first win will never be matched, just as Gordon’s wasn’t.

A win this week by Stewart, who currently leads the standings in points, with his own team might rival his greatest win ever. His win last month at Pocono is a great measure to use in determining why he is the favorite to win this week.

We like to use Pocono as a barometer because the tracks are similar in distance and banking which means that whoever did well in June’s Pocono’s race should be just as good this week at Indy. Each track has long drag strips that require lots of horsepower. The sweeping tight turns also require similar setups in balance and weight distribution.

As an example of how correlated these tracks are, of the three different winners at both Pocono races and Indy last season, they were the only three drivers to finish in the top 10 in all three races: Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson (pictured) stood alone as the most consistent set-ups and performances for all combined races and they were rewarded each with a win.

If we transfer last year’s finishes to this year’s June Pocono race, two drivers – Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards – stood out with top 10’s in that race. One driver that barely missed making top 10’s in all four races was Jeff Gordon, who finished 14th in the June Pocono race last season.

After this year’s practice sessions at Pocono, the best cars appeared to be Ryan Newman, who finished fifth, Jimmie Johnson, who finished seventh, and Tony Stewart, who ran with a backup car and started last but eventually won.

Ryan Newman is currently sitting seventh in points and could be a nice look this week at 30-1 odds. Unlike his teammate Stewart, Newman has a win in the Daytona 500, but doesn’t have a Brickyard win. He too, like Gordon and Stewart, is from Indiana and had his career on track to become an Indy car driver, but NASCAR came calling for him as well. Needless to say, Newman will be looking to make the most of his opportunity this week and build off the success they had in Pocono.

Carl Edwards led the most laps at Pocono this year and was waiting for Stewart to run out of fuel in the last few laps of the race so he could swoop in for the win. A poor pit sequence late in that race allowed Stewart to get ahead and stay for the remainder of the race. Even though none of Edward’s success from last year has carried over on other tracks, Pocono remains the only one that is comparable. Jack Roush has never won at the Brickyard before and it would be very fitting to see the Cat in the Hat be able to mark off the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 on his checklist of things to do in 2009.

Jimmie Johnson has won two of the last three Brickyard 400’s and has everything pointing in his direction to possibly repeating, which is why he’s a co-favorite to win the race with Stewart. He won last year’s race that was marred with tire issues. He currently sits third in points and with races running out until the Chase starts, Johnson needs a couple more bonus points for winning races to set himself up nicely. There will be no-points racing here because he’s firmly entrenched. It’s all about the wins now!

A nice long shot possibility this week could be David Reutimann, who is offered at odds of 60-1 (Las Vegas Hilton) or higher. He had a nice series of Pocono practices and finished third in the race. Based on the way this season has gone with long shots cashing in, including Reutimann’s win at Charlotte, we can’t look the other way as usual with some of the longer odds out there.

The one thing going against a long shot winning this week at Indy is that it just doesn’t happen there. Of the 15 races run there, only two have been by drivers that haven’t won a season Championship. Ricky Rudd won in 1997 and Kevin Harvick won in 2003, and the rest are the best of the best. Despite all that, we’ll go with Edwards this week, who we think will eventually win a title someday.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Micah Roberts