The Mecca

July 30, 2002 9:53 AM
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In traditional stock car racing, Daytona International Speedway has been the Mecca to which all aspiring drivers had hoped to reach.

And, then came Indianapolis.

There was an unmatched aura to racing Daytona among all drivers who competed. The prestige had become somewhat diluted with the multitude of events held throughout the year.

Though the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can’t compare with Daytona in NASCAR tradition, it owns a special place on the circuit that no other track can match.

The fabled Brickyard has always been the most appealing track for drivers of all series. There is an unmatched tradition. Some thought it would never happen, but in 1994 stock car racing’s top circuit made their inaugural run at the Brickyard.

None of the other series were invited and only one Cup race per season was scheduled. The exclusivity has made the Brickyard 400 one of the most prestigious racing events in the world.

Last week’s events at Pocono will be of use for handicapping purposes. The flat track of Pocono with minimal banking and long straights serves as perhaps the only barometer for Indy.

Bill Elliott (15-1) was sensational in victory and will be looked upon as one of the top contenders to win on the storied grounds.

Only five NASCAR drivers have ever won the Brickyard 400. Three times Jeff Gordon (8-1) has celebrated his birthday with Brickyard triumphs. Dale Jarrett (8-1) has won twice.

Gordon is mired in the worst slump of his career, 28 races without a win. It’s hard to tell just how well NASCAR’s biggest star will do this week coming off a mediocre effort at Pocono. While winning last year at the Brickyard, Gordon came off a near dominant performance at Pocono.

Gordon gave up several of his cars from last season to Jimmie Johnson (8-1), but the rookie didn’t perform up to his past efforts. As for Jeff, a fourth win doesn’t seem in cards this time.

Gordon isn’t the only Birthday Boy to be running this Sunday. Las Vegan Kurt Busch (10-1) will be celebrating his 24th birthday.

"Let’s see if we can get the Big Brother thing going here," Busch said with a smile. "He’s seven years older than I am, so maybe he can trade off for a year."

This is Busch’s second full year on the circuit. He scored his initial victory in his 49th start at the spring race at Bristol, Tenn. Gordon registered his first win in his 42nd start at the Coca-Cola 600 in 1994 at Charlotte, N.C.

Gordon’s second career win came in the inaugural Brickyard 400 that year. Busch, still is searching for win No. 2. Busch calls it unique that he and Gordon celebrate their birthdays on the same day at the most famous racetrack in the world.

"When I was growing up, there really wasn’t a big race the first. And then the Brickyard came along. This is the first year it’s going to be on my birthday, and I get to participate in it."

Busch’s third place finish at Pocono last week is sure to give him added confidence at Indy.

Matt Kenseth (8-1) comes in at a co-favorite with five others due to his spectacular speeds during a two-day test session at Indy three weeks ago.

When Sterling Marlin (10-1) had open air last week, he was as fast as anyone had ever been over the long runs at Pocono.

Last week was Marlin’s best performance in three months and he still has the points lead. Either that’s parity or nobody wants to step up to the plate.

 

TOP 5 AT BRICKYARD

1) #97 Kurt Busch 10-1

2) #88 Dale Jarrett 8-1

3) #40 Sterling Marlin 10-1

4) #24 Jeff Gordon 8-1

5) #17 Matt Kenseth 8-1