Since its addition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in 1994, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has welcomed the “best of the best” to its iconic Victory Lane.
Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com (1 p.m. ET, ESPN, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) is a classic in every sense of the word.
The track’s list of winners is proof enough.
Fifteen of 19 winners are NASCAR Sprint Cup champions. One, Dale Earnhardt, is a NASCAR Hall of Famer. Another, Dale Jarrett, is due for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next January.
Eight times the winner of the Brickyard event has gone on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Johnson, the current points leader and a four-time winner in 2012, has accomplished the feat three times.
Johnson did it first in 2006 – his first of five consecutive championship seasons that effectively defined the Californian as one of any sport’s all-time greats. In February of 2006, Johnson captured the first of two Daytona 500 victories. In August, he won his first of four Brickyard 400s.
Incredibly, in 2013, he’s on his way to doing the same exact thing.
This season, Johnson has already won his second Daytona 500 and followed it up with his fourth NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race victory (he also won the annual non-points event in 2006). Next Step: Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
His Driver Rating of 106.3 is a series best over the past eight races. Yet the No. 48 Chevrolet team’s overall average finish is 16.8. Four victories are offset by four finishes outside the top 20, three of them 36th or worse.
Only one other member of the current top 10 in the standings, Kevin Harvick, has been able to conquer Indianapolis. Teammate Paul Menard won the race in 2011 making Richard Childress the only owner to win at the Brickyard with three different drivers.
This season’s second four-time winner, Matt Kenseth, has finished second on two occasions among five top fives and seven top 10s.
Kenseth is among favorites after moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, a three-time Indianapolis winning team. The flip side? All of Gibbs’ victories came in General Motors products. Toyota continues to pursue its first Brickyard victory.
JGR’s Kyle Busch finished second to Johnson in last year’s event.
Best Indianapolis finishes by the remaining members of the current top 10 are: Clint Bowyer (fourth, two times); Carl Edwards (second); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (fourth); Greg Biffle (third, twice, including 2012); Brad Keselowski (ninth, 2011-12) and Kasey Kahne (second).
It can be argued that the introduction of the Gen-6 car could render recent manufacturer statistics moot. Chevrolet, however, has won the last 10 Indianapolis events and 14 overall. A Ford hasn’t won at the track since 1999, with Jarrett behind the wheel of a Robert Yates entry.
One might predict the Gen-6 car will topple Casey Mears’ qualifying record of 186.293 mph. One-lap records have been set nine times in 2013.
Indianapolis Could Clarify ‘Wild Card’ Picture – Or Not
This week could bring enhanced clarity to the Chase Wild Card picture. Or make it even more opaque.
Two “A” list competitors currently battling for one of the two spots, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, are Brickyard masters. Gordon, a four-time winner of the 400-mile event, stands 12th in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings and – without a 2013 victory – currently is outside Wild Card consideration.
Two-time Indianapolis winner Stewart, 13th, is the provisional holder of one Wild Card. Martin Truex Jr., 11th, possesses the other “pass.” Each has a single victory this season – Stewart at Dover and Truex at Sonoma.
Others, like 14th-ranked Kurt Busch, view a Wild Card as Plan B. Just seven points is the difference between Kasey Kahne (10th) and Busch. The Speedway hasn’t been kind to Busch, who has finished outside the top 20 in four of the past five seasons. His No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, which has been competitive in each of the season’s 19 races, finished third in 2011 with Regan Smith behind the wheel.
Only one other competitor ranked 11th through 20th – Jamie McMurray – has a victory at Indianapolis. The 2010 winner, just 16 points out of the top 10, has been on the threshold of Victory Lane during the past month with a second-place finish at Kentucky Speedway boosting the Joplin, Mo., veteran from 21st to 15th in the standings. McMurray could become just the fifth multiple NASCAR Sprint Cup winner at the Brickyard.
Stewart-Haas Racing Squad Races Into Jam-Packed Week
Fellow Indiana native Ryan Newman will pull double duty this weekend, and share the headlines with his boss. And Danica Patrick will make a bit of history to cap it all off.
But first, Stewart. After six failed attempts, Stewart finally won his Holy Grail race in 2005 and followed up with another Brickyard win in 2007. Since then, he’s finished outside the top 10 only once. The timing couldn’t be better for Stewart, who has finished 20th or worse in three of the last four races and has dropped from 10th to 13th in the points standings.
Newman raced at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday night, the first NASCAR national series dirt race in more than 40 years. From there, the South Bend, Ind., native will head to his home track – a spot where he has enjoyed varying levels of success. His best finish was fourth in 2002, but since then has collected only one top-10 finish (seventh last year).
On Sunday, Patrick will become the first female driver to compete in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She raced at Indy in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last season, finishing 35th.
New Blood: Roush, Penske Primed to Break Through At Indy
A quick glance at the owners wins list at Indianapolis Motor Speedway reveals some interesting tid bits.
Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in Indy wins with eight, split evenly between two of its drivers. For a long while, Jeff Gordon led all drivers with four victories. Since 2006, Jimmie Johnson has matched that figure.
Richard Childress Racing has three wins at the Brickyard, and is the only team to win with three different drivers – Dale Earnhardt in 1995, Kevin Harvick in 2003 and Paul Menard in 2011. Joe Gibbs Racing likewise has three Indy wins – two with Tony Stewart (2005, ’07) and one with Bobby Labonte (2000, the year he won his series championship).
Absent from the list are two NASCAR powerhouses – Roush Fenway Racing and Penske Racing. But it would not be wise to count them out.
Roush nearly broke through last year, with a third place finish by Greg Biffle. In fact, Roush has placed a driver in the top five at Indianapolis in each season since 2008. Roush driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Indy on Sunday, but finished ninth there in last year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
Recently, Brad Keselowski has been the most successful Penske Racing driver at Indy, scoring ninth-place finishes in each of the last two Brickyard races. Joey Logano, whose best Brickyard finish was ninth in 2010, needs a boost – two straight 40th-place finishes have knocked him from 10th to 18th in points.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Kevin Harvick’s seventh-place finish two weeks ago was No. 199 for the 2003 Brickyard 400 winner. One more, and he’ll be the 29th driver to reach the 200 top 10s plateau in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. … Trevor Bayne will return to the seat of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford for his eighth start of 2013. His best finish this season was a 15th at Michigan. In two races at IMS, Bayne has finished 17th and 30th. … Austin Dillon will make his first Brickyard start in the Sprint Cup Series, running the No. 33 Mycogen Seeds Chevrolet. He finished fifth in last year’s NASCAR Nationwide race at IMS.