*Race To The Chase, Week 4: Indy Could Prove Pivotal *Talking The Talk: Martin Gets Chance To Back Up Indy Prediction *Stewart Has 2 Wins, Top Driver Rating At Indy Since 2005 *Competition Close Surrounding 12th-place Chase 'Cutoff' Spot *Busch...
*Race To The Chase, Week 4: Indy Could Prove Pivotal
*Talking The Talk: Martin Gets Chance To Back Up Indy Prediction
*Stewart Has 2 Wins, Top Driver Rating At Indy Since 2005
*Competition Close Surrounding 12th-place Chase 'Cutoff' Spot
*Busch Out To Solidify Top Chase Seed, Set National Series Win Mark
*JPM At IMS: A Quick Study To Say The Least
Race To The Chase: Indy History In NASCAR Brief But Bold
In 1994, NASCAR roared into Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a brand-new race and a brand-new star named Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet). Gordon won the inaugural Indy event -- just two months after he had won one of NASCAR's then-established "majors," the Coca-Cola 600.
Gordon was off and running toward his place in history. Ditto for the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, which 14 years later has become quite established itself, as the clear highlight in the "Race to the Chase," the 10-race stretch that precedes NASCAR's "playoffs" known as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
After 14 runnings of the 400, the trend is etched in stone ... er, brick:
Only big guns win Indy.
Check it out:
Six times in the 14 races, the winner at Indianapolis has gone on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
The first four of those special sweeps came in consecutive years; Gordon (1998), Dale Jarrett ('99), Bobby Labonte (No. 43 Cheerios/Totinos Dodge) (2000) and Gordon again ('01).
12 of NASCAR's Brickyard events have been won by series champions and the two exceptions -- Ricky Rudd in 1997 and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet) in 2003 -- were by no means upset results.
On the other hand, there was a memorable upset in the summer of 2002, by former series champion Bill Elliott (No. 21 Motorcraft Ford), then amid a late-career resurgence with the new Ray Evernham-led Dodge operation.
Road To the Series Title Runs Through Indy
Driver Year of Indy Win/Series Title
Jeff Gordon 1998
Dale Jarrett 1999
Bobby Labonte 2000
Jeff Gordon 2001
Tony Stewart 2005
Jimmie Johnson 2006
Martin A Marked Man, As He Tries To Back Up Prediction
Mark Martin (No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet) climbed out of the car last month at Pocono Raceway and immediately started talking Indy.
Driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., Martin qualified third at Pocono. Post-qualifying, Martin boldly looked ahead, past the upcoming event.
"I'm planning on winning the Brickyard in the 8 car," Martin said. "We've got the stuff. We've got the team. The cars are awesome on flat tracks ... I have never planned on anything any more than my plan is for the Brickyard. That's the crown jewel.
"And if you look at how that car ran at Phoenix, I believe that we can adapt that setup to work there. The team is strong enough on pit road, and (crew chief) Tony Gibson and those guys that work on that car are due a win.
"They got several disappointments last year when they had great race cars and had failures and what have you. Nothing would make me happier than to see their faces in Victory Lane."
In 1998, Martin was second in the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard. In 14 starts at Indy he has five top-five runs.
Narrow the focus to the last three seasons and the gathering of Loop Data (statistics gleaned from electronic scoring loops imbedded under race tracks), and Martin has a Driver Rating of 102.9, fifth-best in the series at Indianapolis.
On The Line: Tony Stewart Teleconference Tees Up Defending Indy Champion With Media
For years, Tony Stewart talked openly about how much he wanted to win a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now the Rushville, Ind. native has won two, and must be considered the favorite to win a third on Sunday in the 15th annual Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
Stewart was talking Tuesday, as the guest on the weekly NASCAR Teleconference. Some key excerpts follow.
Q: What's it like to go back to Indy as two-time race defending champion?
Stewart: "You're proud when you go back, especially after the first win because I don't think we got to really enjoy the first win as much as we did the second year. I think the first year is more of just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders that we accomplished a life long dream of ours, and I think last year was a chance for us to really enjoy it with our team. We were able to enjoy the win that night versus the emotional drain of just finally accomplishing a goal like it was the first time."
Q: Have you identified yet what your new team(formerly Haas-CNC) is going to need, to be a championship team?
Stewart: "I haven't fully been able to figure it out yet, obviously. Last week we were on vacation and I did have my first team meeting with the guys at the shop. You know it was just nice to get that first meeting out the way. You know getting to see the faces that I am going to see a lot the rest of this year and a lot of next year. I am not sure I fully understand what is holding them back right now. I do think they have good resources, and it is just a matter of figuring out where the break is in the system there. You know there is obviously something that is not exactly the way we want it to be or they want it to be right now. It is just going to take some more time. I think being able to be at the shop the rest of the year will help with that. I know that in the short amount of time since we have made the announcement at Chicago we have had a lot of really good people call and want to be a part of this program and I think that is going to be a big key to getting it turned around."
Q: How has the pressure changed on you since the announcement?
Stewart: "I think it has taken a lot of the pressure off. I mean obviously I have had a great race team, and still have a great race team at Gibbs right now. You know we have battled a lot of adversity in the last nine and half years, and you know when your guys don't know what you are going to do for sure, and you don't know what you are going to do for sure. It makes it a little bit tense, but I think we have all made the most of it."
On The Cam: Ryan Newman Addresses This Week -- And His Future -- On Video Teleconference
Ryan Newman (No. 12 Alltel Dodge), another Indiana native (South Bend) with a career change in the works, was the guest Tuesday on the weekly NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference.
Newman, this year's Daytona 500 champion amid an otherwise disappointing season, recently announced he would leave Penske Racing at the end of this season.
Following are some excerpts from the video teleconference.
Q: What's your outlook coming into Indianapolis this weekend?
Newman: "It's a great race track. There are a lot of great fans up there, for me especially, being from South Bend. My family and my sister live on the West side of Indy. I get to go visit them and go visit the fair."
Q: What is your most memorable moment at Indianapolis?
Newman: "I can remember I was down in Indianapolis when it first opened for open testing. I think Earnhardt Sr. was the first guy to actually go there and test, but I think the first open test they had my mom and I were down there doing some things involved with my racing and we heard them over at the track. So we went over to the track and walked right into the garage area. It was neat to actually walk right out on to pit road at an open test for NASCAR at the Brickyard. That for me was a very memorable moment."
(Note to media: For video and audio replays of the NASCAR CAM Video Teleconference, go to NASCARMedia.com, NASCAR's media-only Web site.)
Kyle Busch Tries To Pad Seeding, Set National Series Single-Season Win Mark
Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) is set for another NASCAR national series tripleheader this weekend. Three races in a three-day period? No problem for the 23-year-old Busch, seeking to establish a single-season mark for NASCAR national series wins in the "modern era" (post-1971).
Busch has 14 wins this season at the national series level -- seven in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, five in NASCAR Nationwide competition and two in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. That has tied Kevin Harvick's 2001 record. Busch will race Friday night in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Saturday night in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, at O'Reilly Raceway Park, located just west of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Come Sunday, if Busch needs one more shot at the record this weekend, he'll get it on one of racing's biggest stages.
Thing is, much more than sole possession of the record will be at stake.
Busch will be out to pad his seemingly certain "top seeding" in the Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup, which starts Sept. 17 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
NASCAR's "Emphasis On Winning" initiative, started last year, has evolved into a full-blown season script for Busch in 2008.
The 12 drivers who qualify for the Chase have their point totals reset at the Chase outset, to 5,000.
They then get 10 bonus points for each race victory achieved during the 26 events preceding the Chase. Those "adjusted" point totals create "seedings" to start the Chase.
Seven wins thus far for Busch equals 70 potential bonus points and a very imposing top seeding. Coming into Indy, Busch has a 50-point spread over the potential second and third seeds, Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford) and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser/LifeLock Dodge).
Those drivers will definitely be racing to win, to prevent Busch's starting advantage in the Chase from increasing.
Chasing The Chase: Bowyer, Hamlin On Either Side of 'Bubble'
Coming into the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, a measly 98 points separate position 12-15 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
Some notes regarding this close-quarters situation:
Last year's surprise participant in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and eventual third-place finisher in the final standings, Clint Bowyer (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet), has dropped outside the top 12 coming into Indianapolis. Bowyer is 27 points out of 12th -- the cutoff spot for Chase qualification (after Race No. 26 at Richmond).
The man immediately ahead of Bowyer is on the same precarious perch, the apparent sanctity of 12th place notwithstanding. Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) -- third in the final series standings in 2006 and 12th last year -- holds 12th this week.
With seven races remaining in the Race to the Chase, Bowyer and Hamlin are feeling the pressure. But at least there's plenty to go around.
On the top side of the bubble, Kasey Kahne sits in 11th, merely 12 points ahead of Hamlin.
On the other side, Bowyer leads 14th-place Brian Vickers (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) by only 68 points and 15th-place David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) by only 71.
And finally, why not go beyond the bubble? When you do, you see more of the same close competition. Sixth-place Jeff Gordon is only 101 points of Hamlin.
Bottom line: Much could change over the next seven weeks of the Race to the Chase.
In The Loop At Indianapolis: Stewart Has Long-Term Advantage, Montoya Excelled Last Year
Tony Stewart went 0-for-6 in his first six Indianapolis Motor Speedway races in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
It looked as if his lifelong dream of a home-track victory may never happen for the Columbus, Ind. native.
Then came 2005.
Stewart held off Kasey Kahne in the 2005 edition of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard by .794 seconds, fulfilling that elusive goal.
Then, somehow, the wins came in bunches. Stewart won again last season, and Indy wins now seem expected by the two-time champion.
With three top 10s in the last three races (an eighth-place finish is sandwiched between the two wins), Stewart is the favorite to secure a third post-race date with the Yard of Bricks.
His statistics over that three-race span are at the top of most categories. Stewart owns series-high marks Driver Rating of 121.4 and Fastest Laps Run (76), and has an Average Running Position of 8.2 (third-best), a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 84.6% (fourth-best) and 86 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), which is second-most.
Stewart, a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, was a likely candidate to eventually win at Indy. Twelve of the 14 Indy winners have won series championships. A number of drivers could add their name to that short list.
Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 42 Wrigley's Big Red Slim Pack Dodge) enjoyed an incredible first NASCAR race at Indianapolis. In a runner-up finish last season, Montoya earned a Driver Rating of 120.7, an Average Running Position of 4.0 and spent all 160 laps running among the top 15.
Coming into last year's race, Montoya had some history at Indy. In his only other race there, he came over from Formula One and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000.
Harvick owns the stats to become the fourth driver with multiple Indy wins. In his last three races, which includes a third-place finish in 2006, Harvick has an average Driver Rating of 108.7 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 8.1 (second) and a series-high 432 Laps in the Top 15 (90%).
Of course, Kyle Busch is always a threat. In three career Indy races, Busch has never finished outside the top 10 -- and his finishes keep improving. He finished 10th in 2005, seventh in 2006 and fourth in 2007.
Not surprisingly, his stats are strong. He has a Driver Rating of 98.3 (seventh), an Average Running Position of 11.9 (seventh) and 336 Laps in the Top 15 percentage (70%).
Gotta Love The Chase: Busch's Big Lead Is Safe -- For Now
This week, we are presented with yet another example of how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has transformed the sport since being instituted in 2004.
Through 19 races, Kyle Busch has a 262-point lead coming into Indianapolis over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet). If the sport was still operating under the old championship-deciding format, Busch would pretty much have the championship locked up.
But you can chase that idea -- thanks to the Chase, which takes the top 12 drivers after Race No. 26 and puts them into a late-season playoff scenario with their points "reset" to 5,000 each. (Race victories during the first 26 races earn drivers 10 bonus points each, in effect creating "seedings" to start the Chase.)
No doubt, if we were in pre-2004 mode, Busch would be approaching the intersection of probable and insurmountable. Before the Chase, the regular weekly point-earning system was used all the way through. There were no "resets" -- which made the erasure of big deficits in the standings very rare.
Well, between the time the current weekly point system started in 1975 and the advent of the Chase in 2004, there were six times a driver had at least a 200-point lead in the standings after 19 races.
Only once did someone overcome such a deficit -- Richard Petty in 1979. Petty made up a 209-point gap between himself and Darrell Waltrip to win his seventh and final series title.
Up Next: Race To The Chase, Week 5 At Pocono Raceway
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Pocono Raceway next week for the Pennsylvania 500. (Sunday, Aug. 3 @ 1 p.m. on ESPN.)
Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) is the defending champion. Kasey Kahne won this season's first Pocono race, last month.
The Race: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard
The Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, July 27
The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 2.5-mile oval
The Distance: 400 miles/160 laps
TV: ESPN, pre-race @ 1 p.m. (ET)
Radio: Indianapolis Motor Speedway network, SIRIUS Satellite.
2007 Winner: Tony Stewart
2007 Polesitter: Reed Sorenson
Thursday -- Practice, 2-3 p.m. amd 3:30-4:30 p.m.
Friday -- Qualifying, 10:10 a.m. Practice -- 2-3 p.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m.