Fifty NASCAR Nextel Cup Drivers Aim for Spot in 2004 Brickyard 400 Prestige of Indy win, championship chase are highlights of race weekend INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2004 - Fifty NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers will aim for one of the 43 spots in...
Fifty NASCAR Nextel Cup Drivers Aim for Spot in 2004 Brickyard 400
Prestige of Indy win, championship chase are highlights of race weekend
INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2004 - Fifty NASCAR NEXTEL Cup drivers will aim for one of the 43 spots in the 11th running of the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 6-8 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 2004 Brickyard 400 could make or break the season for many drivers, given the Brickyard 400's prestige as one of NASCAR's top-tier events, its history as a barometer for who will win the series championship and the intense pressure on drivers and teams attempting to secure the final spots in the top 10 for the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.
In eight of 10 Brickyard 400s run to date, the series champion for that year has been among the top-six finishers in the Brickyard 400, and for four consecutive years, between 1998-2001, the Brickyard 400 winner went on the win the series championship. In 2003, series champion Matt Kenseth finished second at Indianapolis.
NEXTEL Cup Series points leader Jimmie Johnson enters the Brickyard 400 with high hopes and momentum after completing a sweep of the 2004 events at Pocono Raceway by winning the Pennsylvania 500 on Aug. 1.
Pocono is similar to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's challenging 2.5-mile configuration, with long, fast straightaways that require a lot of horsepower and relatively flat, tight corners that demand a good-handling car. Horsepower and handling are two ingredients of speed that Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, three-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon, have taken to victory lane on multiple occasion in 2004.
Gordon is second in the NEXTEL Cup standings, 232 points behind Johnson entering the Brickyard 400. But Gordon can arguably be counted the favorite as he is NASCAR's only three-time winner at Indy, having won the inaugural race in 1994, and again in 1998 and 2001.
Another driver solidly in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup is Elliott Sadler, but he and his Robert Yates Racing crew will arrive at Indy determined to recapture the magic the team experienced by winning the Brickyard 400 twice with Dale Jarrett, in 1996 and 1999.
"Racing at Indianapolis is the second most prestigious race next to the Daytona 500," Sadler said. "It's really important for Robert Yates that his teams run well at the Brickyard, and both he and Doug (Yates) are going that extra mile in the motor department to make sure we have a good shot at winning this race.
"Todd (Parrott, Sadler's crew chief) has won this race twice with Dale Jarrett, so I know I am in good hands when it comes to experience and knowledge of winning at the Brickyard. I have seen what the two Brickyard trophies mean to DJ and his family. They (the trophies) have their special place in his trophy room and symbolize two special moments in his career. I can only hope for the same. If you win at Indy, you know you have beaten the best."
While Johnson, Gordon and Sadler are cruising toward berths in the final 10-race Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, defending race winner Kevin Harvick is in a stern fight to stay among the top-10 drivers in points. Only the top 10 will be eligible to compete in the "Chase."
Harvick has not won since the 2003 Brickyard 400 and holds a narrow 40-point advantage over Jeremy Mayfield for the 10th spot in points with only six races to go before the "Chase" begins. Becoming the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 in consecutive years would go a long way toward helping Harvick secure his position in the Chase for the Championship.
Several notable drivers that do not regularly compete in the NEXTEL Cup Series will attempt to qualify for the 11th Brickyard 400, and a handful of Brickyard 400 drivers also will compete in other races this weekend.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip plans to race in all three NASCAR events in the Indianapolis area this weekend, the Brickyard 400, and the Power Stroke Diesel 200 Craftsman Truck Series race Aug. 6 and the Kroger 200 presented by Tom Raper RVs Aug. 7, both at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Jason Leffler is also pulling "double duty" by attempting to compete in both the NASCAR Busch Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park on Aug. 7 and the Brickyard 400 for team owner Gene Haas.
Also attempting a NEXTEL Cup-Busch Series double this weekend are Hermie Sadler, Kenny Wallace, Robby Gordon, Greg Biffle and Kevin Lepage. Ken Schrader will attempt to race in the Brickyard 400 and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at IRP.
Dave Blaney and PJ Jones will attempt to qualify in the Brickyard 400 and will race in the J.D. Byrider 100 USAC Weld Racing Silver Crown Series event Aug. 5 at IRP.
Jones, the son of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, will attempt to qualify for the 2004 Brickyard 400 only 69 days after competing in the 88th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Scott Pruett, who drives full-time for NASCAR and Indy Racing League team owner Chip Ganassi in the Grand American Sports Car Series, will attempt to qualify the No. 09 entry owned by James Finch. He is also scheduled to complete in a Grand American race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Pruett will take part in Brickyard qualifications Saturday then fly to Ohio for the sports car race that afternoon, then fly back to Indy for the Brickyard 400 on Sunday.
Also attempting to qualify for the Brickyard 400 is Andy Hillenburg, an Indianapolis native and 2000 Indianapolis 500 competitor.
Jones and Hillenburg would become the ninth and 10th drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 during their careers if they qualify.
Brickyard 400 tickets: Tickets for the 11th annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 8 are on sale.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.