Indianapolis: GM Racing preview

INDIANAPOLIS - After a welcome weekend off, the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series returns to action at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for Sunday's, Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Round 20 of 36 races on the 2007 tour. Hailed as one of the...

INDIANAPOLIS - After a welcome weekend off, the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series returns to action at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) for Sunday's, Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Round 20 of 36 races on the 2007 tour.

Hailed as one of the most popular events on the NASCAR circuit, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard ranks alongside the Daytona 500 and the Nextel All-Star races in prestige. Since the inaugural Indianapolis 500 race in 1911, the facility has become steeped in rich tradition and heritage.

Among the most nostalgic aspects of the race track itself is the famous Yard of Bricks. The original surface of crushed rock and tar was replaced in 1909 by 3.2 million street-paving bricks that were trucked in by rail from the western part of Indiana. Over time, patches of asphalt were applied to the rougher portions of the turns and various sections of the track. By 1939, only about 650 yards of the main straight were still bricks. That portion survived until 1961, when it too was covered over, leaving exposed only three feet of bricks for the entire width of the 2.5-mile track at the start/finish line.

By historic standards, NASCAR is a relatively new annual happening at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since the first race there in 1994, four active Team Chevy drivers have celebrated their victories by kissing the bricks at Indy:

* Jeff Gordon (4) 1994, '98, '01, and '04
* Tony Stewart (1) 2005
* Kevin Harvick (1) 2003
* Jimmie Johnson (1) 2006

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, has won more times at IMS than any other driver. He has led the 2007 standings for the past 15 weeks running; beginning with the season's fifth race at Bristol.

"I'm looking forward to going to Indy. It's the first time that we haven't tested before going there so it's going to be pretty unique. I thought we were really strong there last year even though we had some issues so I'm excited about going back.

"The Brickyard is very difficult to win at; it's a very challenging track and so it takes a really good car and team to win there but it's always very prestigious. It's a big momentum builder in the middle of the summer when things are really getting going for the Chase. All those things put together really set the tone for that team and also sends a message to the rest of the teams."

Fresh from his win at Chicagoland, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Monte Carlo SS, feels right at home at IMS. His win in 2005 fulfilled a lifelong dream of collecting a trophy at the Brickyard. The Indiana native had come close in both Indy cars and stock cars, but it took 10 years for that victory celebration to finally take place.

But to Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, it's almost like just another day at the office. "It's just another race track. It pays the same amount of points. We're going there to win like we do every week. We're not going to work any harder; we're not going to work any less. We're going to prepare like we do, bring our best stuff there and hopefully we'll win there for a second time."

As the defending race winner at Indianapolis, Jimmie Johnson will view the Brickyard differently when he arrives at the facility gates this week. "I'm excited to go back," said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS. "It's the first time I've ever been excited to go back to Indy. I've always struggled there. And after our victory last year, I'm really pumped up to go back. It was very special to win at Indy and then become the champions in the same year. I look back at last year and the All-Star race and Daytona 500. It was just an awesome year with all the big events being taken down by the No. 48. Without our crew chief (Chad Knaus) it's going to be tough. It's a tough race track in general."

Like Johnson, Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Monte Carlo SS, has collected big wins at both the Daytona 500 and the All-Star race this year. He wonders if history might repeat itself again this year. During the 13 years that NASCAR has raced at IMS, the winner of that event has gone on to earn the series championship six times (06: Jimmie Johnson, '05: Tony Stewart, '01 and '98: Jeff Gordon, '00: Bobby Labonte, and '99: Dale Jarrett).

"We know what it's like to win there and Indy is just one of those places that everybody wants to win at. It's kind of like our mid-season Daytona so you try to bring your latest and greatest stuff. Track position is important. Obviously you've got to have the whole package. You need horsepower, you need your car handling good and you got to put yourself in the right position there with 25, 30 laps to go on the last pit stop to capitalize on a good car and be able to have that track position at the end of the race. The year we won the race we didn't test there and we sat on the pole and won the race so hopefully it works out the same way."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson