* Tony Stewart At Home in Indiana -- This Time as a Favorite * Quest for History is Secondary 'Chase' for Jeff Gordon This Week DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 2, 2005) -- One of the season's biggest events -- Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard...
* Tony Stewart At Home in Indiana -- This Time as a Favorite
* Quest for History is Secondary 'Chase' for Jeff Gordon This Week
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 2, 2005) -- One of the season's biggest events -- Sunday's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard -- occupies one of the season's most crucial junctures, as the halfway point in the "Race to the Chase."
Because of that, storylines abound as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series rolls into Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the winner will likely kiss the yard of bricks that mark the start-finish line, while others could kiss their championship chances goodbye if they post a back-in-the-pack finish.
What's in the news at Indy?
Well, to start:
• Tony Stewart (No. 20 The Home Depot Chevrolet) returns to his home state as perhaps the favorite, winner of three of the last four races, a surge that has vaulted him to second in the series standings. Stewart -- from nearby Rushville, Ind. and now living in Columbus, Ind. -- doesn't hide his desire for a Brickyard victory, saying, "Any kid who's ever grown up in Indiana knows what Indianapolis Motor Speedway means. This is definitely my biggest race of the year. It always has been and it probably always will be."
• Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) can become the all-time race winner at Indianapolis with a victory. Gordon's four NASCAR wins at IMS ties him with four-time Indianapolis 500 champions A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.
History notwithstanding, Gordon's more-immediate focus is advancing in the series points; after Indy, only five races remain before the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup begins Sept. 18 at New Hampshire. Only the top 10 drivers in points (plus any others within 400 points of the standings' leader) qualify for the 10-race "Chase" that determines the series champion.
Coming into Indy, Gordon is 15th in points, 114 behind 10th-place Dale Jarrett (No. 88 UPS Ford). Time grows short. "Winning a big race like this," Gordon said, "can definitely help the morale of the team and build some momentum."
• Jarrett, the 1999 series champion, is seemingly ahead of the points game. Season-long consistency is the reason he's 10th in points. Indy victories in 1996 and '99 are reasons to take him very seriously this weekend.
• Jarrett winning at Indy in '99 was part of his march to the series championship. It also was part of a significant four-year stretch from 1998-2001 when Indy's winner also won the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup title. Gordon started the run in 1998 and capped it in 2001. Jarrett in 1999 and Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet) in 2000 kept the streak going.
"Without a doubt [Indy] is still a very special track not only to me but to just about everyone who races there," Jarrett said.
• Fourth-place Rusty Wallace (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), seventh-place Mark Martin (No. 6 Viagra Ford) and Jarrett all are in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Top 10. They're also all over 40. Adding to this sub-plot: Neither Wallace nor Martin have won at the Brickyard.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) hasn't exactly been on a roll, but he has been on the rebound in his quest to make the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Earnhardt had fallen to 18th in points after the June 26 road-race at Infineon Raceway. Fueled by three top-10 finishes since, including a victory at Chicagoland Speedway, Earnhardt has climbed to 14th. But he's still 110 points out of 10th place and 537 behind the points leader, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).
"It's hard to even imagine what it'd be like [to win at Indianapolis]," Earnhardt said. "I definitely want to experience it before my career is over, if even only once. Daddy won there [in 1995], and I remember how special it was for him. He won a bunch of races, but I don't think there's any question winning the Brickyard was one of his career highlights.
"It's a hard race to win, because all the teams put so much emphasis on it. You have to have the best car, the best pit crew, and the best driver to win that race. If you only have two of those three things, you'll lose."