The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 19th annual Brickyard 400. The race is one of the most prestigious races on the circuit. To win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the biggest accomplishments in any driver's career.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also one of the toughest tracks to drive. That can be the main reason why there's really never any fluke winners here (with the possible exception of last year). All four turns may look similar on TV, but in reality, they're entirely different. It takes a driver of great skill to maneuver their car around the 2.5-mile oval and keep momentum off the corners for the long straights.
These are the top drivers I would pick and also those I'd stay away from.
Who to Buy:
There's no driver better at Indy than Jeff Gordon. Gordon is one of four drivers to make all 18 starts in the race and has the record for wins with four. The four win total is also tied for the record for most wins in the 101 year history of the historic track.
Gordon, needs a win to get in the Chase conversation and I feel he has had this race circled as the time to get in victory lane. He's so dominant here and not only wants to be in the Chase, but surely has his sights on breaking the Speedway record for most victories.
Gordon has completed 2,759 laps at IMS and led a race high 476 laps in 11 races. He also has 14 top-10's and 10 top-5's at IMS to go along with three poles.
Gordon also has 306 green flag passes at the Speedway which ranks fifth all-time. He also has 206 quality passes which is second all-time.
I think Gordon is clearly the favorite come Sunday as I wouldn't be surprised to see the 24 in victory lane Sunday afternoon. He had the best car last year but Paul Menard stole the win with a fuel mileage gamble, and Gordon will be looking to avenge that loss this time around.
If there's a second best driver in the 43-car field on Sunday it has to be Jimmie Johnson. He's made 10 starts in the race and has three wins to his credit. In fact, Johnson has won three times in the last six years including three wins in four years from 2006-2009.
Hendrick Motorsports is always strong at Indy and Johnson would be a smart guy to pick on Sunday. He's been fast every year he's run here with having 96 laps being the fastest of the race. That ranks second all-time. His average green flag speed at IMS is also second best at 169.879 mph.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya may be the best driver to race at Indy without key wins to show for it. Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in dominating fashion back in 2000 and has been oh-so-close to winning the Brickyard multiple times in his five NASCAR starts at the track.
Montoya led 116 laps in 2009 and 86 in 2010, but bad luck took him out of winning the race. Last year was kind of an off year for Montoya at Indy, but I feel he's a solid pick this weekend. The Columbian also has a series-high 105 fastest laps run in his Brickyard starts at IMS.
Don't forget Target Chip Ganassi Racing won the Indianapolis 500 back in May and will look to be the first team to sweep the major races at Indy in a year. Montoya is also trying to become the first driver to win both the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400.
I look for Montoya to be a contender on Sunday.
When you think of NASCAR at Indy you think of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Stewart is the hometown hero and cares more about Indy than any other track. It was always a dream of his to win at Indy and he's accomplished that two times in his 13 career starts.
Stewart is always a factor come race day and just seems to put so much emotion in this race. I know Stewart wants to win this race as a car owner, and with how great he's run at times this season I wouldn't count him out on Sunday.
Stewart has nine top-10's and six top-5's in 13 races at Indy. He's finished in the top 10 in seven of the last eight races here and will once again be a contender for that feat come Sunday. If he's there at the end, don't count Stewart out.
Stewart, like Johnson and Montoya is very fast at Indy. He has a series best average green flag speed of 169.959 mph. Stewart also has a series best 220 quality passes. The Hoosier also ranks second in average running position of 10.7, and green flag passes with 407.
Who to Sell:
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
This one won't be popular with Junior Nation, but the man simply hasn't had much success at Indy in his career. Junior's best finish at the Brickyard is sixth as he only has two top-10's in 13 career starts.
Junior's last five finishes here are 16th, 27th, 36th, 12th and 34th. He's only led 61 laps in his career and really isn't ever a front running threat.
Junior did run well at Pocono, a track similar to Indy, back in June, but I don't see Junior as a threat come Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Busch is a threat at almost every track on the circuit except Indy. Busch often has bad luck here and though he does have five top-10's in seven starts, but he's never been a factor for a victory.
Busch's best finish is fourth as his seven finishes here are 10th, 8th, 38th, 15th, 4th, 7th and 10th. Toyota has never been strong here and with Busch having bad luck on pit stops and engine failures this season I don't think he will have enough to compete on Sunday.
Ryan Newman is a driver who I would have thought would have been more successful at IMS. Newman is a former USAC driver and grew up in South Bend, Indiana so he's very familiar with the tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The "Rocket" has nine top-10 starts in the Brickyard in 11 races. But he only has one top-10 start with Stewart/Hass and his only two starts outside the top 10 came with the No. 39 team.
Newman may often start up front, but he doesn't fare well in the race. In his 11 starts, the Hoosier native only has one top-10 and that came back in 2002 when he finished fourth. His other finishes are 31st, 11th, 31st, 34th, 13th, 42nd, 13th, 14th, 17th and 12th last year.
Newman has struggled since his win at Martinsville in April and I don't expect him to finish in the top 10 come Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. is having his best season in his Cup career in 2012. He's run up front and been consistent all season. One thing he's lacked is a win as he's currently on the bubble for the Chase. Don't expect Indy to be the first race for him to win this season.
Truex Jr. has made seven starts in the Brickyard 400 and has zero top-10 finishes. His best finish is 12th which came back in 2007 and was the only time he's been in the top 15 at Indy.
Truex Jr.'s finishes are 42nd, 19th, 12th, 24th, 17th, 26th and 24th. I would sell Truex Jr. for Sunday's event.