Originally written on Race Review Online  |  Last updated 7/28/12

 

Indianapolis Winners the Thoroughbreds of NASCAR

Judging the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s degree of difficulty requires only a reading of past winners of the Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard. Fourteen of 18 races were won by past or future NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions.

Fitting, perhaps, that drivers with a combined 11 championships – Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt – won the Speedway’s first two races.

Earnhardt was enshrined with the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Gordon, whose 85 victories rank highest among active drivers and third all-time, surely will follow along with several additional Brickyard winners.

Winning at Indianapolis doesn’t guarantee a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.

In eight seasons, most recently Jimmie Johnson in 2009, the Indianapolis winner claimed that season’s title. Johnson also accomplished the “double” in 2006 and 2008. Others who doubled are Gordon (1998, 2001), Dale Jarrett (1999), Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2005).

Gordon finished second in last year’s race less than a second behind upset winner Paul Menard, who was in a fuel-saving mode but had enough in the tank to reach the checkered flag.

“Growing up here and going to the track numerous times as a kid, there is just something special about each trip here,” said Gordon, born in California but an Indiana resident during late childhood and teen years racing open wheel cars. “The four corners look the same but each is unique with different transitions and bumps.

“As a driver, factoring that in with a few little dips, the way the wind is blowing, the radius and everything else can give you an advantage. But the car has to be good, as well. We’ve had the best car or one of the best cars in each of the races we’ve won here.”

That racing at Indianapolis makes a driver part of motorsports history isn’t lost on a number of drivers – especially those who have not been able to win at the Brickyard.

“It’s been a pretty cool race track … [because] of all the history and everything’s that’s been built around the race track and the 100 years it’s been going,” said Kyle Busch, who finished 10th a year ago.

Carl Edwards also cited the track’s history and traditions in making the race special.

“If you watch the past winners and seeing Paul [Menard] and Jamie [McMurray] and the emotion of that win and how important it was to their teams, I think the guys that haven’t won it dream of being standing there on those bricks,” he said. “It would be very cool.”

Repeating Menard’s Indy Breakthrough Seems Improbable

Paul Menard’s 2011 Brickyard 400 victory was both unexpected and unprecedented. He was the first to notch his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Menard’s feat is unlikely to be duplicated if for no other reason virtually all of Sunday’s contenders already are career winners. The highest-ranked driver without a previous win is Aric Almirola, who sits 22nd in the standings.

Almirola, with a single career top-five finish, would be an even greater longshot than Menard, who was 19th in points pre-Indy a year ago. It’s more probable to look at who might be a first-time Brickyard 400 winner. The three Roush Fenway Racing drivers would seem statistically logical – except that a Ford hasn’t won at the Speedway since 1999. Jack Roush continues to pursue his first Indy victory.

Points leader Matt Kenseth owns the best Driver Rating (96.4) among non-Indianapolis winners ranked among the top 12. He has the most top fives (five) and top 10s (seven) among full-time competitors without an Indy victory.

Greg Biffle ranks third-best among all drivers in Average Running Position (11.0) among non-winners in the top 12. His Driver Rating (95.9) is second to RFR teammate Kenseth.

Among Indy non-winners ranked among the top 12, Carl Edwards has the best average finish (11.0). He’s first among all competitors with 435 Green Flag Passes.

The driver most overdue for an Indianapolis victory? That would be Mark Martin, who has a pair of second-place finishes, six top fives and 11 top 10s and a Coors Light Pole. Martin has a series-best Average Running Position of 8.9 and second-best Driver Rating (104.5). Martin and his No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota will have to overcome one significant handicap. A Toyota has yet to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Home Boy Gordon ‘Wild’ About Indy

Jeff Gordon, a four-time series champion and four-time winner at the Brickyard, needs to become a five-time winner at the Brickyard if he hopes to become a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

There’s reason to believe. Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., seems to have shirked all that bad luck that plagued him to start the 2012 season. All those 20-something and 30-something finishes have morphed into top 10s. Good karma has finally enveloped the NASCAR legend.

Four of Gordon’s last five races have been top 10s. Likewise, four of Gordon’s last five finishes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been top-10 finishes, including last year’s runner-up finish to Paul Menard. Though Gordon’s last Indy win came in 2004, he’s enjoyed recent success at the historic venue – eclipsing the 100-point Driver Rating mark in three of the last five events.

For Gordon, entry into the top 10 is a mathematical pipe dream. Though not officially eliminated from top-10 consideration, his best route into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is the Wild Card. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 10 drivers make the 12-driver Chase. Spots 11 and 12 go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they’re in the top 20. Gordon, currently in 17th, is well within the Wild Card discussion. After all, Brad Keselowski was 23rd after 19 races last year, and wound up in the No. 1 Wild Card spot.

Chevrolet Teams Rock-Solid At Indianapolis

Chevrolet, celebrating its 100th anniversary, heads to Indianapolis closing in on a major milestone – 700 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins.

Sitting on 696 victories, another IMS win for Chevrotlet seems likely. General Motors’ cars haven’t been unbeatable at the Speedway – but close to it.

A Chevrolet has found its way to the Brickyard’s Victory Lane in nine consecutive seasons beginning with Kevin Harvick’s win in 2003. That’s the best winning streak at a currently scheduled track. Chevrolet has won 10 of the last 11 Indianapolis races and 13 times overall.

Hendrick Motorsports has produced the most Chevrolet victories – seven with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

Richard Childress Racing’s three wins were recorded by three different drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Harvick and Paul Menard. Harvick is of particular interest: He’s the only driver in the top seven without a win this season.

Joe Gibbs Racing has a pair of wins, both by Tony Stewart.

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has a single win with Jamie McMurray.

Brickyard Wins Extra Special For Three Hoosiers

Indianapolis represents a five-star victory for any driver in Sunday’s field. It’s a special race at a special place, but even more so for Indiana natives Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and David Stremme. All three hail from the Hoosier State.

Stewart has a pair of NASCAR Sprint Cup victories at the Brickyard in 2005 and 2007. Sunday’s race is the fifth anniversary of his July 29, 2007, win.

Newman, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, and Stremme – both from South Bend – are still waiting.

Stremme hasn’t competed in the race since 2009, when he finished 16th. Newman, who continues to pursue a milestone 50th Coors Light Pole, finished fourth in 2002 as a rookie – his only top five at Indy.

“The history of the sport, the history of motorsports at the Speedway is something I have always appreciated, and I look forward to trying to add my name to that record book,” Newman said. “To me, it’s still awesome to either be a fan or a driver at Indianapolis. To come down the front chute and hear the echo of the car, the horsepower, we approach 205 mph or whatever it is.”

A victory, his second of the season, also would go a long way toward qualifying Newman for the Chase likely as a “wild card.” Newman ranks third in “wild card” standings, nine points behind Kyle Busch.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Trevor Bayne will run a special paint scheme this weekend, honoring NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Wood. The No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford will have a throwback candy apple red paint scheme with a photo of Leonard and the NHOF logo featured on the hood. In 1965, Ford and Colin Chapman hired the Woods to service Jim Clark’s car in the Indianapolis 500. An internal device allowing fuel to flow more quickly from a gravity-based fuel tank developed by the Woods dramatically reduced pit times and was key in Clark’s victory. … Milestones: Indy product Ryan Newman continues his quest for 50 Coors Light Poles. He has yet to win a pole at IMS; his best start there was second in 2003. … 2011 Brickyard winner Jamie McMurray will make his 350th start on Sunday, looking for his 100th career top-10 finish. … On Tuesday, Furniture Row Racing announced that Todd Berrier would take over as crew chief for the N0. 78 driven byRegan Smith. Berrier’s first win was at Indianapolis, with Kevin Harvick in 2003. Smith won last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington, another one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.

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