Every Sprint Cup driver covets a Brickyard 400 win. But this year it would mean more to some than to others. Here’s the breakdown.
Don’t need it (but they’ll take it)
Picking the favorites in the 2010 Brickyard 400 is easy. Over the past five years, two drivers have hogged all the Indy glory: Tony Stewart (two wins) and Jimmie Johnson (three wins). Add to this elite group Jeff Gordon, who has won the Brickyard 400 a record four times – a career winning percentage of 25 percent in NASCAR’s biggest event of the summer. No other active driver has won Indy more than once. Of the repeat winners, Johnson, who sits third in points but is tied with Denny Hamlin for the 2010 series lead in wins with five, has the least to gain at the Brickyard this year. Gordon and Stewart are both winless in 2010 and would love to break through in Indianapolis, where each has deep roots and a large following. At second in points, however, Gordon is in far better shape than Stewart, who is ninth in the standings and is just 103 points off the bubble. So while it’s a stretch to say that Stewart needs to win the Brickyard 400, a victory on Sunday would pay a higher dividend to him than to Johnson or Gordon.
Sure would be nice
This group includes the other three active Brickyard 400 winners; drivers who have won in 2010 (besides Johnson, of course); and all other legitimate Chase contenders. Of the three former winners – Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott and Kevin Harvick – only Harvick has a realistic chance. As the points leader, however, he hardly faces a must-win scenario. Ditto for Denny Hamlin and the Busch brothers, all of whom have made multiple visits to Victory Lane in 2010. Jamie McMurray has already assured himself a successful season by winning the Daytona 500. So has David Reutimann, whose Chicagoland triumph proved that last year’s rain-shortened Coke 600 win was no fluke. And regardless of what happens on the track, Kasey Kahne has had a good year because he signed with Hendrick Motorsports, effective in 2011. That leaves Indiana native Ryan Newman; the Roush-Fenway trio of Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth; and a pair of pairs: RCR teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, and Hendrick ’mates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. It’s tempting to say that Junior is the neediest of this bunch because an Indy win would serve as an obvious pressure-release valve. A similar argument can be made for Edwards, who could use a major Cup win to shift the focus away from his ongoing feud with Brad Keselowski. But in the broader picture Martin would gain even the most from a Brickyard 400 win. He’s never won the Cup title, never won the Daytona 500. The 2010 Brickyard 400 is one of his few remaining opportunities to claim one of Cup racing’s majors.
The downright desperate
This group consists of those who have yet to win in 2010, who have never won at Indy and who have little chance of making the Chase. In other words, the group for whom a win at Indy could spell the difference between a miserable season and a memorable one. A few, including A.J. Allmendinger and Reed Sorenson, have shown enough at Indy in the past to rate long-shot status. But realistically the members of this group stand little chance. With one exception. He was the runner-up at the Brickyard in 2007. And last year he not only could have won the race, he should have. He led more than half the laps before a pit-road speeding penalty handed the race to Johnson instead. He recovered from that disappointment to make the Chase for the first time and was a title contender deep into the autumn. Now his car owner is in position to accomplish an unprecedented trifecta: wins in the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season. Put all of that together, and Juan Pablo Montoya would gain more from winning the 2010 Brickyard 400 than any other driver.
ONE TO WATCH: Carl Edwards
WHY HE MATTERS: Controversial Nationwide win reignited his feud with Brad Keselowski.
WHAT HE SAYS: “I’m sure some (Keselowski) fans didn’t like that.”
WHAT THE NUMBERS SAY: With Edwards now within 168 points of Keselowski for the Nationwide series lead, the battle isn’t over.
THE LOWDOWN Even with the Sprint Cup series idle last weekend, NASCAR got a booster shot of intensity heading into this Sunday’s Brickyard 400, the marquee event of the summer. Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, who compete full time in the Nationwide series as well as Cup, compressed their rivalry into a single lap at Gateway International Raceway Saturday night. Keselowski executed a bump-and-run pass with one lap left; Edwards responded on the final turn, sending Keselowski into the wall. Edwards won and Keselowski wrecked, taking several other cars with him. Vitriol has been flowing since. So while neither driver is among the Brickyard favorites, both will be on the fans’ – and NASCAR’s – radar.
2009 Jimmie Johnson
2008 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Tony Stewart
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2005 Tony Stewart
ABOUT The Brickyard
TRACK: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indianapolis, Ind.), 2.5-mile paved track
RACE LENGTH: 160 laps, 400 miles
FIRST RACE: 1909 (first NASCAR race: 1994)
SERIES: NASCAR Sprint Cup
Quote of note
“I’ll get my own damn uniform back on and take care of this. He ain’t gonna kill my boy.” – Brad Keselowski’s father, retired racer Bob Keselowski, on Carl Edwards
Where to watch
Sunday’s pre-race show on ESPN starts at noon EDT, followed by the race at 1:00.
UP TO SPEED
It follows that Gordon is the leader
It’s no shock that Jeff Gordon, only four-time winner of the Brickyard 400, is the all-time Sprint Cup lap leader at Indy. Gordon, in fact, has led more than twice as many laps as any other driver in Brickyard 400 history (see chart). Still, the top 20 is sprinkled with surprises. Juan Pablo Montoya is eighth despite just three career Brickyard starts – two fewer than anyone else on the list. But the biggest head-scratcher is that journeyman Johnny Benson Jr. has led 15 more laps at Indianapolis than Mark Martin, and in half as many starts.
Long, hot day in the heartland
The plan was for Gateway International Raceway to host its first-ever Camping World Truck and Nationwide twinbill last Friday and Saturday. Instead, the track ended up with a same-day doubleheader when a power failure (attributed down a downed utility line) led to the postponement of the truck race from Friday night to Saturday afternoon. Kevin Harvick steamed to the truck win in 95-degree heat. With Harvick leading 143 of 160 laps, the race was a laugher. But one driver not laughing afterward was runner-up Brad Keselowski, who contended that Harvick had committed a violation by passing the pace car while pitting under yellow. Although the weather had cooled for the Nationwide nightcap, the controversy surrounding Keselowski got much hotter.
Just four drivers have started all 16 previous editions of the Brickyard 400: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin. But only one has been running at the finish each time: Burton.
All-Time Brickyard 400 lap leaders*
RANK DRIVER STARTS LAPS LED
1 Jeff Gordon 16 440
2 Tony Stewart 11 217
3 Dale Jarrett 13 186
4 Bill Elliott 15 157
5 Rusty Wallace 12 148
6 Jimmie Johnson 8 128
7 Jeff Burton 16 123
8 Juan Pablo Montoya3 116
9 Ernie Irvan 5 114
10 Kevin Harvick 9 87
11 Elliott Sadler 11 76
12 Johnny Benson Jr. 8 72
13 Mark Martin 16 57
14 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10 54
15 Sterling Marlin 13 42
16 Kasey Kahne 6 40
17 Kyle Busch 5 39
18 Steve Park 6 39
19 Dale Earnhardt Sr. 7 37
20 Ricky Rudd 13 33
*Active drivers in bold