Brickyard 400 Preview
IndyCars have been coming to the Brickyard for decades. It is their Daytona 500. Some would say that’s an insult, but the truth is, anything that goes on at the Brickyard is history.
And history will be made next year when the Nationwide cars will move from Lucas Park Raceway to race at Indianapolis. The Grand Am series will join them in the move. While I understand the need for more venues at the facility to bring in the almighty dollar, emotionally I am saddened to see the aura of the track dimmed somewhat by adding attractions to the historied track.
This year, however, the big stock cars of the Sprint Cup will once again return to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400.
The first race there, in 1994, was won by Jeff Gordon. Jeff was a young racer back then, burning up almost every race track he took his Dupont Chevy on. He’d made his debut in NASCAR in 1992 at the final race of the season, and just took off. The Brickyard was just one more notch in his steering wheel and he has notched it 4 times, more than any other.
Indianapolis isn’t really geared for the big stock cars. It’s more of a rectangle than an oval, and passing is difficult, to say the least. The open wheel cars have a much easier time on this storied track, and not all Cup drivers like racing here. Stock cars run better on true ovals. Just as Pocono raceway is called a “Roval” - a road course and oval in one track - Indianapolis just doesn’t fit into any proper box either. It’s flat. It has virtually no banking, and with the corners being, well…corners, driving on the track just isn’t always fun.
Given the state of the standings in Sprint Cup, this is an important race. There are only 7 races left until the Chase starts. NASCAR decided to reward wins starting this year, and while that is a good thing in this fan’s mind, there are currently two drivers with wins who are out of the top twenty, another condition of being granted a position in the Chase. Regan Smith, Brad Keselowski and David Ragan all have a win this year, but Keselowski is in 23rd , Smith is in 27th and while Ragan is in 13th, he is still out of the top ten.
On the other side of the coin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., while in the top ten by the skin of his nose, has no wins yet this year. In fact, Earnhardt has had a dry spell for quite a while. Many believe a win for Jr. is just around the corner, that win has to happen soon or Jr will not be in the 2011 Chase. He is currently the only driver in the top ten without a win. In fact, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth each have two and Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have three apiece.
Speaking of Busch and Harvick, those two seem determined to run into each other and take each other out, no matter the consequences. Harvick, particularly, seems to have a burr up his butt when it comes to Busch, leading NASCAR to issue a warning. At one time, Kevin led the points, but consistency has not been his, nor Kyle’s, friend this year. Instead, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson sit 1 and 2 in the points, a familiar place for both of them.
It seems as if Jimmie may be poised for yet another Championship!
Every year for the past few we have heard those exact words uttered at just about the same time. It seems no matter how poorly Jimmie runs at the beginning of the season, he and Chad Knaus bring the 48 car into prime condition, just in time to start the Chase. While last year wasn’t a walk in the park for the 48 team, it still seems they are an almost unbeatable combination. Let's not forget that Jimmie has been in Victory Lane here at Indy 3 times, second only to his teammate.
But can it happen this year?
Not if the other 9 drivers in the top ten have anything to say about it. The question is, can they do anything about it?
Carl is currently the points leader, but he is only one of several this year. Kevin Harvick held the points lead through most of last year’s regular season, only to falter just enough to allow Jimmie to grab the championship. This year he seems more determined, yet he is allowing other drivers (Kyle Busch) to get under his skin and break his concentration. He doesn’t seem to have his eye on the ultimate goal. Kyle Busch, for all his claims that he isn’t letting anything get in his way of the big picture, still seems hell bent on making enemies. Denny Hamlin appeared to be the ascending Crown Prince in earlier years, and while he seems to make a run for the goal on the odd occasion, his ego seems to be what is holding him back (it’s inflated, in my opinion).
Kurt Busch has had some strong moments this year, but you only have to listen to a portion of the radio conversations between he and his crew to realise they are not a cohesive group. Kurt is constantly complaining about the car and criticising the men behind the wall who work on it for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t sabotage it themselves, just to see him actually blow his top. Yeah, I know it would never happen…..
The front runners of previous years don’t seem to be having the stellar year expected. Jeff Burton just had a crew chief change. Do I dare say it? Yes, I love Paul Menard, and think he is a talented driver, but his move to Childress made that, once again, a four car team. Every time Childress has expanded to four cars, the team as a whole has struggled. This year is no different.
And what of Dale Earnhardt Jr.? As mentioned above, he needs to win and win now. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the best tracks for him in the next couple of races. From Indianapolis the teams head to Pocono, then on to Watkins Glen. Can Jr win at any of those tracks? Time will tell.
The racing at Indy isn’t the best, as I’ve said many times, but no matter what, it seems to be a good place for emotions. Tony Stewart always wanted to win here and he has done that twice now. I’d love to see him climb the fence again, to hang with his friends, and also get his first win of the year.
How about you? Who’s your pick? Who’s your underdog?