The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the most storied tracks in the world, for the Brickyard 400 on Sunday. The drivers and teams are returning from an off-week and several have tweeted they are ready to get back on the track for some racing.
The drivers will have two practices on Friday with the final session on Saturday morning before fantasy owners have to lock in their starting lineup. Qualifying will be key again this week as starting position clearly gives those up front an advantage. Of the 17 races won at IMS, nine have come from drivers that started in the top-five.
While the Brickyard is a track like no other, many owners may want to consider how the drivers performed at Pocono last month. The logic behind this comparison is both tracks have long straightaways with similar degrees of banking in the turns. Teams will rely heavily on the engine shop this week as superior and durable engines are the only way to survive 400 miles at high rpm's and temperatures likely in the 90's come race time.
If you want to play the odds this week, focus on drivers that are strong contenders for the championship. A total of eight winners out of the 17 races have gone on to win a championship. Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are among those who "kissed the bricks" and ultimately kissed the championship trophy in November.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon is a four-time Brickyard winner, including the first NASCAR race at IMS in 1994. Along with the four wins, Gordon has also scored nine top-fives and 13 top-10s in seventeen starts. Whether he wins or not, he could also help with qualifying points since he also has three poles to his credit. If you are going to factor in stats at Pocono, keep in mind Gordon was your race winner in June.
Alternate pick: Tony Stewart - Like Gordon, Stewart has won more than once at the Brickyard. His average finish at IMS of eighth place is the best among all drivers, and he does have six top-fives in 12 starts. We all know this is considered Stewart's home track so he always looks to perform well for his hometown fans. Stewart typically gets on a "hot streak" this time of the season and what better place for him to get his first win of 2011.
Juan Pablo Montoya - Going with Montoya is a risky choice but the guy seems to have a knack for this 2.5 mile oval. The risky part is not where he starts (13th is his worst), but where he finishes. In two of his four starts Montoya has been involved in a wreck and finished outside the top-30. His other two starts resulted in an 11th place finish and a 2nd place finish last year.
Kasey Kahne – Kahne’s stats at Indy are not bad at all with two top-fives and four top-10s in seven starts. If you add in those numbers and the fact he has probably been the most consistent Group B driver over the last several races, owners should give strong consideration to Kahne.
Alternate pick: Joey Logano – Logano has just two starts at the Brickyard, but don’t let that bother you, he finished 12th in 2009 and ninth last year. He seems to be out of the slump that had him 29th in points early in the season and leaped to a respectable 18th after Loudon. The leap to 18th in points was a result of four top-10s in his last eight races including three top-five finishes.
Paul Menard – Menard struggled the last two races with 24th place finishes at both Kentucky and Loudon. Depending on whether the “up” or “down” Menard shows up this weekend is the big question. He did run well at Pocono, if you choose to consider that performance, plus a surprising 14th place finish last year at Indy may have owners leaning towards the “up” Menard. If the “down” is behind the No. 27 this weekend, look for comparable results to his last two races and for him to finish around 25th.
Alternate pick: Scott Speed – Going to give a shoutout to Speed as he returns back to Sprint Cup series action this week in the No. 37 Ford for Front Row Motorsports/Larry Gunselman. While he will have to qualify on speed to race on Sunday, whether he makes the race or not it will be nice to see one of the more colorful drivers back at the track.