As NASCAR prepares for its second-biggest event of the year, here are the particulars you need to know to follow Sunday's action at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
An Indy win is monumental
Indianapolis began hosting races in 1909, and up until 1994, only open-wheel cars were permitted to compete on the fabled oval. But since NASCAR began running at the track 20 years ago, Indianapolis has become a marquee event, trailing only the Daytona 500 in significance.
This importance is underlined because of how difficult it is to win at Indianapolis. In the 19 previous editions of the Brickyard 400, three drivers have combined to win 10 of the events, as Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have four victories apiece, while Tony Stewart has two. And overall, Indianapolis has become known as a place where the greats shine with only four of 19 races being won by drivers who don't have a Cup championship on their résumé.
By all appearances it should be more of the same Sunday. Johnson has consistently been among the fastest since unloading and will start the race on the outside of the front row. Stewart and Gordon, who qualified fifth and ninth, respectively, will join him in the top 10. And at a place where track position is key, these three already have a decided advantage.
Juan Pablo Montoya is playing the role of spoiler
If there is a driver who plays the role of spoiler Sunday, it will likely be Juan Pablo Montoya. Like Johnson, Gordon and Stewart, the Colombian has also visited Victory Lane at Indianapolis. Yet Montoya's win came in the 2000 Indy 500 where he steamrolled the field, leading 167 of 200 laps.
Montoya, however, has never won an oval race in his seven-year NASCAR career, but he has come painstakingly close to doing so at Indianapolis.
He should have won both races there in 2009 and 2010, particularly in '09 when he led a race-high 116 laps before a speeding penalty late erased what would have been a certain victory. The following year he again had the superior car, but flawed pit strategy led to Montoya pushing too hard and he subsequently crashed.
In practice, Montoya posted the fastest and third-fastest times. If he can avoid the mistakes he's made previously, he has an excellent shot at being the first driver to win the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400.
Can a non-Chevrolet driver win?
Chevrolet has long been the prevailing manufacturer at Indianapolis, having won 10 consecutive Sprint Cup races and 14 of 19 overall. That dominance explains why Ford has been shutout of the winner's circle since 1999 and Toyota has never won a Cup race at the venerable track.
This superiority is best explained because of the dominance exhibited by Johnson, Gordon and Stewart, all of whom have a bowtie on the hood of their cars.
Nevertheless it's surprising that it's been 14 years since a Ford driver (Dale Jarrett) last won at Indy. Also surprising is that Jack Roush is still in search of his first Indianapolis victory. Roush Fenway Racing is at its best in speedway races where horsepower and fuel mileage are paramount to success -- both characteristics of the Roush organization.
As for Toyota, since entering NASCAR's top division in 2007, it has won at every Cup track except Indianapolis. But the manufacturer will be at a disadvantage Sunday due to decreased horsepower.
- Because of how difficult it is to pass at Indianapolis, it is not a surprise that 15 of 19 races have been won by a driver starting 15th or better.
- Five drivers in Sunday's race -- Montoya, Stewart, Danica Patrick, AJ Allmendinger and J.J. Yeley -- have made starts in both the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400.
- Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin are the only drivers to start every Brickyard 400.
1. Jimmie Johnson
With the speed he has displayed throughout the weekend and how dominant he has been there historically, Johnson is the consensus favorite to win. It's as simple as that.
2. Kasey Kahne
As quick as Johnson has been, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate has been equally as fast. This is no surprise as the No. 5 team has shown speed all year, but Kahne has struggled to match performance to his potential. If he can avoid the mistakes, which have handicapped him all season, he should be in contention.
3. Kurt Busch
Can Busch and his single-car Furniture Row Racing team finally get its breakthrough victory? It appears they will have an excellent shot Sunday, as the No. 78 car was second in first practice and fastest in final practice. The one hurdle is that races here tend to be decided in the pits and that has been an area of weakness for this team.