By Micah Roberts
The track’s all-time leader in wins is also the driver who won the first race ever at the Brickyard. Jeff Gordon has racked up three other Indy wins as well, but none since 2004. Over the last five years of NASCAR racing at the Brickyard, there have been only two winners. Tony Stewart has won twice while Jimmie Johnson has won three times, including the last two races held there.
Both Stewart and Johnson can be expected to be contenders this week, but not necessarily just because of their great Brickyard history. Indianapolis is a very unique track -- unlike any other layout on tour -- but one that does have similarities to Pocono Raceway because of it’s long flat straightaways and flat sweeping turns. To be successful at Indy, it takes an engine with a lot of horsepower and car with good handling. Stewart finished third at Pocno but has opted to take his Coca-Cola 600 chassis that finished 15th.
For Johnson, he’s either hit or miss at Indy and when he hits, it’s good for a win. His only top-five finishes at the track have been wins while he’s also had three finishes of 36th or worse. Johnson will be using his fifth-place Pocono chassis this week.
Denny Hamlin led the most laps and won at Pocono last month with Johnson and Stewart both finishing within the top-five. Kyle Busch and all three Childress cars ran strong in that race and look to be the leading contenders to win this week.
Both Hamlin and Kyle Busch will be looking to capture Joe Gibbs Racing’s fourth Brickyard 400 win. Bobby Labonte won in 200 with Stewart winning in 2005 and 2007. Busch finished runner-up to Hamlin at Pocono, but surprisingly isn’t bringing the same chassis from that race opting to go with a first time starter instead.
Another driver to keep an eye on this week during the four practice sessions is Juan Pablo Montoya who got caught speeding on pit road while leading late in last years Brickyard 400. Montoya is a past Indy 500 race winner and gets in and out of those tight turns better than most. He’s debuting a brand new chassis this week that tested at Indy in April.
There likely won’t be any surprises this week as only the best of the best win on the famed bricks. In the 16 races run there, only two have been won by drivers that never won a Sprint Cup championship -- Ricky Rudd and Kevin Harvick. That list of drivers is dwindling as past champions have either passed away or retired, while not gaining any new members as Johnson has hogged all the titles.
This looks like a great week to go against the trend, one that could include a Toyota winning for the first time with Kyle Busch. Busch is likely to become a champion some day, but should he win, it would be the first non-chevy to win since Bill Elliott in his Evernham Dodge in 2002, a year Elliott also won at Pocono.
Next week everyone should be a head of the handicapping game early because the series travels back to Pocono for the second date. Keep an eye on who runs well this week throughout the final practices and during the race, but not necessarily where they finish.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
2) #11 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
3) #31 Jeff Burton (15/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/2)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
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Las Vegas Hilton Super Book's Brickyard 400 Odds to Win