Monday, July 25, 2011

All-State 400 at the Brickyard Storylines

The Brickyard is the most storied race track in the world (Getty)
As if the ‘Crown Jewel’ known as the Brickyard 400 at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway needed any added allure, the Wild Card wrinkle for entry into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and a rich incentive program from series sponsor Sprint make this one all-the-more fascinating.

Once a year since 1994, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Indianapolis for one of the biggest events on the schedule. Indy, statistically, is the home of champions. Of the 17 races run at Indy, 14 have been won by past, reigning or future series champions. In eight of those seasons, the Brickyard winner went on to win that season’s championship.

Adding to the built-in prestige, this is also the first race in of the Sprint Summer Showdown presented by HTC EVO 3D. Any driver who wins between Indianapolis and Bristol (the next five races) will become a finalist for the Labor Day weekend race in Atlanta. If one of those eligible drivers wins the Atlanta race, then the driver, the driver’s charity and one lucky race fan each collect $1,000,000. Fans can enter for their shot at $1,000,000 each week at

And of course, there’s the Chase to worry about. Only seven races remain between now and the NASCAR’s playoffs. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top-10 drivers will be locked in the 12-driver Chase. Spots 11 and 12 will go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20. Currently, only one driver ranked 11-20 has a win (David Ragan), so there’s a very real possibility that a victory will turn into a playoff appearance.

Indianapolis – the city, not the Motor Speedway – hosts a couple other races this weekend, big ones.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will run Friday at Lucas Oil Raceway, in the AAA Insurance 200.

NASCAR Nationwide Series action returns – and that word “action” fits perfectly. On Saturday night, X-Games star Travis Pastrana will make his series debut, in the Kroger 200 benefitting Riley Hospital for Children at Lucas Oil Raceway.


Gordon: One Weekend, Two Milestones
Gordon and NASCAR grew with Indy
Jeff Gordon’s hit list grows with each passing season. This weekend at Indianapolis, the four-time series champion can pile on two more accolades.

Gordon’s next win will be his 85th – which will put him alone in third on the all-time wins list behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).

If he rings up No. 85 this weekend, it’ll also be his fifth at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will tie him for most all-time at the track with Michael Schumacher, whose victories came in Formula 1 competition.

Wild Card Watch: Stewart, Montoya, McMurray On Call
Keep one eye on the standings, and the other on the action on the track – both could tell an intriguing story about the playoff push.

Three names in particular – Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray – have simultaneously enjoyed success at Indy, and could need a victory to land a Chase berth.

Stewart, currently 11th in points, still seeks his first win of 2011. A native of Indiana, Stewart is a two-time champion at the Brickyard. Stewart looks to become just the second driver-owner to win at Indy; the first was Ricky Rudd in 1997.

Montoya, currently 17th in points, has tasted victory at Indy, but not in NASCAR. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion finished second in the 2007 Brickyard 400 and might have won in 2009 if not for a late-race pit road speeding penalty while leading.

McMurray, 29th in points, won last year’s Brickyard 400.

Sprint Summer Showdown Launches
As detailed above, Indy is the first race in the Sprint Summer Showdown.

Sunday’s winner will immediately become eligible for the big prize at Atlanta. For favorites, look no further than the pre-race Driver Rating. The top five in Driver Rating at Indy: Stewart (109.3), Montoya (106.4), Mark Martin (105.3), Jimmie Johnson (100.1) and Greg Biffle (97.7).

Additionally, Wild Card implications pepper the above list – four of the five are outside the top 10.

Stewart, Newman Bring Hometown Momentum
Two Indiana natives – Ryan Newman, from South Bend and Tony Stewart from Columbus – finished 1-2 in the last NASCAR Sprint Cup race, at New Hampshire.

That momentum is rare. The last time two Indiana drivers finished 1-2 was in 2005, in the Chase race at New Hampshire.

Bowtie Brigade Marches Into Indy
Montoya hopes to add to Chevy domination at Indy (Getty)
This particular streak is downright daunting: A Chevrolet has won the last eight races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The last time a non-Chevy won at the Brickyard: Bill Elliott’s Dodge in 2002.

Standings Shakeup Enters Indy Weekend
A few of the notable happenings in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings going into Indianapolis…

New Points Leader: Edwards regained the points lead for the 13th time in 19 weeks.

Manufacturer Parity: Four manufacturers make up top five in the points standings. Additionally, the top five drivers in points all represent different teams.

Top-10 Points Tie: Though Denny Hamlin officially owns the 10th-place spot, he’s in a points tie with Tony Stewart. Hamlin owns the tiebreaker, via his win at Michigan. After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top 10 drivers are locked into the 12-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Spots 11 and 12 go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20.

Dale Jr. Fall Continues: Once thought as a Chase lock, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now anything but. Earnhardt finished 15th at New Hampshire, his fifth consecutive finish outside the top 10. He now sits just seven points ahead of the top-10 cutoff, after being as much as 71 points ahead after Pocono.

Keselowski Loses Ground: Brad Keselowski’s win at Kansas earlier this season put him in prime position for a Chase Wild Card berth – if only he could land in the top 20. That’s a feat that has proven difficult. Keselowski has flirted with the vital points position, entering New Hampshire only three points out of the top 20. But a 35th-place finish at New Hampshire now has him 25 points outside the top 20.

- NASCAR Media Services

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