Wednesday, July 25, 2012

2012 Brickyard 400 Preview: Breaking Down Pocono Helps Find Winner

Martin could be in line for first Brickyard win due to Pocono success (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

This week it’s off to the Brickyard in Indianapolis for NASCAR racing on the most storied track in motor sports history. Since the first time man first figured out how to power a machine and decided his machine was faster -- wanting to prove it against all others, The Brickyard has been there as the main stage.

It all began in 1909, but wasn’t until 85 later that NASCAR made it’s debut on the bricks and in many ways, was the cause for turning stock car racing into America’s favorite motor sport. 1994 was NASCAR’s first venture into the mid-west at a time when NASCAR was primarily considered a southern thing.

Over 250,000 fans had been cramming into the legendary facility to watch open wheel racing, but they hadn’t been exposed too much to stock car racing. Once Indiana and the surrounding states got excited about NASCAR racing, a tidal wave of enthusiasm spread across the western states that got us to where we are now with tracks in Chicago, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas, Las Vegas and Fontana.

Would NASCAR had blossomed as much without Indianapolis? It’s probable that eventually it might have because of television coverage expanding, but it’s debatable that it would have happened so soon without racing on the famed Bricks.

Whenever NASCAR races at Indy, the first thing I like to do to get myself prepared on deciding who might be the driver to beat is review the most recent Pocono race. Although the two 2.5-mile tracks have vastly different layouts, the flat banking of Indy mirrors Pocono’s final of three turns and the long straight-aways at each are very similar.

If a driver did well at Pocono, he is likely to have the right set-up figured out and horsepower required to be one of the top contenders at Indianapolis. The one variable to change from past years of cross referencing both tracks is that Pocono resurfaced their track prior to June’s race won by Joey Logano.

Between testing and practices at Pocono, Logano stood out as a driver that should do well. Others that aren’t the everyday household names who found lots of speed were last years Brickyard winner Paul Menard and A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 22 Penske ride.

Allmendinger was suspended Tuesday for failing the second of two drug tests which means that Sam Hornish will be driving the No. 22 again.

Sam Hornish has never fared better than 21st at the Brickyard in his three attempts in the top NASCAR series, but he did win the 2006 Indy 500 driving a much faster Penske car with no fenders.

It may be easy to dismiss Hornish because of his unsuccessful runs in NASCAR, but he’s never had a car as good as the one he'll drive this week. Kurt Busch won with this car last season and Allmendinger has been fast in practice all season, but hasn’t been able to translate it over to race day leading to speculation that perhaps it‘s the driver that is keeping the No. 22 car from reaching it’s potential.

I’m not going to go as far as say Hornish will win this week, but because of the car and the great Pocono test sessions it had, his Indy Car history and large odds, he makes it worthwhile to throw a few dollars on him.

Indiana native Tony Stewart is the track’s all-time leader with an 8.1 average finish that includes two wins. He's never won the Daytona 500, but still maintains that winning in his home state can't be topped. Stewart finished third in last years race.

Jeff Gordon has a track record four wins, including the inaugural race in 1994. Gordon's rise in NASCAR coincides with the sport's rise and the Brickyard debut. Gordon became the face of NASCAR to all the new fans across the nation. In last years race, Gordon had perhaps the best car, but settled for runner-up.

Jimmie Johnson has three career Brickyard wins, the last coming in 2009. He's the driver I had rated the highest going into Pocono after all the testing and practices and he ended up finishing fourth. This week Johnson will be using the car that he won with at Dover.

The Michael Waltrip cars all fared well at Pocono with Mark Martin leading the charge with a runner-up finish. He should be poised once again -- after a three-race layoff -- to get his first Brickyard win. Only Martin, Gordon, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte have driven in all 18 NASCAR events on the Brickyard.

Chevrolet is currently on a nine race win streak at Indy. The last non-chevy to win was Bill Elliott in 2002, a year he also won at Pocono.

The last two seasons of Brickyard races have produced unusual winners. Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray aren't your everyday household names, but it's been the household names who have dominated there. 14 of the 18 race winners have been Sprint Cup Champions and on eight occasions the Brickyard 400 winner has won the title during the same season.

There will be no practices on Friday this week for some strange reason. Both practice sessions and qualifying will all be crammed into Saturday.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #55 Mark Martin (18/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)
4) #20 Joey Logano (30/1)
5) #22 Sam Hornish (100/1)

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