Saturday, July 27, 2013

2013 Brickyard 400 Post-Practice Notes: Who can stop Jimmie Johnson this week?

Can anyone derail the Johnson-Express at Indy this week? 
If the speeds from Saturday's final practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway are any indication, we might be looking at a Chevrolet winning the Brickyard 400 for the 11th straight year. Eight of the top 10 speeds were from drivers sporting the bow-tie on their grill, and between them, they have combined to win 11 of the 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup races run on the world's most historic race track.

Kurt Busch was fastest (188.419 mph) during happy hour -- which was actually two hours -- and was followed by fellow Chevy drivers Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya. But the driver that all eyes will be on Sunday afternoon is Jimmie Johnson, who was fourth fastest during the final practice session, as he tries to match his 2009 feat when he became the first driver to win the Brickyard 400 back-to-back seasons.

Johnson has won four of the past sevens races at Indy, which is part of the reason he's such a large 7-to-2 favorite. His status as the favorite goes up even further when you consider that he will be using the same chassis that dominated the June 9 race at Pocono Raceway. He led 128 of the 160 laps run on the 2.5-mile tricky triangle -- a track that comes closest to any on the series as being similar to Indy's 2.5-mile flat layout.

Johnson has everything going for him this week: he's won here before, starts on the front row, he's the current points leader, has four wins on the season, drives a Chevy and also is a past Sprint Cup champion (15 of the 19 races won have been by a champion). The only stain on Superman's cape is consistency on the bricks. Four wins are more than anyone except Jeff Gordon, but those are the only four top-five finishes in his 11 career starts. His 16.8 average finish is so high due to six finishes of 18th or worse, including three finishes of 36th or worse.

Gordon also has four wins on the bricks, including the inaugural race in 1994, but he hasn't won since 2004. While Johnson has been hogging most of the wins since his last victory and tied his NASCAR Brickyard record for wins, Gordon has still routinely raced at a high level. His 8.8 average finish in 19 career starts is second only to Tony Stewart among active drivers. He's finished in the top-10 in six of his past eight starts, and he was runner-up in 2011. He had the seventh fastest lap during happy hour, along with the second fastest 10-consecutive lap average.

Indiana native Stewart had the ninth fastest lap during Saturday's practice, and he always seems to pumped up a little more when racing on his home track. He's a two-time winner, the last coming in 2007, and has an 8.2 average finish in 14 career starts. He's currently on a run of four straight top-10 finishes at Indy.

Kevin Harvick was 10th fastest in practice, and it's about the time when he sneaks up on us again with a win, like he's done twice already this season. He won the 2003 Brickyard 400 and has the third best career average finish (10.3) among active drivers. His teammate, Paul Menard, won there in 2011, which gave car owner Richard Childress his third Brickyard win (Dale Earnhardt won the 1995 race).

Those are three pretty good candidates to unseat Johnson, and the Chevy camp also has a couple of others that could get their first Brickyard win. Drivers like Indiana native Ryan Newman (eighth in happy hour. pole sitter), 2000 Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (third), Kahne and Kurt Busch all have a great chance of winning Sunday.

The top outsider, or non-Chevy, looks to by Kyle Busch, who was runner-up last year. Busch was sixth fastest during practice and will attempt to be the first Toyota to take the checkers across the bricks.

Dale Jarrett in 1999 was the last Ford to win, and car owner Jack Roush has still yet to win on the famed track. Based on Pocono, Greg Biffle would look to be the best candidate, but he didn't practice well. Carl Edwards was fastest among the Roush cars with the 12th quickest lap, and he will start third on Sunday.

Only seven drivers ran 10-consecutive laps during the session, with Kahne being the fastest. Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski ran the most laps with 32 each.

Incidentally, car owner Roger Penske has a record 15 Indianapolis 500 wins, but he's winless there in NASCAR despite a few valiant attempts by Rusty Wallace.

We'll go out on a limb and say a Chevy will win again, with the best value being offered on Gordon (12/1), Stewart (15/1), Harvick (15/1) and Montoya (20/1). We like Kurt Busch to run well too, but his past history -- 19.8 average -- is alarming. His only top-five finish came as a rookie in 2001 (fifth).

Qualifying faster than ever

Nine drivers shattered the track record set by Casey Mears in 2004 (186.293 mph). Ryan Newman was the last driver to qualify and used the perfect balance of speed and cloud cover to throw down a lap at 187.531 mph. This is the 10th track this season that the new Gen-6 car has set a new track record.

Read More Here.......Final Driver Ratings Following All Practices

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