Saturday, July 25, 2015

Final Brickyard Practice Notes & Driver Ratings

Carl Edwards on pole, but he was left off top-10 rated list. 
LAS VEGAS -- NASCAR gave the Sprint Cup teams 285 minutes of practice time between three sessions on Friday to figure out the best set-up under the new high drag package for Sunday’s Brickyard 400, but drivers and crews still don’t have that set-up completely dialed in yet meaning it will be a work in progress during race day.

This makes things a little more difficult to handicap with odds to win, driver match-ups and for those playing daily fantasy -- which by the way is also 100 percent gambling. You come in this race not knowing the whole story. It’s not quite the crap shoot as a restrictor-plate race, but all the elements needed to give a driving the proper rating just isn’t there. If the drivers and crews are uncertain how things are going to run, then how the heck can anyone else?

"To me the restart is where this package is going to play a bigger role than in practice," 2010 Brickyard 400 winner Jamie McMurray told the media following Friday's second practice. "The thing with practice is that as you start to catch the car in front of you, typically their car is not very good. So, when you see somebody catching you fairly quick you pull in so you can work on it and get your car better. I really haven’t been within 10 car lengths of anyone in front of me."

McMurray said there's supposed to be over 100 horsepower drag advantage to the car in back meaning there should be some serious sling shot moves around the turns, but he hasn't seen it yet.

"I honestly think until we get into the race on Sunday that it’s hard to get anyone’s true opinion on what we are going to have. To me on Sunday when you get two cars side-by-side with this package the guy in third is going to have an extra engine. It’s going to be crazy the amount of speed that he is going to have. I don’t know, the restarts are going to be pretty wild, I think.”

With the spoiler raised up to nine-inches, it's slowing the cars down on the straightaways, but it also allows the drivers to come in and out of all four corners with more throttle, which should create a lot more passing. The higher spoiler also made drivers visibility in their rear-view mirror difficult,

Only six drivers led laps at Pocono where passing was extremely difficult, and Pocono is a track that can be compared the most with Indy. When NASCAR made the aero-package changes at Kentucky after seeing most of the previous 1.5-mile tracks this season be dominated by a select few, the changes were beautiful with all types of passing. I think we'll see something similar here with one of the more exciting Brickyard races we've witnessed in the 22 years NASCAR has been going to Indianapolis.

More passing means less domination in theory which in turns means there's less of a favorite to win. It would be ridiculous to take 4-to-1 odds on Kevin Harvick even though he is our top rated driver this week just because there are more possibilities unaccounted for opposed to other race weeks. There was almost something good to say about most every driver during Friday's three practice sessions, and at the same time, other than Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, there was also some negative things about those same drivers.

The teams that have shown the most horsepower this season on the big tracks are going to be good again this week, but the advantage is far less because of the drag. We've seen 17 of the 21 Brickyard races won by past Sprint Cup champions and the past 12 have been won by Chevrolet, but if Clint Bowyer won on Sunday, it wouldn't really come as shock to me because Michael Waltrip Racing found some speed during the second session Friday, as did teammate David Ragan. If that wild scenario happened, it would be Toyota's first win on the bricks.

If I could only make two wagers for Sunday's race it would be on four-time Indy winner Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne who led a race high 70 laps in this race last season. During the final practice session Kahne had the best 10-consecutive lap average, which means he's going to be good on the long runs and has his entry and exit plan through the turns figured out well.

Micah Roberts’ Top-10 Driver Ratings
Crown Royal Jeff Kyle 400 
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Sunday, July 26, 2015 -  12:46 pm (PT)

RATING    DRIVER   ODDS         PRAC 1     PRAC 2     PRAC 3      QUALIFIED 
 1. Kevin Harvick 4/1             3rd        14th        2nd           6th 
2003 winner from the pole, 2010 runner-up, with 10.7 average in 14 starts; freaky fast again.
 2. Jimmie Johnson 7/1         2nd        11th       4th           12th 
Four-time winner, the last in 2012; consistent in all three practices, has look of winner. 
 3. Martin Truex Jr. 8/1        10th          7th        5th           13th 
One of most consistent on big horsepower tracks, including dominant win at Pocono last month.  
 4. Kasey Kahne 18/1           24th         3rd        8th           27th 
Led race-high 70 laps last year (sixth-place); best 10-consecutive lap average in final practice. 
 5. Jeff Gordon 12/1               4th          6th        23rd        19th 
Holds race record for wins (5), top-5 finishes (12), laps led (528); likely will be final Indy start.
 6. Jamie McMurray 30/1       8th         10th       24th         10th 
2010 winner and had the third-best 10-consecutive lap average during final practice.
 7. Brad Keselowski 12/1     14th         2nd       29th          31st 
Penske Racing has 16 Indy 500 wins, but none in NASCAR on bricks; he’ll be good on long runs.
 8. Kurt Busch 10/1                9th         24th        1st          14th 
Career-best fifth in track debut in 2001; also finished sixth in last years in Indy 500.
 9. Kyle Busch 10/1              11th        19th        6th            9th 
Runner-up last season and also 2012; gets high marks due to three wins in past four on season. 
10. Kyle Larson 20/1             19th         4th         3rd           5th 
Finished seventh in debut last season; spent the most time during practice working on long runs.

Note: NASCAR implemented a new rules package for this race where the spoiler has been raised up to nine inches to create more drag and slow the cars down on the long straightaways while creating more passing through the turns.

Super-trend: Chevrolet has won the past 12 races at Indy. 

Odds courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director who has been setting NASCAR odds since 1994.


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