by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.July 21, 2010 5:30 pm UTC No Comments
The Brickyard 400 is one of the crown jewels of the Sprint Cup Series, an event secondary in prestige only to longer-established events like the Daytona 500. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the original United States “speedway,” plays host to the event.
The cathedral of speed’s second major event every year, after the prestigious Indianapolis 500, has had its ups and downs. In 2008, bad wear patterns on Goodyear tires limited the race to a series of 10-lap sprints. And last year, Juan Montoya dominated the race, only to have a pit road speeding penalty wreck his day and hand the race to Jimmie Johnson. But regardless of any trials and tribulations with the race surface (and every major track has them now and again), the event is still one of the most important ones on the schedule, and teams will put as much effort (if not more) into winning this race as they would into almost any other event on the schedule.
So who looks good at the Brickyard? Here’s a hint – most of them grew up with Indy dreams.
Tony Stewart, my pick for the weekend, is at the forefront of this crowd. The 1997 champion of the IZOD IndyCar Series may never have won an Indianapolis 500, but twice he’s claimed the checkers at the stock car event, in 2005 and 2007. His average finish of 8.5 is best of any active driver, and he’s led laps in six of the 11 stock car races he’s run at the Brickyard.
As for a dark horse, look to A.J. Allmendinger, who will make his 100th career Sprint Cup start at Indy. The former Champ Car star had a 10th place finish in his first Brickyard 400 two years ago. The ‘Dinger and his team will look to carry on their momentum from the past eight races, where they have accumulated seven top-15 finishes.
Jeff Gordon is the only driver to do in a stock car what A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, and Rick Mears did in open-wheel cars – win four times at Indianapolis. Gordon’s last win may have come all the way back in 2004, but that hasn’t stopped him from finishing well. In 16 career Brickyard starts, he’s finished in the top 10 an astounding 13 times. His average finish of 8.6 is second to only Stewart.
Jimmie Johnson has three Brickyard wins, each coming over the past four years, but he’s also got three DNFs at the track, a result of some pretty sour luck in the past. He blew an engine halfway through the 2004 event, and crashed in 2005 and 2007. It’s this sort of historical bad luck that can come back to bite at any time, and has also brought his average finish down to a mediocre 17.9.
Finally, while he might qualify as a dark horse at any other track, Juan Montoya is no stranger to Indianapolis. In 2000, as a CART ringer coming to show up the Indy Racing League in that year’s Indy 500, Montoya was warned to respect the track. Montoya scoffed, contended that all four corners were the same (unlike the tracks on which he honed his skills), and dominated the race. In his first stock car event at the track, in 2007, he finished a strong second; last year he should have won. If anybody has both the talent and the stones to pull off a surprise victory this weekend, it’s Montoya.