Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400

Bob MargolisContributor IIJuly 23, 2014

Complete Preview and Prediction for 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400

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    New IMS scoring pylon and pagoda.
    New IMS scoring pylon and pagoda.IMS Photo, Chris Owens

    This weekend, NASCAR celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of its crown-jewel events at one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    Jeff Gordon, who won the inaugural event in 1994—and to this day remains its youngest winner ever at 23 years, two days—will be among the 43 drivers who take the green flag Sunday for the Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard.

    Ryan Newman is the defending race winner. Interestingly, Newman won the event shortly after being told he would lose his ride with Stewart-Haas Racing to Kevin Harvick, who is also a Brickyard 400 winner (2003 from the pole).

    For years, attendance for the Brickyard 400 has been on the decline. Many fans point to 2008 as the year when the sparkle began to come off the jewel.

    Goodyear brought a tire that year that was problematic. It resulted in a race (won by Jimmie Johnson) where drivers had to pit every 12-15 laps to change tires that would wear quickly, producing a powdery substance that also made the track surface slippery.

    To bolster those attendance figures, NASCAR has added the Nationwide Series to the Speedway on Saturday (moved from the Lucas Oil Speedway across town), as well as a race by the Tudor United Sports Car Series on the infield road course Friday.

    The race is named for 32-year-old John Wayne Walding of Little Elm, Texas, who served in the United States Army for 12 years, with seven of those years being in the 3rd Special Forces Group, completing tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By the Numbers: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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    2013 Brickyard 400.
    2013 Brickyard 400.Associated Press

    Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard

    Place: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

    Date: Sunday, July 27

    Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

    TV: ESPN, 12 p.m. (ET)

    Radio: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Network, Sirius XM Ch. 90

    Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)

    Defending race winner: Ryan Newman

    Youngest Indianapolis winner: Jeff Gordon (08/06/1994 – 23 years, 0 months, 2 days).

    Oldest Indianapolis winner: Bill Elliott (08/04/2002 – 50 years, 8 months, 11 days).

    Defending pole winner: Ryan Newman 187.531 mph; 47.992 seconds.

    Youngest Indianapolis pole winner: Reed Sorenson (07/29/2007 – 21 years, 5 months, 24 days).

    Oldest Indianapolis pole winner: Mark Martin (07/26/2009 – 50 years, 6 months, 17 days).

    Seventeen drivers have won poles at Indianapolis, led by Jeff Gordon with three.

    Two drivers have won consecutive poles at Indianapolis: Jeff Gordon (1995 and 1996) and Ernie Irvan (1997 and 1998).

    Rick Mast won the inaugural pole at Indianapolis in 1994 with a speed of 172.414 mph.

    There have been 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; one per year from 1994 through 2012.

    Four drivers have competed in all 20 races at Indianapolis: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin.

    Twelve different drivers have won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, led by Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson with four each.

    Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to have posted consecutive wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2008 and 2009). 

Key Storylines: Brickyard 400

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    Jeff Gordon
    Jeff GordonNick Wass/Associated Press

    Hendrick Horsepower Translates to Victory

    Whether it has been on the big tracks or the small, Hendrick-powered race cars have dominated this season, winning 10-of-20 races (including the All-Star race).

    Hendrick-powered Chevrolets filled two of the top-three finishing places (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch) at Pocono, a track that demands a similar setup as Indianapolis.

    During a recent teleconference, Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon, who finished eighth at Pocono, compared the two tracks. Hendrick-prepared Chevrolet engines powered half of the top-10 finishers at Pocono.

    “That flat, kind of 90-degree turn at Indianapolis with those long straightaways has some characteristics that Pocono has as well and so, yeah, it’s true,” said Gordon. “Typically if you’re good at one you’re going to be good at the other. The key is being good at the right place, and to me the tunnel turn at Pocono is very similar to some of the turns at Indianapolis, even though those four corners (at Indianapolis) look the same, they’re all a little bit different.”

     

    Team Penske the Team to Beat?

    When we last saw Brad Keselowski, he was spraying Miller Lite in Victory Lane for the second time in two days at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Michigan native was definitely on a hot streak before the midsummer break. Can he pick up where he left off?

    And will his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano shake off a case of the Brickyard Blues? In five tries, the Shell Pennzoil driver has yet to score better than an eighth-place finish (2013).

    “We want to win everywhere we go, but the Brickyard does hold more significance with this team than most considering Roger Penske’s legacy at Indy,” said Keselowski, from a pre-race media release.

    Penske’s teams have won the Indianapolis 500 a record 15 times.

     

    Larson Making a Statement

    Rookie phenom Kyle Larson will be behind the wheel for another racing organization with a stellar history at the Speedway: Chip Ganassi Racing.

    Teammate Jamie McMurray won the Brickyard 400 in 2010 driving for team owner Ganassi, and the gregarious owner’s Indy Car teams have won the Indianapolis 500 four times (2000, ’08, ’10, ’12).

    The pressure is on for the young man from California as Larson doubles up this weekend, driving in both the Nationwide and Cup races. His self-assured, almost cocky style displays a confidence that has future champion written all over it. If there was ever a time and a place to make a statement, this is it.

     

    Brickyard the Right Place for a Johnson Rebound

    No one knows the value of winning the Brickyard 400 more than four-time race winner Jimmie Johnson.

    Eight winners of the race have gone on to win the championship that season, and 15 of the 20 races have been won by either past, future or reigning series champions.

    Indy has been a track that has been good for the six-time Cup champion (five top-fives, six top-10s and one pole in 12 attempts) and the kind of place where the No. 48 team can bounce back with a vengeance.

    “Everyone risks it all for Indianapolis. I’m excited because for a long stretch now we have been able to go there and get it right and be competitive with this Lowe’s team,” said Johnson in a pre-race media release. “I unload there and I understand how to drive the track and I’m able to get us in that window to be competitive.”

     

    Chase Scorecard

    Drivers with multiple wins and who cannot fall out of the top 30 in points over the remaining seven races in the regular season have clinched a spot in the Chase, assuming they attempt to qualify for the remaining races.

    After the race in New Hampshire, Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski clinched a spot in the Chase, assuming they attempt to qualify for the remaining seven races. Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth have clinched a top-30 spot but do not have multiple wins.

    The following drivers can clinch a Chase spot with a win at Indianapolis or by clinching a top-30 spot: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

    The magic number for a top-30 clinch: 289. Any driver 289 points ahead of 31st place leaving Indy will clinch a top-30 points position.

Drivers to Watch

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    Brad Keselowski
    Brad KeselowskiTodd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Brad Keselowski

    Arguably the hottest driver in Sprint Cup at the moment, Indianapolis hasn’t been one of his favorite tracks. After four tries, he’s got goose eggs in both the win and top-five columns. His best finish: ninth in both 2011 and 2012. But that was then. This is now.

     

    Jimmie Johnson

    Tied with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon with four wins at the Brickyard, Johnson and his Chad Knaus-led squad need to make a statement after consecutive DNFs. There may be no driver better at making that kind of statement than Johnson. Bet the farm on a top-five finish for the Lowe’s team.

     

    Jeff Gordon

    Gordon would like nothing more than to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 with another one, which would be his fifth. It would also be nice to get that second win and a guarantee into the Chase. Look for the No. 24 to be in the mix all afternoon.

     

    Kevin Harvick

    This Stewart-Haas team has been quiet of late. Their history this season shows that after a “quiet” period of some mediocre finishes (Daytona 39th and Loudon 30th), the Rodney Childers-led squad scores a top 10. Harvick has the team and the car to win this. And he also knows the history of how many race winners go onto winning the championship in the same season.

     

    Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver would like nothing more than to have a trophy from the Brickyard 400 on his mantle. Unfortunately, Indy is one of his worst…no…it may be his worst track. Only one top-five in 14 attempts is a pretty pathetic record. However, this is turning into the best season of his Cup career, and he’s winning races and driving like his career depends upon it. He’s got the car, the team and the horsepower. If his head is in the game, he can win it.

Quick Picks

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    Matt Kenseth (right) with crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
    Matt Kenseth (right) with crew chief Jason Ratcliff.Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Matt Kenseth

    A mediocre season could be turned around with a win at Indianapolis. This team has been a step behind since Daytona. Hard to believe this crew chief and driver combo won seven times in 2013. Come on, did the ride height rule make that much of a difference? Maybe the week off helped them.

     

    Joey Logano

    Indianapolis hasn’t been one of the Team Penske driver’s better tracks. But he’s winning races this season, maturing into a championship-caliber driver and has to be considered among the guys who can win Sunday. Trouble at Pocono hurt Logano and erased his top-10 start at a track that is similar in setup.

     

    Ryan Newman

    The defending race winner has used the first half of the season to get used to his new surroundings at Richard Childress Racing. RCR has two poles, three wins (including Earnhardt Sr. in 1995), 11 top-fives and 23 top-10 finishes. An RCR car last won in 2011 (Paul Menard). This driver could be the first repeat winner at the Brickyard 400 since Jimmie Johnson (2008-09).

     

    Tony Stewart

    Although he may not be having a season to remember, except for the occasional pain in his injured leg, Stewart does know about racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two wins (2005, ’07), seven top-fives, 11 top-10s and one pole. Yeah, he sure does. Another Brickyard trophy could save this season from the garbage can of racing history.

     

    Kurt Busch

    Once the most hated driver in NASCAR, Busch has reinvented himself. He won over a whole new group of IndyCar fans with a spectacular attempt at “The Double” in May. He did pretty well at the Speedway in May, even if it was in an IndyCar, winning Rookie of the Year honors in the process. Busch is having a solid season in his Stewart-Haas Chevrolet despite five DNFs. He’s got one win at Martinsville, and he finished third at Pocono, a track with a similar setup to Indianapolis.

Dark-Horse Pick

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    Juan Pablo Montoya
    Juan Pablo MontoyaBob Brodbeck/Associated Press

    Juan Pablo Montoya                      

    His pole-winning performance in 2010 was spoiled by a crash. He’s started twice on the front row in one of Chip Ganassi’s mediocre Cup cars of a half-decade ago.

    This time it’ll be different. Montoya will be in one of Roger Penske’s Fords this weekend. Last year, the Colombian started eighth, finished ninth and was in the mix with the race leaders for most of the afternoon.

    Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com agrees. She believes the Penske deck is stacked in their favor, calling it "the company’s strongest lineup to date—particularly since Penske will have the only Indy 500 winner in the field."

    He’ll be a definite threat for the pole, and the 38-year-old could finally get that ever-elusive oval victory Sunday.

Qualifying Report: Brickyard 400

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    Kevin Harvick
    Kevin HarvickJerry Markland/Getty Images

    Kevin Harvick won the pole for the 21st Annual Crown Royal presents The John Wayne Walding 400 at The Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com with a lap of 47.753 seconds, 188.470 mph.

    "After the first lap I was probably more nervous than I have been in a while for qualifying," said Harvick in his post-qualifying interview. "I wasn’t really expecting to have the car run that fast. From there they are all looking at you, 'alright if you screw this up it’s on you buddy'."

    Harvick set a new track record in the first round of qualifying with a blistering lap of 47.647 seconds, 188.889 mph. The previous record of 187.531 mph was held by Ryan Newman.

    This is the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s fourth pole and 12th top-10 start in 2014 and his second pole in 14 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    Four-time race winner Jeff Gordon will join Harvick on the front row with a lap of 47.931 seconds, 187.770 mph. This is Gordon’s 11th top-10 start of 2014 and his 12th in 21 races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

    Brad Keselowski starts third (48.156, 186.893), defending race winner Ryan Newman starts fourth (48.189, 186.765 mph) and Brian Vickers (48.269, 186.455 mph) rounds out the top five.

    Kyle Larson was the fastest qualifying rookie. He starts 15th.

    Notable starts: Tony Stewart (6th); Kurt Busch (7th); Juan Pablo Montoya (8th); Jimmie Johnson (11th); Kyle Busch (12th); Matt Kenseth (13th); Danica Patrick (14th); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (23rd); Jamie McMurray (24th); Denny Hamlin (27th).

And the Winner Is: Jeff Gordon

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    Jeff Gordon on his way to winning the 1998 Brickyard 400.
    Jeff Gordon on his way to winning the 1998 Brickyard 400.David Taylor/Getty Images

    He won the inaugural Brickyard 400 race in 1994. Ten years later, he won it for the fourth time in 2004.

    Could he win again in 2014, 10 years after his last triumph?

    If Gordon was having a bad season or even a mediocre one, he wouldn’t be considered a favorite Sunday, despite those fortune teller-like numbers. But Gordon is having his best season in recent memory, he’s hungry for wins and the fans are already wondering if he’ll announce his retirement if (or when) he wins the title this year.

    It’s more likely that Gordon will win the Brickyard 400 on Sunday than it is that he’ll retire if he wins the championship.

Nationwide Series Snapshot

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    Chase Elliott
    Chase ElliottRainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Look again at the young man in the photo. He bears more than a striking resemblance to his father, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville."

    Chase Elliott reclaimed the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead following his third win of the season (Texas, Darlington). The second-generation driver has positioned himself to become the first rookie in NASCAR national series history to win a series championship. He’s also zeroing in on the single-season wins record of five, held by Greg Biffle (2001), Kyle Busch (2004) and Carl Edwards (2005).

    “I do have memories of The Brickyard win he (his father, Bill Elliott) had, I think it was 2002,” Chase Elliott said. “That’s a special race track for me. I always love going back there ever since then knowing he has been to Victory Lane. We are going to give it our best shot.”

    Round 3 of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash program is this Saturday. Regan Smith and Brian Scott won the first two rounds. 

    Scott, the most recent winner, won Round 2 of the program at Chicagoland Speedway last Saturday night. He and the top-three-finishing NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship contenders from last weekend’s race at ChicagoChase Elliott, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillonqualify to compete in the third round of Nationwide’s Dash 4 Cash program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon with an opportunity to win $100,000.

    The highest finisher of the four eligible drivers at Indianapolis will win the money and automatically qualify for the Dash 4 Cash at Iowa the following weekend. The three highest-finishing NNS regulars at Indianapolis not already qualified will also get to compete for the $100,000 bonus at Iowathe final event in the program.

     

    Top Five in Nationwide Series Points

    1. Chase Elliott

    2. Regan Smith

    3. Elliott Sadler

    4. Ty Dillon

    5. Brian Scott

Indianapolis Motor Speeedway: A Historical Perspective

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    Jeff Gordon leads the field at the start of the 1998 Brickyard 400.
    Jeff Gordon leads the field at the start of the 1998 Brickyard 400.David Taylor/Getty Images

    Arguably the world's most famous racecourse, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has hosted NASCAR since 1994.

    Originally built as a proving ground for automobiles in 1909, the Speedway has seen 96 Indianapolis 500 Mile Races, 19 NASCAR events, eight United States Grand Prix Formula One events and four Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP events while playing host to some of the biggest names in auto racing and motorcycle racing history. 

    For more information, there is a brilliant timeline, impeccably organized and presented on the IMS website.

     

    Bob Margolis has covered NASCAR, IndyCar, the NHRA and Sports Cars for more than two decades as a writer, television producer and on-air talent. All quotes are taken from official NASCAR, team and manufacturer media releases unless otherwise stated. Additional information obtained from official media guides and/or other official sources.

    Follow Bob on Twitter: @BobMargolis