Jimmie Johnson last won at Indianapolis in 2009, could this year be win number five? [Russ Lake Photo]
Mash The Gas - Indianapolis Preview
by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann
After a week off, it's on to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the 19th running of the Brickyard 400. Indy has always had a certain mystique about it which can come into play on the flat 2.5 mile oval, as evidenced by Paul Menard's surprise win last year. Traditionally, drivers that excel on the flat tracks such as Pocono and New Hampshire run well at Indy and in seven of the 18 previous Brickyard 400's the winner has gone on to claim the Sprint Cup Championship.
Dan Margetta: Johnson is a three time winner of the Brickyard 400, accomplishing the feat in consecutive years from 2007 to 2009 and has raced well on the flat tracks this season. Track position is critical at Indy and pit strategy plays an important part here and with Chad Knaus atop the pit box, Johnson is a strong favorite to win his fourth Brickyard crown.
John Wiedemann: It feels like Jimmie Johnson is just the default pick at Indianapolis, but picking him just makes sense. Johnson is pretty much always in the mix at the Brickyard and I'm sure he would love to become a "Five Time" Indy Champion, he can take another step there with win number four on Sunday.
DM: Stewart hails from nearby Columbus, Indiana and the "Hometown Hoosier" has always had a special relationship with the famed Indy oval. Having scored a Brickyard win in 2005, Stewart has the highest driver rating statistically at Indy. This season, it's been hit or miss with the 14 team as the three wins have also been accompanied by mediocre runs at places they were expected to contend, including New Hampshire last week. Indy should provide plenty of incentive to go out and get win number four on the season.
JW: Tony Stewart is another driver whose name is one of the first to pop in your mind when you think of the Brickyard 400. The surprising failure to contend at New Hampshire is something to keep in mind for this weekends' race. While he is always considered a favorite at Indy, the question remains - Where is the rollercoaster ride at this week? Is Tony climbing up from the New Hampshire run or on a downhill slide. I'm thinking that NH will be forgotten and the climb is on.
DM: Gordon is a four time Brickyard 400 winner and desperately needs the fifth Indy trophy as wins are all that matter at this moment. Gordon leads all others in top five finishes, top ten finishes, and laps led at Indianapolis and the team has shown the ability to run up front consistently. Last year Gordon had the dominant car only to lose the race on Paul Menard's gamble with fuel and he should be up front again this year.
JW: There has got to be a little rivalry in the Hendrick Motorsports camp and Jeff Gordon doesn't want Jimmie Johnson to get to five Brickyard wins before him. Gordon has four top-six finishes in the last five events. Currently in sixteenth in the points, Gordon still needs wins to get in the Chase. Based on last years' run and previous history, Indianapolis is a great place for Gordon to get a victory.
JW: My pick for this year's Brickyard 400 winner is Denny Hamlin. Flat tracks have always been a strong suit for Hamlin and he has really bounced back from the misfortunes of last year. He needs to bounce back from the New Hampshire disappointment, but that shouldn't be an issue. I tend to look at Pocono and New Hampshire results when thinking of favorites for Indy and that bodes well for Hamlin.
DM: Hamlin had one get away from him last week at New Hampshire after miscommunications in the pits cost him the victory. Hamlin and crew chief Darien Grubb should be on the same page this week and they'll be out to get one back this week as Hamlin is one of the best flat track racers on the circuit.
DM: While not typically known for results on flat tracks, Matt Kenseth has posted some decent numbers at Indianapolis with seven top ten finishes in twelve starts. Kenseth had one of the fastest cars in the race last year before fuel mileage game left him with a fifth place finish. This is one of the marquee races left that Kenseth has yet to win, and he should be a contender this week as his Roush-Yates powered Ford should have plenty of horses to get the job done.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
JW: Junior continues a solid season and could grab a win at the Brickyard 400. An Indy win would likely put him in the points lead as well. What a story that would be. Junior has qualified well a number of times for the Brickyard 400 but only has two top ten finishes, in 2001 and 2006. This year is different. Junior has been so consistant and confident while Hendrick Motorsports is strong at Indy. Put those together and this should be a good week for the 88.
DM: Carl Edward's title hopes are fading fast and this team made news over the off week by announcing a crew chief change as Chad Norris takes over for Bob Osborne. Indy will provide a big stage to see if the shake-up is successful and Edwards should be up on the wheel as the team will be in "playoff" mode for the next seven races.
JW: Will the crew chief change be enough to get Carl Edwards back into contention? I think, no. This season has been rough for the driver that tied the final point standings last year. Edwards needs more than a slight boost. With three top tens in seven races at Indy, Edwards has shown that he can run well at the Speedway. There just seems too much to overcome.
DM: Biffle also had put up some good numbers at Indianapolis with five top ten finishes in nine starts. What's missing is a victory and the 16 team is plenty capable of getting the job done. Biffle heads into Indy with high expectations and will be piloting a brand new chassis this week as he looks to further solidify his slot in the Chase.
JW: Keselowski only has had two races at the Brickyard and last year he scored a top ten after starting fifth. Keselowski is still on the bubble for the Chase in tenth but only one point behind Clint Bowyer in ninth and nine points behind Kevin Harvick in sixth. Keselowski also has three race wins to fall back on for a Wild Card berth into the Chase but staying in the top ten allows him to get bonus points for those wins.
Juan Pablo Montoya
DM: Montoya hasn't had much to cheer about so far this season, but for some reason, Indianapolis seems to bring out the best in him. Montoya has had some dominating runs at the Brickyard in the last few years only to have victory snatched away in the final moments. The team has a history of qualifying well here and with track position being a key to success, Montoya could be challenging for a win Sunday if he can avoid the mistakes that have haunted him in the past.
JW: Kasey solidified his Chase entry with his win at New Hampshire. With his second victory of the season, Kahne moved into 12th in the standings and currently holds the first Wild Card for the Chase. Kahne is back on a top ten streak in his last three races and worries from early in the season are all but forgotten.
DM: Martin is my long shot pick this week as he returns behind the wheel of the #55 Toyota. With three poles already this season, Martin has been the best qualifier in 2012 which should put him up front for the start this week at Indy. Martin owns eleven top ten finishes in eighteen starts at Indy and hasn't finished worse than eleventh here since 2005. The Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas have also been strong this season and Martin kissing the bricks on Sunday would be an immensely popular scene.
- Chevy has won nine consecutive Brickyard 400's and thirteen of the eighteen races contested Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer are strong flat track racers who should run well at Indianapolis .Kyle Busch is another driver who finds himself in need of a win and a good run to hang onto one of the wildcard Chase positions.