Mash The Gas: Brickyard 400 Preview

The start of the 2015 Crown Royal Presents The Jeff Kyle 400 at The Brickyard. [Russ Lake Photo]

The start of the 2015 Crown Royal Presents The Jeff Kyle 400 at The Brickyard. [Russ Lake Photo]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to hallowed grounds this weekend as the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the 23rd edition of the Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard, a race commonly referred to as The Brickyard 400.

Crown Royal presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at the Brickyard
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
400 miles (160 laps)
Sunday, July 24 3pm ET
NBCSN, 2:30pm ET
MS Radio Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
A win at Indianapolis is special as the place seeps in motorsports history and many consider this race the second most prestigious event on the schedule behind the Daytona 500. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is also unique as the track is flat and shaped much like a rectangle with rounded corners instead of the traditional ovals the drivers are used to racing on. Setting up a car at Indy is tricky as all four corners are different characteristically and the racing groove is narrow. High temperatures are in the forecast for the race as well and the heat could be a factor.

Another name will be added to the legacy of Indianapolis on Sunday as the winner of the Brickyard 400 and here are some drivers to watch…

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
Matt Kenseth has won just about everything there is to win at the Sprint Cup level. He has a championship and victories in the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and Coca-Cola 600 but the one jewel that has eluded him so far is the Brickyard 400. This year, Kenseth comes into Indy riding a hot streak capped off by his victory at New Hampshire last weekend. Like New Hampshire, Indianapolis is another flat track and Kenseth should be strong this weekend as well. His best finish at Indy has been second and overall he has seven top five finishes and ten top ten results. Matt Kenseth is solidly in the Chase and the team is free to focus on doing what it takes to obtain that elusive Indy win. Every victory is special but some stand out more than others and a Brickyard 400 trophy on Matt Kenseth’s mantle would shine very bright. Look for Matt Kenseth and the #20 team to be contenders on Sunday in the Brickyard 400.

Kevin Harvick (John Wiedemann)
Kevin Harvick has been quick in all races, but something keeps happening each week to stop him from finding victory lane. Last week it was mistakes on pitroad. Harvick has a Brickyard win, back in 2003 with Richard Childress Racing, and has two top ten finishes the last two seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. If Harvick doesn’t do well this weekend, he shouldn’t blame the chassis. With one win, three runner-up finishes and a 12th place run, the chassis Harvick will run this weekend has a strong pedigree. It will be up to driver and crew to put it all together and grab win number two at the Brickyard and Harvick’s second win of the season. After last week’s problems, I expect the #4 to put it all behind them and finish in victory lane this weekend.

Tony Stewart (DM)
It’s “Smoke’s” final ride at the Brickyard and among all the stops in his final season of Sprint Cup competition, the Brickyard 400 seems to have created the most buzz. Tony Stewart has lived his whole life in Indiana and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a significant part of it. Stewart’s past two Brickyard wins were memorable in just the raw emotion and satisfaction that accompanied the victory moment. After missing races due to injury earlier this season, Tony Stewart has roared back with three top five finishes in his last four races including a win at Sonoma and a second place finish last weekend in New Hampshire. To go along with his two victories, Stewart has seven Indy top fives and eleven top ten finishes. Tony Stewart will be very popular with the hometown crowd this weekend and a Brickyard 400 victory in his final ride at the famed facility would be a huge story. Odds are it just may happen on Sunday afternoon.

Jeff Gordon (JW)
All eyes will be on the driver of the #24… oops, I mean the #88 this weekend as Jeff Gordon returns to the Sprint Cup Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to fill in for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who will again miss the race due to concussion-like symptoms. Even with not racing in the series since the end of last season, when he retired from full-time NASCAR racing, Gordon will be a favorite heading into this weekend. Gordon has a record five wins at the Brickyard including the inaugural race in 2004 and his last victory at the track in 2014. It will be interesting to see how well Gordon meshes with the #88 crew and crew chief Greg Ives amid all the media scrutiny and emotional return to Indianapolis. Gordon will be one to watch.

Brad Keselowski (DM)
Brad Keselowski drives for famous car owner Roger Penske who owns sixteen victories in the Indianapolis 500. Despite all those Indy victories, the Brickard 400 trophy case is empty at Penske Racing and Brad Keselowski would like nothing more than to claim that first Penske Brickyard 400 victory. Keselowski has three top ten finishes but also has yet to win at Indy in the Sprint Cup Series. This year, Keselowski leads the series with four victories and his #2 team has been strong all season. Brad Keselowski does have a victory in the Xfinity Series at Indianapolis so he does know how to get around the historic race course. The #2 team has been the best Ford team in 2016 but Ford has not won at the Brickyard since 1999 so there is extra motivation to end that streak as well. Look for Brad Keselowski to be among the contenders Sunday in the Brickyard 400.

Kyle Busch (JW)
Last year’s Brickyard 400 winner, Kyle Busch, is always one of the guys to beat as he looks to continue his six race top ten streak at the Brickyard. Busch will also look to add to his three victories this season in order to rack up bonus points for the first round of the Chase. This season is much different from last season where Busch was racing to get into the Chase, a spot that he basically has wrapped up for this season. But, the goal is always the same for Kyle no matter what track or series he is racing in, that is to win the race. Busch will be a contender this weekend and look for him to be up front as the laps wind down in Indianapolis in both the Sprint Cup and Xfinity races.

Chase Elliott (DM)
Could a rookie win at the Brickyard? We could find out Sunday as Chase Elliott is a rookie who raced very well earlier this year at Pocono, another flat track with long straightaways. Elliott led a race high 51 laps in the Pocono race in June and finished fourth. Lately, Elliott has been in a bit of a funk with some poor finishes in recent weeks but he does seem to shine in big events. Indianapolis has a way of playing on the nerves of rookie drivers but Chase Elliott is as cool as they come. He’ll have five time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon as a teammate and coach this year as Gordon fills in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and that pay off in big dividends on Sunday. Don’t let Chase Elliott’s rookie status fool you as he could definitely surprise some people and pick up his first Sprint Cup win in the prestigious Brickyard 400.

Ryan Newman (JW)
Maybe not a complete dark horse contender this weekend, Ryan Newman looks to continue the success he had last weekend in New Hampshire, another flat oval like Indianapolis. The last race Newman won was the Brickyard 400 in 2013, his last season with Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman is on a roll lately with three top ten finishes in the last four races (Sonoma – 8th, Kentucky – 3rd, New Hampshire – 7th). Those results have moved Newman up in the Chase standings just two points behind rookie Chase Elliott among the drivers without a win yet this season. Newman can obviously put himself in the Chase with a victory but even a top ten will increase his chances of making the playoffs for the fourth season in a row.

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