WHEN: July 29, 2012 | GREEN: Approximately 1:20 p.m. ET
WHERE: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
TRACK DESCRIPTION: 2.5-mile flat speedway
BROADCAST: ESPN | RACE LENGTH: 160 laps, 400 miles
The Brickyard 400 is a kingmaker with eight of its 18 winners going on to win championships since its inception. They range throughout history with Dale Jarrett winning both as early as 1996 -- the third year a stock car race was held at Indy -- and Jimmie Johnson winning the pair as recently as 2009. That places added pressure on performing well this weekend.
Running well is a challenge at Indy, however. The track was designed more than 100 years ago and the current speeds on this track were never anticipated. As the track developed, it was designed to accommodate much lighter open-wheel cars that are approximately half the weight of a modern stock car and that means that the challenges to the suspension, tires, and even the track itself are magnified.
For its mystique, however, this is simply another flat track. To go fast at Indy, drivers need to bring to bear many of the same skills that helped them navigate New Hampshire in the most recent race, but there is one track that is liable to be the most predictive of all.
Pocono's second turn was originally designed to emulate Indy's corners, but since the track was repaved this season, Turn 1 might be a closer comparative because of the speeds that were being reached at the end of the front stretch. That is good news for drivers seeking a wild-card berth into the Chase, because if they miss the setup this week, they have another flat track on the horizon far from the maddening crowd.
|10 best drivers at Indianapolis|
Over the past three races at Indianapolis, these drivers have the best average finish.
1. Tony Stewart
Last three races average finish at Indy: 4.67 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 8.08 in 13 attempts
Stewart's three-year average is identical to Greg Biffle's and they have finished within one or two positions of each other in all of those races. Smoke gets the advantage this week, however, because he has two Indy victories to his credit; in fact, one of these came during his 2005 championship season. That win was important for another reason because it was part of a four-race top-10 streak that might still be unbroken if not for the tire problems that developed in 2008. That season, Stewart was one of several drivers stricken by inadequate rubber and he crossed under the checkers 23rd. But that was only the second time in his 13-race career that he finished worse than 12th.
1. Greg Biffle
Last three races average finish at Indy: 4.67 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 13.11 in 9 attempts
Biffle is Indy's most noticeable exception to the rule that Roush Fenway Racing is not particularly strong on flat tracks. He is the only driver in the field to enter with four consecutive top 10s and one of only a handful with consecutive top 15s. This track is tricky and while long streaks are certainly achievable, perfection is difficult. Biffle wasn't always strong on this track; in his first four starts he earned only a single top 10 and had an average of 20th. Even with an excellent record in recent seasons, Biffle is not likely to challenge for the win. He has only two top fives on this track and he barely cracked the top 10 on the similarly flat New Hampshire Motor Speedway two weeks ago.
3. Kevin Harvick
Last three races average finish at Indy: 6.33 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 10.00 in 11 attempts
Harvick has been nearly perfect at Indy. He finished 19th in 2005 and was 37th in the tire-killing 2008 Brickyard 400, but the remainder of his efforts have netted results of 11th or better. He won in 2003 and almost became the fifth driver in history to win more than one of these races when he chased Jamie McMurray across the line in 2010. Harvick is not particularly strong overall on flat tracks, but when he finds the right handle he is hard to stop. Last year, he won races on the half-mile Martinsville bullring and the mini-speedway of Richmond and his overall average in 2011 on minimally banked tracks was better than 10th. This year hasn't been nearly as good with a second-place finish at Phoenix and an average of 12th, but that could be drastically altered at the end of the weekend.
4. Mark Martin
Last three races average finish at Indy: 7.00 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 12.94 in 18 attempts
Martin is back in service and well-rested. After skipping four races plus an off week, he must be straining at the leash to get back into a car that has earned three top 15s since he climbed out of it. Pride demands that he run equally strong this week and Indy is a great place for his return. Martin has been close to perfect at Indy for the last seven years with a worst finish of 11th. During that timeframe he has scored top 10s with three separate teams -- Roush, Hendrick and DEI -- and there is no reason to believe he won't keep that streak alive with Michael Waltrip Racing. The reason for that is that he's been perfect on flat tracks this season with a ninth at Phoenix, an eighth at Richmond and a second at Pocono. Given the right track position, he could even challenge for the victory because he finished runner-up to then-teammate Jimmie Johnson as recently as 2009.
5. Jamie McMurray
Last three races average finish at Indy: 8.67 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 13.11 in 9 attempts
Chip Ganassi Racing puts a lot of emphasis on Indy and that has been apparent by McMurray's record there. In his first stint with the team, he finished third and seventh as a rookie and sophomore respectively. Since rejoining the organization in 2010, he's swept the top five with a dominant victory three years ago. He wasn't quite as strong with Roush Fenway Racing because of that organization's struggles on flat tracks, but he even managed to finish sixth once with them in 2008 and that makes him a well-rounded driver on this track. With victories at Daytona, Talladega and Charlotte, McMurray seems to like the big stage. They don't get much bigger than Indy.
6. Matt Kenseth
Last three races average finish at Indy: 9.00 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 14.25 in 12 attempts
Like his teammate Biffle, Kenseth has also performed well at Indy while struggling on most of the other flat tracks. His recent results run more toward top 10s and top 15s, but he is capable of rattling off a top-five on occasion. Last year, he was not one of the drivers able to stretch their fuel mileage for the final 36 laps and he was forced to pit under the green flag. He methodically passed 14 drivers during the closing laps and finally slipped past a faltering Mark Martin on the final circuit to finish fifth, which was his first top five at the track in five years. Kenseth has not won on this track yet, but he has come close with runner-up results in 2003 and 2006.
7. Jeff Gordon
Last three races average finish at Indy: 11.33 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 9.06 in 18 attempts
Gordon had the best car for much of the race last year, but all that horsepower robbed him of fuel mileage. He pitted from the lead on lap 134 of 160 and dropped back to 18th. He was forced to use up his tires while marching through traffic and in the final three laps, he could only ride along in second as Paul Menard drove just hard enough to maintain his advantage. That would have been Gordon's record-extending fifth win in the Brickyard 400 and one more notation in the annals of NASCAR's history. He's never needed a victory worse than this week, however. The clock is ticking on his championship hopes and the only way he will make the Chase is to win one or two of the final seven regular season events.
8. Clint Bowyer
Last three races average finish at Indy: 11.67 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 11.83 in 6 attempts
Bowyer makes the top-10 list this week by consistency. In the last three years, he has only one top 10 but he has swept the top 20 during that span. Actually, he has never finished worse than 19th at Indy, which makes up for his lack of truly strong runs. He is occasionally capable of finding the right setup. Bowyer's two strong runs on this track netted fourth-place finishes in his inaugural attempt in 2006 and again in 2010. Vegas should give him good odds to finish among the leaders once more because he enters the weekend with a four-race streak of top- 0s on the flat tracks of Martinsville, Richmond, Pocono and New Hampshire.
9. Carl Edwards
Last three races average finish at Indy: 12.00 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 11.00 in 7 attempts
Edwards seems to like the 2.5-mile flat tracks better than the shorter versions. He has won at Pocono twice and finished second on another occasion there in the last seven years. He hasn't visited Victory Lane at Indy yet, but he finished second to Johnson in 2008 by keeping his tires under him while other cars popped theirs and slammed the walls. Like Bowyer though, he owes his position in the top 10 to consistency because he has earned only one top 10 in the last three years. His worst result since 2009 is a 15th, however, and that makes him a driver to watch this weekend if he can keep the leaders in sight.
10. Kasey Kahne
Last three races average finish at Indy: 12.67 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 15.88 in 8 attempts
The flat tracks this season have been representative of Kahne's performance overall. When he finds the right setup and avoids bad luck, he has been excellent and that is apparent with his fifth-place finish in the Capital City 400 at Richmond and last week's victory at New Hampshire. When he struggles, however, it doesn't matter what his previous record was as demonstrated by an accident and 34th-place finish at Phoenix this spring on the heels of last year's fall victory. Momentum is more important to Kahne this week than his track record at Indy -- and that is good news because he has not cracked the top five on this track since his sophomore season.
OTHERS OF NOTE
11. Jimmie Johnson
Last three races average finish at Indy: 14.00 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 18.40 in 10 attempts
When cars began blowing tires right and left in the 2008 Brickyard 400, it seemed like a virtual certainty that Johnson would be one of the drivers affected. His luck on this track had been terrible with a blown engine in 2004 and accidents in 2005 and 2007. Wedged between those two crashes, however, was his first Indy victory in 2006, but that was also the first time he had cracked the top five on the famed oval during his career. Johnson survived the 2008 race to win a series of sprints at the end and then he added a third victory in 2009. Only Gordon has more wins on this track, but as soon as Johnson checked that record off his personal scorecard, he fell back into a familiar pattern and has not cracked the top 15 in his latest two attempts.
11. Brad Keselowski
Last three races average finish at Indy: 14.00 in 2 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 14.00 in 2 attempts
Keselowski has only two starts at Indy, so his average finish can be taken with a grain of salt. In those two races, he finished 19th in 2010 and was ninth last season so a strong run will propel him into the top 10 in next year's rundown. Because there isn't much history to consider at Indy, one has to look to Keselowski's flat track record and he has been almost perfect on this track type in 2012. In five starts at Phoenix, Martinsville, Richmond, Pocono and New Hampshire, he failed to crack the top 10 only once and that was because of a pit road accident at the tricky triangle.
19. Martin Truex Jr.
Last three races average finish at Indy: 22.33 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 23.43 in 7 attempts
This week is important to Truex if he wants to remain in the top 10 in points. Momentum can shift at a moment's notice and the driver of the No. 56 has been uneven on flat tracks all season. He started out strong with a seventh- and fifth-place finish at Phoenix and Martinsville, but then slipped into the 20s at Richmond and Pocono. Last week, he came back toward the front but failed to crack the top 10 with an 11th-place finish in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, and that might not give his fans much hope. The reason for their concern is his Indy record, because he has only one top 15 and no top 10s there in seven attempts.
26. Denny Hamlin
Last three races average finish at Indy: 25.33 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 18.50 in 6 attempts
Hamlin was the driver to beat last week at New Hampshire until a miscommunication with his crew chief left him deep in the pack on the final restart. He climbed to second and kept a perfect streak of top-10 finishes on flat tracks alive. In fact, his worst result on the minimally banked tracks this season was a sixth at Martinsville and even that might have been better if not for the frenzied green-white-checkered finish that was set up by David Reutimann parking in the racing groove. Indy has been the least kind flat track during Hamlin's career, however, and his average finish there is his sixth-worst.
28. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last three races average finish at Indy: 26.33 in 3 attempts
Career avg. finish at Indy: 21.67 in 12 attempts
Junior has never finished in the top five at Indy and his average finish there of 21.7 makes this statistically the second-worst oval he will visit in 2012. That won't make any difference this week whatsoever because he has so much momentum on his side. He has earned 17 top-15 finishes in the first 19 races this season and if a calculator is not handy, that equates to an 89.5 percent success rate. Another strong run is practically guaranteed, but his fans can probably expect a result in the high single digits rather than a challenge for the victory.
|All Drivers: Last three races at Indy|
|Driver||Avg. finish (attempts)||Driver||Avg. finish (attempts)|
|1. Tony Stewart||4.67 (3)||21. Bobby Labonte||23.67 (3)|
|1. Greg Biffle||4.67 (3)||21. Juan Pablo Montoya||23.67 (3)|
|3. Kevin Harvick||6.33 (3)||23. David Reutimann||24.00 (3)|
|4. Mark Martin||7.00 (3)||23. Reed Sorenson||24.00 (2)|
|5. Jamie McMurray||8.67 (3)||25. Regan Smith||25.00 (3)|
|6. Matt Kenseth||9.00 (3)||26. Denny Hamlin||25.33 (3)|
|7. Jeff Gordon||11.33 (3)||27. Marcos Ambrose||25.67 (3)|
|8. Clint Bowyer||11.67 (3)||28. Dale Earnhardt Jr.||26.33 (3)|
|9. Carl Edwards||12.00 (3)||29. Landon Cassill||29.50 (2)|
|10. Kasey Kahne||12.67 (3)||30. Casey Mears||31.00 (3)|
|11. Jimmie Johnson||14.00 (3)||31. Scott Speed||31.67 (3)|
|11. Brad Keselowski||14.00 (2)||32. Sam Hornish Jr.||33.50 (2)|
|13. Ryan Newman||14.33 (3)||33. Travis Kvapil||34.50 (2)|
|14. Paul Menard||14.67 (3)||34. David Stremme||35.33 (3)|
|15. Joey Logano||15.33 (3)||35. David Gilliland||35.67 (3)|
|16. Kyle Busch||18.67 (3)||36. Dave Blaney||38.00 (3)|
|17. Kurt Busch||19.33 (3)||37. Michael McDowell||39.50 (2)|
|18. Jeff Burton||22.00 (3)||38. Joe Nemechek||40.33 (3)|
|19. Martin Truex Jr.||22.33 (3)||39. Mike Skinner||40.50 (2)|
|19. David Ragan||22.33 (3)|
|Caution to the wind|
Most caution flags: 13 (2004 Brickyard 400). Even the tire-killing race in 2008 has fewer (11)
Fewest caution flags: 1 (1995 Brickyard 400)
Average number of caution flags per race: 6.5
Final caution, last five races:
July 2011: Lap 121 of 160 - 2-car accident in turn three (David Ragan and Landon Cassill).
July 2010: Lap 147 of 160 - 2-car accident in turn four (Juan Pablo Montoya and Dale Earnhardt Jr.).
July 2009: Lap 129 of 160 - Oil on track.
July 2008: Lap 151 of 160 - Competition; this was the sixth competition caution of the afternoon.
July 2007: Lap 137 of 160 - Oil on track.
Most caution laps: 52 (2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard- "tiregate")
Fewest caution laps: 4 (1995 Brickyard 400)
Average number of caution laps per race: 27.2
|Leading the way|
Most leaders: 16 (2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard)
Fewest leaders: 5 (2000 Brickyard 400)
Average number of leaders: 9.8
Most lead changes: 26 (2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard)
Fewest lead changes: 9 (2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, 2004 Brickyard 400, 2000 Brickyard 400)
Average number of lead changes: 15.9
Last five winners at Indy (starting position):
July 2011: Paul Menard (15th)
July 2010: Jamie McMurray (4th)
July 2009: Jimmie Johnson (16th)
July 2008: Jimmie Johnson (1st)
July 2007: Tony Stewart (14th)
Worst starting position for race winner: 27th - Jeff Gordon (2001)
A race at Indy has been won by the pole sitter 2 times and from the front row 3 times in 18 races.
|Active winners at Indy|
Jeff Gordon (4)
Jimmie Johnson (3)
Tony Stewart (2)
Paul Menard (1)
Kevin Harvick (1)
Jamie McMurray (1)
Bobby Labonte (1)
|First-time winners at Indy|
2001 Brickyard 400: Paul Menard
During the short history of the Brickyard 400, eight drivers have won this race en route to a championship. Dale Jarrett was the first to do so and Jimmie Johnson was the latest. Here is the full list:
2009: Jimmie Johnson
2008: Jimmie Johnson
2006: Jimmie Johnson
2005: Tony Stewart
2001: Jeff Gordon
2000: Bobby Labonte
1998: Jeff Gordon
1996: Dale Jarrett
Dale Earnhardt Sr. gets an honorable mention for finishing second in the points in 1995 after winning the Brickyard 400.
|2.5-mile flat tracks: Indianapolis vs. Pocono (since 2009)|
Indianapolis and Pocono are geometrical oddities -- Indy is a perfect rectangle, while Pocono is a triangle. They also have one other commonality in that they are 2.5-mile flat tracks and that makes close comparatives when trying to determine who will run strong.
|Juan Pablo Montoya||16.10||10||23.67||12.86|
|Martin Truex Jr||18.00||10||22.33||16.14|
|Sam Hornish Jr||19.71||7||33.50||14.20|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr||20.30||10||26.33||17.71|
|Beaver's Best Bets for Indianapolis|
Winner: Jeff Gordon. At the risk of jinxing him, I have to pick the Rainbow Warrior. He's never needed to win more than this week and should rise to the pressure.
Dark horse top 10: Kasey Kahne. Fresh off the victory last week, he should challenge once more. He's been strong on this track type in 2012 when he has avoided trouble.
Don't bet on it: Denny Hamlin. If he is going to stumble on any flat track, Indy is the place. He probably won't earn a top 10, but he won't miss by much.
|Beat Beaver -- Predicting the top 10|
If drivers could pick only two races to run well in, the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 would be on their list. This race is not only important because of the history of the track, but as a way to give them momentum during the critical summer months before the Chase begins.
1. Jeff Gordon
2. Tony Stewart
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Mark Martin
6. Greg Biffle
7. Kasey Kahne
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Jamie McMurray
LAST WEEK'S PICKS
The Lenox Industrial Tools 301 actually quite a strong performance for my picks. The points don't necessarily reflect this because there were no exact matches, but seven of the drivers I predicted to finish among the top 10 did precisely that. Of the three drivers that missed, with Kyle Busch's 16th-place finish being the worst of the bunch.
For any driver correctly picked in the top 10, five points are awarded. For any driver picked in his exact finishing position, five bonus points are awarded. For correctly predicting the winner, a total of 20 points are awarded. So for a perfect top 10, a total of 110 points are available. One point is subtracted for each driver picked who finishes outside the top 10.
|8.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||4||5|
Total points for New Hampshire = 32 (out of a possible perfect score of 110)
Season best: 37 points (Charlotte, May); Season worst: 2 points (Daytona, July); Season avg.: 22.9 points (9 races)
For more stats and analysis, follow @FantasyRace on Twitter.