Page last updated on Mon Apr 21 03:06:26 EDT 2014
Wed, 21 Jul 2010 04:41 PM EDT

Seven races remain until the NASCAR Cup Series reaches the Chase, or the postseason if you will. After enjoying the last weekend off, the drivers get back to work at famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where they’ve been coming once annually for the Brickyard 400 ever since ’94. There has been just a short list of dominant drivers here historically, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett sharing honors in the early years and since passing the torch on to Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. In fact, those latter two have won the last five races at Indy and for good reason are listed as the favorites for Sunday according to Odds

When NASCAR’s Cup Series last left you, it was David Reutimann basking in the limelight of a second career win. This time around however, it was no fluke, as he was upfront for most of the 400, a much different scenario to his first win at Charlotte in 2009, a rain-shortened event. Perhaps more important to Reutimann than the win was the ground he made up in the points standings. He was able to climb two spots up to 15th and now finds himself just 96-points out of the Chase behind Clint Bowyer. In between him and Bowyer are Dale Earnhardt, Jr (-15) and Mark Martin (-37). At this point, you’d have to believe that anyone beyond Kasey Kahne (-120) in 17th is in trouble. Remaining at the top of the standings is Kevin Harvick, 103 points out in front of Jeff Gordon. Jimmie Johnson (-188), Denny Hamlin (-203) and Kurt Busch (-221) round out the top 5. Las Vegas Odds

With just seven races remaining to qualify for the Chase, this race takes on significance, perhaps even more than usual, since Indianapolis’ sister track, Pocono Raceway, also is on the upcoming schedule. Drivers that fare well at this 2-1/2 mile flat superspeedway typically do well at Pocono, which has similar features. That said, a victory this week is a much-coveted one, both for the pageantry of the host venue, the Brickyard, as well as the prize money disbursed to the winner. As is usually the case, the stars tend shine brightest on the biggest stage, as the last seven winners of this race are mega-stars. Jimmie Johnson & Tony Stewart have won the last five Brickyard 400’s, with Johnson being the defending two-time champion. Jeff Gordon won the 2004 event and Kevin Harvick reached Victory Lane in 2003. Of course, those latter two are currently the 2010 standings.It’s interesting to note that Johnson, winner of three of the last four races here, went on to his first of four straight series titles after taking home his first Checkered Flag from Indy. In fact, that feat has happened now eight times in 16 years, further signifying the importance of winning the Brickyard 400.

The 2009 race was described as “boring”, with a record-low tying nine lead changes and only three cautions disrupting the green flag action. However, for Indy officials, the results were just fine when considering the debacle of 2008, when tire problems dominated the race. They were so severe that the longest green flag run was 12 laps. Goodyear has done continuous testing in the two years since and judging by the lack of trouble a year ago, the tire problems seem to be behind them. That said, there are still many fans that may be growing weary of Indy anyhow. The racing at the Brickyard has always been more conducive to open-wheel cars. As for the stock cars, track positioning and pit strategy have always been key at IMS, as the minimal banking on the track has mandated cautious driving with minimal passing. Naturally, fans aren’t turned on by that type of racing.

Most experts believe that there is only a slight difference between the car setups used at Indianapolis to those at Pocono. Keep that in mind when handicapping, since coincidentally, another trip to Pocono follows this week’s event. The top three in the June race at Pocono were Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Tony Stewart. Looking at the results at the two tracks combined in the COT (since ’08), you’ll find Jimmie Johnson atop the heap in almost every key statistical category. In seven total races, he leads in Poles (2), Wins (2), Average Finish (5.1), Top 5’s (4), Top 10’s (6), and Laps Led (241). It’s no wonder that oddsmakers have established him as the 7-2 favorite. Stewart is next at 7-1, and he boasts four Top 5’s as well in that 7-race stretch, along with an average finish of 11.0. Denny Hamlin is listed at 8-1, with 222 laps led and four Top 5’s. However, his success has come mostly at Pocono, with his average finish at Indy in four career starts just 17.3.

Beyond the three favorites in terms of stats and odds, you’ll find a handful of other drivers capable of competing for the win on Sunday. Jeff Gordon, at 8-1 heads that list. He has a remarkable 10 Top 5’s in 2010, though he’s yet to reach Victory Lane. Having spent time in his childhood in Indiana, many consider this Gordon’s home track, and he could break the winless drought on Sunday. It would be his career-leading 5th Indy win. Kyle Busch also shares 8-1 odds, although he has not won in five Inday starts, and has averaged just a 24.6 finish in the seven flat superspeedway races in the COT. Juan Montoya (12-1), Kevin Harvick (12-1), Jeff Burton (14-1), Carl Edwards (20-1) and Kasey Kahne (20-1)will wrap up my own personal short list of contenders for the weekend. Typically, a driver has to be either running very well at the time, or have a rich history at Indy to win the Brickyard 400. All five meet one or both of that criteria. Of the group, Kahne & Edwards are the only winners at a track like this in the last seven COT races, though Montoya has threatened to win and seems to love coming back to the Brickyard, a track he ran while in open wheel racing. The Childress guys, Harvick and Burton, are running very well over the last month. Scores

Among the drivers you may want to avoid this week, at least in terms of the numbers, are Kurt Busch (12-1), Matt Kenseth (25-1), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (30-1), Martin Truex (35-1), and Jamie McMurray (35-1).Busch has surprisingly bad numbers at Pocono and Indy in the COT, with an average finish of 23.6 and two DNF’s. Kenseth is struggling to put things together during his break-in period with his new crew chief, and has averaged just 15.7 in the past seven flat superspeedway races. Junior, Truex, and McMurray are longshots as the odds suggest, and have combined for only three Top 10 finishes and 17 laps led in 21 starts.

This week’s qualifying for the Brickyard 400 begins Saturday at 10:10 AM ET, with the race green flag scheduled for Sunday at 1:19 PM ET. With track position being critical, the qualifying usually plays a huge factor, with eight of the previous 16 winners starting in the top 5. Jimmie Johnson started 16th a year ago and won. No winner has ever come from worse than the 27th starting spot. Johnson has also finished 3rd in ’09, and 1st in ’08 in Happy Hour, so if he demonstrates similar speed this weekend in practice, look out. As always, the StatFox NASCAR FoxSheet, Driver Pages, and Matchup Analyzer are ready to prepare you for all of the racing action…

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