This Weekend in NASCAR - Indianapolis Storylines
Posted Friday, July 27; Source - NASCAR communications
Sunday marks the 19th time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has appeared at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but this year's race has a unique twist. The Crown Royal Curtiss Shaver 400 headlines the track's inaugural Kroger Super Weekend melding NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series competition on its 2.5-mile oval and GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge action on the 2.534-mile road course.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series formerly raced across town at Lucas Oil Raceway beginning in 1982 and steps up to IMS for Saturday's event (ESPN, 4:30 p. ET). GRAND-AM also will make its first appearance with the three-hour Brickyard Grand Prix for Daytona Prototype and GT cars taking place Friday (SPEED, 4 p.m.) following Continental Tire Grand Sport and Street Tuner competition. One of the track's major challenges is track changeover – from oval to road course then back again – on Thursday and Friday nights.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the home of race and championship winning drivers. Seven previous IMS winners with 14 victories at the track among them were either NASCAR Sprint Cup champions or champions to be. The Brickyard 400 winner has gone on to win the title in eight different seasons.
Last year Paul Menard became the first driver to earn his first win in the series at Indy and the fourth different driver to record his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in 2011. There have been none this year.
Jeff Gordon has won the Brickyard 400 four times – most by any driver. He needs a fifth win in the worst way if he's going to wrestle his way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.
The heat is on Dodge, Ford and Toyota to reach Indy's Victory Lane. A Chevrolet driver has won nine consecutive Brickyard 400s and 13 times overall.
Danica Patrick is no stranger to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway having competed seven times in the Indianapolis 500. Saturday's race will be her first on-track as a NASCAR Nationwide Series competitor. She's ninth in series standings.
Indianapolis is race No. 3 in the Nationwide "Dash 4 Cash" with series points leader Elliott Sadler the $100,000 winner along with Sunday's Chicagoland victory. Sadler heads the standings by 11 points over Austin Dillon and 19 ahead of reigning series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitors won't race again until Aug. 4 at Pocono Raceway, but James Buescher, who became the series' first three-time winner of 2012 at Chicagoland Speedway, will suit up for Indy's NASCAR Nationwide event. Timothy Peters remains the NCWTS standings leader by 23 points over Ty Dillon.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Indianapolis, Sprint Cup Titles Often Go Together
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway truly is a special place as judged by previous winners of the Crown Royal Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard. Seven winners of 14 of the 18 races run have been NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions or champions to be. Eight times the winner of the Brickyard 400 has gone on to win that season's title. The most recent Brickyard/NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was Jimmie Johnson in 2009. Johnson also won both race and championship in 2006 and 2008. Other race/championship winners in the same season are Jeff Gordon (1998, 2001), Dale Jarrett (1999), Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2005).
Brickyard 400 Seems Likely To Revert To Veteran Form
Until a year ago, the Brickyard 400 had yet to produce a first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner. Paul Menard changed all that by taking his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet to Victory Lane. Menard was the third driver last year to break through in one of NASCAR's classic events joining Trevor Bayne (Daytona 500) and Regan Smith (Bojangles Southern 500). Menard's Brickyard victory, however, was his last top-five finish. There have been no first-time winners through the 2012 season's first 19 races. The highest-ranked driver without a career victory is Aric Almirola (22nd).The list of series veterans who have not won at the Speedway, however, is lengthy and includes all but Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick among the current top 10 in the points standings.
Gordon Desperately Needs Another Indy Victory
Jeff Gordon knows how to win at Indianapolis beginning with his victory in the inaugural race in 1994. Gordon's four wins are the most of any driver at the Speedway, one more than Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. With seven races remaining before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ lineup is determined on Sept. 8, this Indianapolis race may be the most crucial for Gordon. The four-time champion desperately needs a win to place his helmet in the Chase "wild card" ring. Gordon ranks 17th in points and trails Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano among "wild card"-eligible drivers with race victories.
Montoya, McMurray Doing IMS Oval, Road Course Double
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray will also compete in Friday's Brickyard Grand Prix, the inaugural visit to the Speedway by the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series. The pair finished fourth in January's Rolex 24 at Daytona at the wheel of their BMW Riley Daytona Prototype and join Ganassi's fulltime GRAND-AM team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in pursuit of the North American Endurance Championship. The three-hour race can be seen at 4 p.m. ET on SPEED. McMurray won the Brickyard 400 in 2010. Montoya finished second in his first NASCAR Sprint Cup trip to the Speedway in 2007. He will become the first driver to compete in each of the track's three major four-wheeled events: Indianapolis 500, U.S. Grand Prix and Rolex Sports Car Grand Prix.
Chevrolet Goes For 10th Consecutive Speedway Victory
Chevrolet has been rock-steady at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway riding a nine-race win streak that began in 2003. That's the longest current streak at any track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. The brand has won 13 of Indy's 18 races beginning with Jeff Gordon's inaugural victory in 1994. Hendrick Motorsports counts the most Chevrolet wins (six) followed by Richard Childress Racing (three) and Joe Gibbs Racing (two). Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has a single win. Kasey Kahne's New Hampshire victory was the brand's series-leading 696th triumph.
Hoosiers Stewart, Newman, Stremme Covet Indy Laurels
For Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and David Stremme, this week amounts to "back home again in Indiana." The three are natives of the Hoosier state. While Stewart has won twice at the speedway, where he also competed in the Indianapolis 500, Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Newman and Stremme – both natives of South Bend, Ind. – have yet to savor a home state victory. Stremme finished 16th in his most recent trip to the Brickyard in 2009 while Newman has a best finish of fourth – his only top five – in 2002. Newman continues to chase his elusive 50th Coors Light Pole at a track where he's qualified among the top five on six occasions.
ESPN/ABC Televise Remaining 17 Sprint Cup Events
Sunday's Indianapolis race marks the beginning of ESPN/ABC's 17-race run as television partners for the remainder of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. The networks again broadcast the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ beginning Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway and continuing through the Nov. 18 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
NASCAR Nationwide Series Debuts At Indianapolis
For the fifth time since 2005, the NASCAR Nationwide Series has the distinction of running an inaugural event. And Saturday's opportunity is perhaps its' greatest yet as the series will run its debut race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This race has special meaning to all involved with such history and pageantry literally dripping from the venue. But for one team and for the series' top official, it means even more. The ML Motorsports team owned by Mary Louise Miller is based in Warsaw, Ind. Its main driver, Johanna Long, 19, has had a solid season as she competes for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors. With 12 starts this year, Long is 18th in the standings. The 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series graduate has a best finish of 12th earlier this month at Daytona.
Joe Balash, the NASCAR Nationwide Series director, is a native of Hobart, Ind., and as a youngster watched Indianapolis 500s through fences and on scaffolding that he and his friends built. Now years later, he oversees the nation's No. 2 motorsports series as it makes its first laps around the historic venue.
Danica Makes Brickyard Return
Since 2005, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been a consistent stop for Danica Patrick during her motorsports career. This season is no different for the only woman to lead laps at the Indianapolis 500 as well as serve as that event's highest-finishing female.
What has changed, however, is her ride. Instead of an open-wheel car, Patrick now assumes her place behind the wheel of a 3,450-pound stock car. She and her fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors will be on a level playing field come Saturday – the first time the series will race at The Brickyard.
Patrick is in her first full-time season in NASCAR where she's currently ninth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. Her short NASCAR resume also includes a pole at Daytona to begin the 2012 season and the highest national series finish (fourth) captured by a female. She's also running a limited schedule in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as she continues to grow her stock car learning curve, now three seasons old.
Perhaps the biggest question is this: Will her previous track time at Indy give her – and another former open-wheel star and the 2006 Indy 500 winner, Sam Hornish Jr., an advantage? Nineteen other drivers entered in this inaugural event – including last year's Brickyard 400 winner and former fulltime NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Paul Menard – have NASCAR Sprint Cup experience at Indianapolis.
Virginia Native Sadler "Back Home Again" in Indiana
Could this be the moment Elliott Sadler has been waiting for? Not just having the chance to become the first to hoist the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series trophy at Indianapolis, but to make a statement about his championship hopes?
Sadler is currently the series standings leader, 11 points ahead of his young – and very talented – Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon. Lurking 19 points out of first is reigning series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
But Sadler has momentum, and plenty of it. Coming off his third win of the year last week at Chicagoland – and also winning the $100,000 NASCAR Nationwide Series "Dash 4 Cash" bonus in addition to automatically becoming eligible to win again at Indy, the third of four D4C races – he brings a double-dose of experience. His combined 17 years in NASCAR's three national series is one advantage. But more so are his 12 career NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at the Brickyard, which include a pole and two top-five finishes. He last ran at Indy in 2010.
Sadler will go up against Stenhouse, Justin Allgiaer and Michael Annett for the$100,000 Indy D4C bonus. Those drivers were the other three highest finishers at Chicago to earn driver championship points and become eligible for the bonus at The Brickyard. Kenny Wallace finished fourth one spot ahead of Annett, but didn't receive points because the No. 09 RAB Racing Toyota was a post-entry.