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It's brick kissing time for the NASCAR boys

by Dave Grayson
Friday, July 29, 2011

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Annually the NASCAR winning team prostate’s themselves and kisses the dirty yard of bricks at Indy in recognition of the hollowed IndyCar grounds on which they are permitted to race
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series makes its annual visit to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IMS, for the running of Sunday's Brickyard 400. This event launched its legendary status back in 1994 and proved that NASCAR's stock cars could indeed race on Indy's famous flat oval and put on a good show. Since that time this race has become one of the crown jewels of the Sprint Cup schedule and winning "Indy" is a highly coveted prize for the NASCAR teams. 

From that point came another legend: the kissing of the bricks. In 1909 the gravel and sand mixed surface of the IMS' 2.5 mile oval was covered by 3.2 million street paving bricks that weighed approximately 9.5 pounds each. In the early 1930's the speedway's surface was gradually covered with an asphalt coating at selected locations. By 1938 the surface was nearly one hundred percent asphalt except for the middle portion of the front straightaway. That brick covered section of the track was repaved with asphalt in 1961 with the exception of a three foot strip that became one of the most unique start/finish lines in motorsports history.

In 1996 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett won the Brickyard 400. It was Jarrett and crew chief Todd Parrott who came up with the idea of kissing the bricks as a tribute to the rich history of the speedway. They were quickly joined by their entire team on the front straightaway and the group kiss ceremony was officially launched.

SO WHO'S GOING TO KISS THE BRICKS THIS YEAR?

To find some possible answers to that question we once again turn to the professionals from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, WSE, who were busy this week crunching a rather interesting set of numbers for us to ponder.

Topping the WSE list to win Sunday's Brickyard 400 is Jimmie "Five Time" Johnson at 6 to 1 odds. He's currently second in the points standings, only seven markers from the top, and has some impressive IMS stats that includes three wins, three top five finishes and four top tens. His average finish ratio, AFR, is a little on the high side at 18.3, but he still has plenty of credentials to pull off a fourth Indy win. The one gray area here is the team's policy of weekly try outs to determine who's going to comprise their pit crew for the next race. This unique platoon system has created some concerns of late especially in the area of dropped or missed lug nuts during pit stops. Even the mild mannered Johnson expressed some angry frustration over the problem following the last race at New Hampshire. Crew chief Chad Knaus, earlier this week, admitted that a radical new program like this is bound to have some growing pains but felt like the situation was now well in hand for Sunday's race. However, the #48 team has a policy of overcoming obstacles and that's why their always a perennial favorite to win a race.

At 7 to 1 odds you will find Carl Edwards the current series points leader. He's still looking for his first Indy win and only has one top five finish. However his AFR is a strong 10.5. Edwards is the focal point of a huge NASCAR story surrounding his contract year status and which team he's going to drive for next year. He's actually done a very good job of not allowing that level of media attention to become a distraction. He's listed near the top of the WSE rankings this week because of a strong Roush Fenway Racing team, the Ford horsepower provided by Roush Yates Engines and of course his driving talent that has placed him at the top of the championship standings.

In the 9 to 1 category you will find the pairing of Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. Stewart is an excellent wager consideration for the Brickyard 400. He's a two time race winner, he has six top five finishes and an extremely healthy 8.2 AFR. With his prior experience at this track, both in the Indy Racing League and NASCAR, he has ran and led a ton of laps at IMS. His performance levels has a tendency to dramatically increase during the hot summer weather. If that holds true, then the timing could not be better. Stewart is still seeking his first win of the season and is currently 11th in the standings. A win on Sunday would place him back into the top ten that determines the Chase line up. A win will also create an opportunity for a wild card berth in the Chase. For what my opinion could mean to anyone: Stewart is my pick to win the Brickyard 400.

You never make the mistake of overlooking Kyle Busch despite the fact that his IMS numbers are not that strong. He's still looking for that first win at Indy, he only has one top five and his AFR is 13.7. But his raw driving talent often allows him to overcome any on track obstacle that presents itself. He's always going to be a strong wager consideration.

The WSE's 10 to 1 grouping features a trio of very noteworthy hopefuls that includes Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon. Harvick has some very stout IMS numbers and actually deserves to perhaps be ranked a little higher on the WSE listing. He's a previous race winner with four top fives, seven top tens and a strong 9.9 AFR. He's more than worthy of consideration to get another IMS win this Sunday.

Denny Hamlin's 2011 season has been somewhat of a mystery to many NASCAR Sprint Cup observers. Last year he was an eight race winner and a major player in the championship profile. This year has seen struggle and frustration. However, in recent weeks the team has shown signs of turning that around. He's won his first race of the season and has clawed his way to tenth in the standings. A win would elevate that standing and place him in position for a wild card berth if another bad race should occur. However, don't expect that win this weekend. His IMS numbers, zero wins, one top five and a 16.8 AFR, supports that theory.

Jeff Gordon is an entirely different set of circumstances and, at 10 to 1 odds, is an excellent long shot wager consideration. Gordon holds all of the prominent stats at IMS with a series high four wins, nine top fives, 13 top tens and a healthy 9.5 AFR. He also has won a series high three Coors Pole Awards at the speedway.

In the WSE's middle tier this week you will find the trio of Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya at 11 to 1 odds. Kenseth is still looking for his first IMS win and has a 15.1 AFR. However, he has a habit of showing up at the end of races and emerging as a player in the finish and that's something about him always worthy of consideration.

Kurt Busch is also still seeking a first win at IMS as well as his first ever super speedway win. Despite that he's third in the championship standings and that's based on a strong resurgence in his team's performance levels. At 11 to 1, he could turn out to be a possible long shot consideration.

It's presumed that Montoya's 11 to 1 rating may be based on his personal driving experience from his Indy Racing League days. He has ran a lot of successful laps at this speedway. However, his NASCAR Sprint Cup numbers does not support the experience theory. He only has one top five at IMS and his AFR is a very high 21.0. He's also developing a working relationship with a new crew chief. With the team being 17th in the points, and any chance of making the Chase virtually gone, it appears they are already working towards the 2012 season.

Those same sentiments also applies to Greg Biffle who is rated at 14 to 1 odds this weekend. In January everyone was predicting that this driver and team would be a Chase contender. Biffle is also working with a recent crew chief change. He's 15th in the points and also appears to looking towards next year.

Topping the WSE's third tier this week is Dale Earnhardt Jr at 20 to 1. This is a driver and team that's going to be the subject of a lot of media attention this weekend. Five weeks ago we all thought this Hendrick Motorsports group was a Chase contender. Since that time we have witnessed a points free fall that has taken the once again beleaguered driver from third to ninth and very close to falling out of the all important top ten. He needs to return to strong finishes. He really needs his next Sprint Cup win, something we haven't seen since the summer of 2008. However I wouldn't be looking for it this Sunday. His IMS numbers: zero wins, zero top fives and a 22.2 AFR, does offer a lot of hope for his fan base known as the Junior Nation.

In the next group you will find Kasey Kahne, and Red Bull Racing, at 25 to 1 followed by Ryan Newman, a race winner two weeks ago, and Brad Keselowski at 30 to 1. In the 35 to 1 group there's a trio of drivers featuring Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. Finishing this week's WSE list, at 40 to 1, are Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, David Reutimann and David Ragan.

Any driver not named here has been automatically placed in the WSE's "all others" listing backed with 15 to 1 odds. That group includes last year's race winner Jamie McMurray. Considered a pre season Chase contender, McMurray has endured a dreadful year. But he does have some pretty strong IMS numbers with a win, two top fives, four top tens and a 14.2 AFR. Those numbers could become appealing to those of you who like to stretch your dollars on long shot opportunities. The law of averages states this driver's season has to turn around sometime.

Now for this week's disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are posted for information and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. Also bear in mind that, unlike the other major American sports, there are no foregone conclusions in NASCAR racing. The results of their events can often change during the final seconds before a car crosses under the checkers. But if you're going to bet on a race anyway, isn't it nice that you have the needed information from professionals like the World Sports Exchange?

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Sunday's Brickyard 400 is 160 laps/400 miles around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's massive 2.5 mile quad oval.

The race has a healthy 48 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 13 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams are not guaranteed a start in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

There's two basic reasons why any driver in the world would want to win a race at Indianapolis. The first is the prestige of winning at one of the most historically important racing venues in the world. Everyone in the race wants to kiss the bricks. The second reason is the fact that the Brickyard 400 is a very lucrative event. Last year's winner, Jamie McMurray, earned over $438,000. The driver who finished 43d, Max Papis, earned over $134,000 for only running 15 laps.       
   
The first Brickyard 400 was held in 1994 and was won by Jeff Gordon. Since that time there has been 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup events at IMS that has sent ten different winners to victory lane. Hendrick Motorsports, thanks to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, leads the IMS team stats with seven wins.

Track position is always important in any NASCAR Sprint Cup event and that includes posting good numbers of qualifying day. The NASCAR track qualifying record is held by Casey Mears, 186.293 MPH, set back in August of 2004. Nine of the 17 races there have been won from starting positions within the top five. Three of the last five IMS events have been won by a margin of victory of less than one second. In eight of the 17 races the winner of the Brickyard 400 has gone on to win that year's Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a basically flat 2.5 mile quad oval. There's only nine degrees of banking in the four turns and no banking at all on the straightaways. The long straightaways there measures 3,300 feet. There are straight areas, known as short chutes, between turns one and two, as well as three and four, that measure 660 feet each. The grandstands can accommodate over 257,000 fans. Add infield amenities and the speedway can accommodate over 350,000 fans.

Weather could be a major factor in the Brickyard 400's preliminary events including qualifying. The Friday and Saturday forecast for the area calls for hazardous weather conditions including a 30% chance of thunder storms. However, Sunday race day's forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 90's with no rain expected.

The Brickyard 400 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network with the "Countdown" program beginning at 12 pm eastern time. The race re air will be Wednesday, August 3d, on SPEED at 12 pm eastern.     

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