|As a requirement to be allowed to race at IndyCar's Mecca, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the winner of the Brickyard 400 each year bows down before the IndyCar lords and prostrates themselves by kissing the yard of bricks|
NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series teams are busy preparing for one of the most prestigious events on their schedule-Sunday's running of the Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There's not a race driver in the entire world that hasn't thought about winning any race at this venue. An Indy win is something that forever becomes permanently attached to a driver's name.
NASCAR winners created their own tradition there by having the winning team kneel down at the start/finish line to kiss the yard wide of bricks. It's brick kissing time at Indy and that tradition is an honor every driver in the 43 car field would love to experience.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
However, prior to the green flag falling on Sunday's race, you will hear and read a lot of reports regarding pre race story lines. We all know what story is going to top that list. It is of course the sad news regarding driver A J Allmendinger failing a second urine test and being indefinitely suspended by NASCAR. On Wednesday we learned, via an official Allmendinger spokesperson, that the problem substance was amphetamines. The Allmendinger camp is contending that this may have derived from a supplement associated with a product their driver was using as part of a physical fitness/nutrition program. The driver of the #22 Roger Penske Racing Dodge, also on Wednesday, declared his intent to join NASCAR's Road To Recovery Program which means time well spent at a rehab facility: the first step towards being reinstated to NASCAR racing.
The Allmendinger situation has created an entire new story line regarding the NASCAR 2012 silly season. Allmendinger has a one year contract to drive the Penske Dodge and his return status to the team is, at best, a question mark. That means that a very prestigious, and well sponsored, ride could very well be available. Sam Hornish Jr, Penske's Nationwide Series driver, has been driving the #22 Cup car since Daytona when Allmendinger was first suspended. He will also be in the car this Sunday and again at Pocono. He has already informed his boss that he wants to return to Cup racing in this ride. The silly season garage rumors have also hit high gear regarding this ride with the names Joey Logano and former Penske driver Ryan Newman being mentioned.
This silly season angle coincides with the main rumor we have been tracking for several weeks now. That, of course, would be Matt Kenseth's departure from Roush Fenway Racing at the end of this year. This silly season nugget is claiming Kenseth will be joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. The question remains: will he be driving for a fourth JGR team or will he be taking over their #20 team currently driven by Joey Logano? Remember, nothing is official until Kenseth hosts a press conference to announce his plans. That's why they call it silly season.
Yet another important story line, going into the Indy weekend, will be the status of the wild card teams, or those who will occupy positions 11 and 12 in the Chase for the Championship line up. These coveted spots are primarily based on the two drivers, in points positions 11 through 20, who have won the most races during the regular season. Right now, Kasey Kahne, two wins and 12th in the points, holds the first wild card option followed by Kyle Busch, one win and 13th in the points. However, a winning effort at Indy from either Ryan Newman or Joey Logano, who each have one win, could make the wild card race really interesting.
A very interesting story involves the official name of Sunday's race. By now, some of you may be wondering who is Curtiss Shaver? He is the winner of race sponsor Crown Royal's "Your Hero's Name Here" contest. This is a national contest that renames the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, after a deserving American hero.
It was local fire fighters that saved Shaver's life following a tractor accident that, sadly, still led to the loss of the lower portion of his left leg. However, Shaver was inspired by the efforts of the local fire fighters and soon began the rigorous training program that led to a new career as a fire fighter and EMT backed with a personal goal of wanting to give back to his local community. The husband, and father of three, began that new career as a volunteer fire fighter less than two years after his accident and loss of his leg.
THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
So, which driver is going to earn the privilege of kissing the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? To gain some insight into that issue, we again turn to the number crunching professionals from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).
Topping the WSE's list of Indy hopefuls is Jimmie "Five Time" Johnson at 7 to 1 odds. He's a two time race winner this year and is ranked fourth in the standings. His Chase berth is virtually secured and that leaves him free to focus even more on gathering more wins. He's a three time winner at Indianapolis with three top five finishes, four top tens along with an average finish ratio, (AFR), of 18.4. The other aspect to consider here is the fact that he drives a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet which has turned in some very impressive numbers over the years at this race track.
At 8 to 1 you will find the duo of Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle. Stewart is a rock solid wager consideration for the Indy race. He has two wins, six top fives, nine top tens and a series high 8.1 AFR there. He's ranked seventh in the championship points standings with three wins which means he's also Chase safe and free to charge a little harder. Also don't overlook the fact that the chassis and engines, for his Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet, are supplied by Hendrick Motorsports.
Biffle, third in the points with a race win, also appears to be Chase safe and free to seek his first Indy win. He has a pair of top fives there along with five top tens and a 13.1 AFR.
At 10 to 1 odds is the tandem of Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Kenseth, the series' points leader with a race win this year, is always a safe bet although he's stills seeking his first win at the brickyard. He does, however, have a rock steady five top fives, seven top tens and a healthy 14.2 AFR.
If all is right with Denny Hamlin's Toyota on race day, then he will make a solid wager consideration. He's also Chase safe with two wins and ranked fifth in the points. That leaves him free and clear to charge a little harder for his first Indy win. He has a previous top five there along with two top tens and a 18.5 AFR.
It's the WSE's 12 to 1 ranking that is most interesting. That listing features the quintet of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards. Among this group, Gordon is a stand out that bears watching. That's because of his Indianapolis numbers which includes a series high four wins, 10 top fives, 14 top tens, three poles and a very healthy 9.1 AFR. But the huge focus here is the strong possibility that bad racing luck this season may keep this four time champion out of this year's Chase line up. He needs two wins very quickly to be in contention for one of the Chase's wild card berths. That process could begin this Sunday.
Fan Favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr is second in the points, with a previous win, and is also regarded as being Chase safe. He'll be looking to improve on his Indy numbers this weekend which frankly could stand a little work. He only has one top ten along with a 21.7 AFR. Bear in mind that those numbers were generated during past seasons when the team struggled. Their performances have improved by leaps and bounds since that time. Also remember that Earnhardt, like team mate Gordon, is driving one of those high powered Hendrick Chevrolets.
Kyle Busch will be another standout to watch this Sunday because his Chase hopes are hanging by a thread. He currently owns the second wild card berth for the Chase but finds himself in a racing environment where anything can happen between now and the September 8th cut off date for the Chase line up. Sunday is going to be "go" time for Rowdy. His Indy stats include one top five, five top tens and a 13.1 AFR.
It's also "go" time for Kasey Kahne who currently owns the first wild card berth. While he has two wins this season, a third win would lock up a Chase berth. He's still seeking his first Indy win but does have two top fives, four top tens and a 15.9 AFR.
Edwards is in the same situation as Jeff Gordon and is going to need two quick wins to help his Chase prospect. Another interesting focal point here is the fact that Sunday will be Edwards' first race with new crew chief Chad Norris. Edwards is also seeking his first win at the Brickyard but does have six top fives, 15 top tens and a 17.4 AFR.
In the middle tier of the WSE's Indianapolis ranking you will find the trio of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Mark Martin. Keselowski is tenth in the points but has three wins this season and that makes him Chase safe. He only has one top ten finish at Indy, with 14.0 AFR, but that never seems to mean very much. You never know when you're going to see this driver charging to the front at the end of a Cup race.
Although he's still seeking his first win of the season, Harvick is sixth in the points and appears to be Chase safe. He has a previous win at Indianapolis along with four top fives, seven top tens and a 10.0 AFR. Harvick is actually a solid long shot wager for Sunday's race.
Also at 15 to 1 is Mark Martin who is driving a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing. The Cup veteran has six top fives, 11 top tens and a 12.9 AFR at Indianapolis.
Looking at the WSE's lower tier Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr, from Michael Waltrip Racing, are ranked at 20 to 1. Bowyer's ninth place ranking in the points, with one win, doesn't exactly make him Chase safe but it doesn't place him at risk either. He has two top fives at Indy along with a pair of top tens and a 11.8 AFR.
Truex is eighth in the points and getting his first win would definitely help his Chase profile. However he's also seeking his first top ten at Indy and the AFR is a very high 23.4.
The WSE's Indianapolis ranking concludes with drivers Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya at 25 to 1. Logano has Chase wild card potential with his one win this season but Indy may not be the place to capitalize on his status. Logano has a single top ten and a 15.3 AFR there.
Newman is also wild card potential with his season win but also has marginal Indy numbers that includes one top five, one top ten and a 20.2 AFR.
Despite his success at Indianapolis from his former tenure with the IZOD Indy Racing League, Montoya's NASCAR career is still regarded as being a work in progress. His Indy NASCAR stats includes four top fives, eight top tens and a 20.5 AFR.
If you do not see your favorite driver listed here, that means the WSE has them automatically ranked at 10 to 1 odds.
Now for the disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these rankings should be viewed for entertainment and information purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their races.
Having said that, and if you will indulge me with a personal opinion, a wager placed with the WSE on Tony Stewart and/or Jeff Gordon could make Christmas come early.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 is 160 laps/400 miles around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's massive 2.5 mile quad oval.
The race has 47 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 12 of these entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth 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 speed to make the race.
Paul Menard is the defending race winner. The first ever NASCAR race, the Brickyard 400, was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994 and was won by Jeff Gordon. Since that time there has been 18 races that has sent 11 different winners to victory lane. Jeff Gordon has the most NASCAR wins at the speedway with four and the most pole positions at three. Hendrick Motorsports has the most team wins with seven.
Starting positions are very important at Indianapolis. Since 1994, two races have been won from the pole position and three have been won from the front row. Nine winners have started from positions within the top five, but only three have won from positions outside of the top 20. The track qualifying record, 186.293 MPH, was set by Casey Mears back in August of 2004.
Three of the last five races at Indianapolis, ending under the green flag, had a margin of victory of under one second. 14 of the 18 races have been won by a reigning or future champion. On seven occasions an Indianapolis race winner went on to win the championship in the same year.
There is a minor weather concern for Friday but, other than that, the weekend should be clear. Friday's forecast calls for partly cloudy conditions with a 20 percent chance of thunder showers. Saturday and Sunday's forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 80's. In the event of rain, the speedway has a fleet of six jet dryers which takes approximately two and one half hours to dry the track.
The iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which opened in 1909, is a true motorsports museum that is internationally known. The massive complex is a 2.5 mile quad oval that is basically flat. There are only nine degrees of banking in the four corners and zero banking in the 3,300 feet long straightaways. There are two short chutes, between turns one and two and between turns three and four, that measure 660 feet long. The speedway has grandstand seating for 257,325 with the total fan capacity being a massive 350,000.
The Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network beginning at 12 pm eastern time. The race re airs will be on Monday, 2 am eastern time, on ESPN 2 and again on Wednesday, August 1st, on SPEED at 12 pm eastern.